This paper was written by Reesa Anderson as a part of her black-belt test preparation.. I have permission by Reesa to post her paper to this website.
September 14, 2009
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
Life is made up of many small journeys. Some of these journeys end– school, jobs, projects– but some walk us through our entire lives– learning, growing spiritually, becoming disciplined. I embarked on one such journey a long time ago, one known as Christianity. This is a journey that will go far beyond my life on this Earth. The choice to start this journey led me to the start of another: karate. To liken my walk in karate to a video game, I have faced many bosses and challenges and am finally at the final boss battle, the last hurdle before I get to go on to the next game. But first, I must answer one question: what is a Christian Black Belt?
As Christians, we are constantly preparing for battle; as students of karate, we do the same, but hope we will never be forced to need our preparations. There are obvious parallels between karate and our walks as Christians and this is just one of them. Another is a firm grasp on the basics. The New Testament constantly stresses our need for spiritual “milk” before we can mature enough to move onto “meat”. “Like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good,” (1 Peter 2: 2-3). In the same way, as students of karate, it’s imperative we have the basics down before we move onto larger things. It would be difficult to properly execute a kata without a grasp on the basics.
Discipline is something else both journeys require. Kata demands our attention; this means we need discipline to continually remain focused on the next move, on eyes, feet, hands, and on visualizing our attackers. Discipline is also important away from the dojo; how else will we remember to practice than with discipline? Our spiritual walk is the exact same way. In order to stay focused on God and to delve into the Word and pray every day, we need discipline. Although it’s never easy, it’s always necessary to grow. Just as Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Finally, both of these journeys, Christianity and martial arts, are for life. It’s so easy to think your journey in karate will end as soon as you receive your black belt, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, that’s only half of the journey, the rest comes with as much patience, learning and practice as the former half, this one just has more teaching. Again, it’s so easy to think our journey in Christianity ends when we die, but that’s just another part of the same path. After all “…to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21).
The jump to black belt is essentially that of a student becoming a teacher, so the heart of a Christian black belt is one of a teacher, and the character of such follows suit. A good way to describe the character of a Christian black belt is a person who holds 2 Peter 1:5-8 close to their heart: “For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you posses these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”
Really think about that list. When you add each quality onto the next, you could say it’s a recipe for a leader, and a leader is a teacher. You could also say this is a recipe for spiritual maturity; something all Christians should always be striving for. The Christian black belt is no exception, in fact, he or she should be constantly working toward this, because as I mentioned above, we need to mature enough to be able to properly gnaw on that spiritual meat.
My Dad tells me that when you teach something, you’re learning more than the people you are teaching to. Why? Because you have to be able to fully digest and understand what you’re teaching in order to be an effective teacher. You have to really think about it, and if a Christian black belt is a leader and a teacher in both Christianity and Martial Arts, then they need to be able to understand both. This is what makes them effective.
There are responsibilities that come with teaching, and since a Christian black belt is a teacher, those responsibilities need to be evident. Teaching carries weight to it, and because teachers have great influence, they have great power. “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly,” (James 3:1). As a person in power, Christian black belts must be careful with what they do and say. They have a responsibility to be upright in two disciplines, karate and Christianity.
Marine Corps Officers describe the traits of leadership as dependability, bearing, endurance, enthusiasm, initiative, integrity, judgment, knowledge, tact, unselfishness, and loyalty. So a good, hefty list, with some more obvious than others. Dependability, of course, those counting on you need to know you will always be reliable. Enthusiasm, the honest display of excitement and interest in what you’re doing. Initiative, acting without having to be told. Integrity, being upright and pure. Judgment, the ability to judge a situation and form deft decisions. Knowledge, a proper understanding, in this case, of technique among other things. Tact, knowing how to deal with others to avoid causing offense. Unselfishness, putting others above yourself, and loyalty, staying faithful to the friends and family inside the dojo.
Why is it so important to have all of these traits? Can’t you skip out on a few and still come to the same result? These traits are very similar to 2 Peter 1:5-8; if we have each in increasing measure, they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive teachers. Put them in any order you want, but they are very effective definitions of leadership, and it is the responsibility of the Christian black belt to know and understand them if he or she wants to be an effective teacher.
As part of a Christian dojo, I have received many benefits in my Christian walk as well as my martial arts journey. The most substantial of these, in my opinion, is the family, confidence, and self-discipline I have gained. Through my years of practicing karate, people have come in and out of the karate program; each with something to take with them or to learn. All of these people are a kind of family to me. They have taught me many things and I hope I have imparted some impression upon them as well.
It’s an interesting dynamic and one I’m proud to be a part of. In the book Acts, and indeed throughout the entire New Testament, the authors depict this family dynamic between the believers. I believe our little dojo puts a smile on God’s face. I know it puts a smile on mine. It’s nice to know they’re there supporting me.
The second benefit I have received in my Christian walk is confidence. This is something I’ve struggled with and, heck, still struggle with. Luckily, I’m better off now. For whatever reason, probably the grips of teenagehood, my confidence level was never really where it should be. I was perfectly aware of this; I’d even tried to ‘fix’ it before but to no avail. Then Sensei made me teach. Well, to be specific, he had me do the basics each session in front of class and occasionally had me teach something to a new student.
I wouldn’t exactly say my confidence level skyrocketed; it more crawled, very slowly up, sort of like when something has trouble loading on a computer. Inch by inch, I’ve started to see a difference; slowly becoming more confident in front of people and in my day to day life. Finally, I’m more confident in how I do technique, doing the basics, and doing karate in front of people. One of my qualms with becoming confident was how to distinguish confidence from vanity, pride, what have you. I’ve begun to realize how very dissimilar they are.
Finally, I’ve gained self-discipline. This might just be one of the most sought-after traits there are. It has been continually stressed to me how important it is to have self-discipline. In our Christian walk, as I have mentioned, it’s important we employ it on a daily basis in reading the Word and praying. In karate, it’s important we use it in practically everything we do. Staying focused during kata, practicing outside of the dojo, and making sure we stretch properly . Granted, this is also something I’m still working on, as I think everyone strives for it, but I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been.
Finally, my advice for everyone who wishes to become a black belt is very simple. Stick with it. Make sure you’re doing everything the way you should and get confirmation when you’re not sure. Hard work always pays off, but remember to be patient. Reaching black belt does not happen overnight, but that’s only half of it.
Let yourself rely on the awesome family we have as a dojo. Learn from your mistakes as well as other people’s mistakes. What do I mean by that? When Sensei halts class to touch upon a certain issue, take it to heart, even if you’re sure you weren’t making the mistake. That way, not only do you know you’re right, you also are cementing the right ideas in your head.
Also, make sure you practice, practice, practice, and memorize everything as it comes. If you don’t, things will be a lot harder in the long run; trust me, I’ve been there. Overall, have fun, learn lots, and glorify God with everything you do. And don’t forget: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11