More Thoughts on Young Black Belts

Anyone who has read much of this site knows that I have a lot of opinions about the belt/ranking system and some internal conflicts regarding promotion to black belt – especially at very young ages. This is because I feel that a black belt should understand what Taido is about. While I don’t wish to diminish the accomplishments of younger candidates, the research still stands that humans do not develop their full cognitive abilities (and I’m speaking in a purely neuro-function sense) until they have completed puberty. Younger and younger children are now becoming black belts, even as young at ten or eleven years old.

At the risk of sounding like a conservative, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I was doing that much better when I passed shodan. But I was a little older, and I knew a little more about what Taido was meant to accomplish. At test a few years ago, I watched boys and girls do their tentai and tenin hokei (routines I didn’t learn until I was 2dan and 3dan), and I felt nothing. I wasn’t moved one way or the other. It was like watching those mechanical elves at Disney World – you think “Wow! How do they get those machines to move so well?” No offense to the candidates, who I know work very hard and far surpass my own capabilities when I was that age, but hokei is not just a string of movements. It has meaning, and a black belt should know that meaning.

I’m constantly telling my adult students that they have to understand the difference between doing Taido and mimicking the movements of Taido techniques. A monkey (or a small child) can do one of those, but not the other. I’m not picking on young Taido students – if anyone understands their situation, I certainly do. It’s just that wearing a black belt should be a signal to others that you “get it.” It’s psychologically impossible for students that young to truly get it until they pass through a couple of further stages of cognitive development. I remember thinking I had it until I really did get it. I’ve been where these guys are, so I can be sure of this.

And it might upset some people. Oh well. I still teach children (professionally), and I want to support them to continue to grow in Taido, but I don’t want to tell them that they have achieved a level of ability that they have not. Children can sense bullshit. I think the children’s curriculum in Taido is in drastic need of overhaul, because children should not be required to perform poorly at a bastardized version of the adult curriculum – they should have a separate system that teaches them what they are able to learn. I don’t want to hold them back because they are young, I want to give them a better chance to build their skills and understanding in an organic and logical manner that will allow them to eventually be much, much better than the current group of adult black belts.

Of course, I realize that the “junior black belt” is a new development and an experimental one at that. That’s cool. I would have suggested some different ways to do it, but I doubt anyone would have listened. My ideas on teaching children Taido are a little radical, and though children cope easily, radical change tends to be uncomfortable to most instructors and parents. I guess that’s OK, but the current (new) system is going to open up problems in addition to the ones we used to have (and still do). Personally, I’m fine with giving anyone whatever belt color they think looks nice (Bryan has a tie-dyed belt), but the reality is that people judge a school on the quality of its black belt students. If it were my personal reputation as an instructor and manager on the line (as it is at Tech), I would be very selective about graduating students to shodan and above.

At any rate, I wish these new, young (and not so young) black belts the best and hope to assist their development in any way I can. It will be very interesting to watch them grow up as Taido black belts. To any of them or their parents who may happen to be reading this: don’t take any of this the wrong way – I want you to do well. I’ll be watching, and I’ll help if you let me. Good luck.

4 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Young Black Belts”

  1. A very interesting subject for sure! I hope that most Taido parents understand that a child or junior receiving a black belt is not the same as an adult earning his blackbelt! What currently happens when these black belt kids or juniors become adults? Do they drop back in belt level or do they stay at their current level for a very long time to compensate for the intensity and expectations of the adult blackbelt?
    I am the parent of a 9 year old who is an Orange belt and is currently trying out for the Top Gun team. My son tells me that he is looking forward to attending GA Tech for college so that he can join your Taido team. He has also asked me numerous times if he can attend a GA Tech Taido practice. Corey had told him that he is welcome anytime but I wasn’t sure if he was kidding. Would you welcome a child to the very ocassional practice? My hope is to encourage him in his goal of attending a university and to continue to look at Taido as a lifelong comitment. I also don’t think that it hurts anyone to get additional exposure. As they say, knowledge is power, right?

  2. hi tina:

    i have a lot of confidence that the instructors at the honbu dojo are setting realistic goals and expectations for students and parents. i’m pretty sure that most parents and students get the distinction between a junior and adult black belt. however, one of the dangers of having only one large taido school in america is that we lack the competitive motivation by which to judge our evolving standards.

    as for what will happen to these younger black belts as they age, i cannot say. i don’t believe that anyone can. if you asked the same question to any of the head instructors at the honbu dojo, they would likely tell you that we’ll have to wait and find out as it happens. uchida sensei has always had a very individualized and tentative manner about promotions to and beyond black belt.

    good luck to your son. i remember when we began the first top gun class – it was really exciting and challenging in a variety of ways. though the class is quite a bit different now, it’s still the best chance for children to begin preparing for black belt candidacy.

    can he come to tech? i don’t see why not. if corey has invited him, i would not turn him away. bryan and i have always tried to run a very open class format, so i doubt there could be any problems from our side. still, it would be important to talk to uchida sensei about this first.

    exposure to different methods and ideas can never hurt. let me know if there’s any way i can help.

  3. Hi Andy,

    Thank you so much for your response and I agree with much of what you have said. Maybe we’ll get the chance to bring Ryan by one of these evenings and allow him to meet the GA Tech Taido team. By the way, Ryan did make “Top Gun” and we are very happy he did. He is now being exposed to higher expectations and more individualized instruction that will hopefully assist him in his goal to earning his black belt eventually.

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