Becoming a Black Belt
A good friend whose child has been in Taekwondo for a while asked me a question the other day about Black Belt testing. As I was answering, I thought it would be useful to share my answer given that the Black Belt testing is occurring on the weekend.
While the Black Belt is a universally accepted standard of excellence, what it means can be a very subjective thing with each person having their own idea of what a Black Belt should be able to do. For us, our objective measure is Grandmaster Chong Lee who gives the final say on whether a person should pass the Black Belt.
When people witness a 3 to 4 hour test they may be wondering what other factors are considered when awarding a Black Belt. There are a number of factors and time is obviously one of them as a person cannot just learn all the techniques and go to the test. It is a journey for the student, as they not only learn how to apply the techniques but also when they apply them. Having said that, a student will not pass their Black Belt just by putting in the time – their techniques must reach the appropriate level.
Furthermore, while various clubs can stress certain aspects of Taekwondo such as forms, sparring / tournament experience, teaching etc. differently, we try to find a balance of things depending on the strengths of that person. You may see a test with a person who is going to be competing at the Nationals in two months and a person in their 50’s who is an incredible teacher. What they contribute to Taekwondo is very different as they are at different stages of their development in Taekwondo and different stages of their lives in general.
Like many Taekwondo schools in Canada, the Chong Lee family of schools have Junior Black Belts for those under the age of 14 or 15 – some Junior Black Belts can be as young as 9 years old. Given the obvious differences between children and adults, these students are measured against a different standard for their test. It is not more or less … just different.
People often wonder when a person with a Junior Black Belt, characterized by a belt with black and red running the length of the belt with a matching collar on their uniform, goes to a full Black Belt. While some believe that they get it automatically upon turning 16, that is not the case since the student must first pass their next Black Belt test (for example, 2nd or 3rd Dan) after turning 14 or 15. During that test they are then measured against the “adult” standard.
Let me stress that in the meantime the Junior Black Belt is not “less” than the Black Belt – it is merely different in the same way that children differ from adults.
In conclusion, the most important part to remember is this: upon successful completion of the test the student gets their Black Belt (or Junior Black Belt) but they do not necessarily “become a Black Belt” until later. It can take years for someone “with a Black Belt” to actually “become a Black Belt” as they work with other Black Belts and teach other students. Being awarded your Black Belt is a huge accomplishment but you will get greater confidence when you become one.
I hope that people find this helpful. Please let me know if there are any questions arising from this.