Yesterday, I read an article in the newspaper that talked about human greed. In it, the author explained that humans need to get something from other sources to survive. Sunlight, water, food, etc. Because of this, he explained that humans instinctively achieve satisfaction through acquiring things. However, when we gain these things, our individual needs become stronger, and so we want more and more, and we don’t want to give up what we have gained. No matter how much we get, we are never satisfied. Animals, however, do not acquire more than they need. Once they have obtained and eaten their prey and their hunger is satisfied, they do not hunt any more.
Reading that article reminded me of what Master Kinefuchi once said about "Dan" or a “black belt”. The kanji character for black belt (段) is pronounced “Dan” and it is derived from the word 階段 (pronounced “kaidan”) which means stairs or steps. In the martial arts, the first goal is to become a black belt. After that, one progresses on to 2nd degree black belt (pronounced “Ni Dan”) and then 3rd degree black belt (“San Dan”), etc. He explained to me that some people seem to have become interested simply in the goal of climbing up the stairs. “The purpose of climbing stairs is to get to the place (or thing) at the top. The purpose is not to climb the stairs one at a time. We must not forget the true purpose. Being a black belt means that you are someone who can teach, so your objective must be to become a better instructor." So, for a while, he did not wear a black belt, but wore a belt dyed in another color. At that time, I thought, "Ah, I get it”. I thought that I understood what he was saying, but I may not have understood it clearly.
When I opened my own dojo, Sensei, who did not put high emphasis on black belt levels, gave me a very high black belt ranking (8th Dan). He told me, "Please become a teacher worthy of that dan.” And now, after more than 20 years of practicing martial arts, I have finally realized that it is important to truly enjoy what you learn through practice, both during the process of becoming a black belt and afterwards. I think I have come to understand the importance of learning together with my students while teaching them and feeling the joy of that learning. I am not teaching them but learning with them. When I realize this, I am able to notice each technique in more detail and understand it more deeply. I feel as if I am not only "not there yet," but that I have barely made it to the starting line.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Master Kinefuchi, the other teachers, and my students for giving me such great joy, and I will slowly climb the stairs to become a leader worthy of the rank of "8th Dan" someday in the distant future.
The original Japanese version of this blog post is HERE