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.