The new black belt

When a student of judo gets a black belt for the first time he becomes a kind of honorary teacher – in theory. In reality, he doesn’t know much, but he has had to practise quite hard to get it. And when you get your first new black belt it’s the greatest thrill in judo. You can go on to become a senior teacher after that and have various awards, but that’s nothing to the thrill of your first black belt.

It’s a new belt and it’s very stiff so it’s constantly coming undone because the knot is so stiff that it won’t knot easily. And then you have to re-knot it and you look down and you see the black and it’s all very satisfactory.

But what tends to happen is that as you are now expected to be rather good you have a certain authority in the hall. If there’s nobody else there except beginners the danger is that you turn into a bit of a bully. Not that you are trying to hurt people – you just want them to be aware that you can throw them; and so you keep throwing them. After all, you think to yourself – if I do not constandy throw these weaker players, they may think I am going off1. So you put another one in, and then another one just to make sure.

Of course, this has to be stopped, so we had a system for a new black belt. A few days afterwards, when he’s in the do jo, the senior instructor has a word with some of the very experienced senior men and one of them goes across to the new black belt and asks for a practise. And they practise.

Well, the senior men who are considerably stronger never put in a really hard throw against that level, but this time they do. The new black belt is absolutely flattened, and then held on the ground; and then a strangle comes on and he feels he’s going unconscious and he taps in surrender and the senior man says, ‘No, you are not dead yet, go on struggling.’ And the new black belt goes on struggling. The senior grade then lets off the strangle for a little bit – and on it comes again.

The new black belt is having a terrible time. He’s pouring with sweat. Then the senior grade finally says, ‘Right.’ And they bow and off he goes.

Then the new black belt is leaning against the wall, trying to recover, and another senior grade comes up and does the same thing. Well, when the third one comes up, it’s usual for the young chap to get a bit frightened, because they’re really doing it hard and all sorts of thoughts start coming into his head. He starts thinking, ‘They know I am going to be good so they don’t want me up among their company. That’s why they are trying to knock me out and injure me – so I’ll never come again.’

All sorts of litde thoughts go through his mind, and it’s very easy to panic. He looks around the dojo and everybody is practising vigorously; and this young chap feels (and I’ve felt it and done it) himself getting a bit frightened but you can’t leave the mat. You are even more frightened of doing that. The whole dojo is moving, practising, and then you notice something not moving. Through all the whirl and activity in the dojo, you see, across the mat, the old teacher standing there, watching. And that transforms the whole thing.

You now know that this is taking place under his gaze. He is aware of it, he’s permitting it and it’s for your good. The whole situation is transformed by just becoming aware that you are under that gaze. And somehow you survive and you become a fully-fledged black belt and you are no longer inclined to bully anyone.


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