My Sensei used to say that martial arts was like a ladder; we all want to climb up the rungs and get higher. But once you’ve made it up a few levels, it’s important to look back and help up the ones below you. Once they progress, they could potentially make their way higher than you and they would, in turn, reach back and help lift you up to the higher level you have not yet achieved. This is the beauty and wonder of the martial arts…
Years ago, we used to have three regular classes a week. Now, just to be clear… this was back in New Brunswick and I’m talkin’ turn of the century/millenium when everyone was freaked out over Y2K but all I could think about was graduating my black belt in karate! I was training hard. But the world’s perspective on martial arts was changing. People didn’t want to shed blood, sweat and tears like they used to. The next generation was growing strong and people were more interested in the 3-year black belt that some particular schools and styles catered to as opposed to hard work and developing oneself.
When I achieved my green belt (this was the first adult belt in my system after four ranking stripes), it became my responsibility to show the new arrivals their first steps and katas. I had climbed up the first rungs, so now I had to look back and pull the new climbers up.
When I achieved my brown belt, it became my responsibility to teach the entire class and guide them during their basic exercises and aiding movements. I would guide new students through their first couple of forms and help with correction and checking on some body conditioning.
When I achieved my black belt, it dawned on me just how little I knew. I realized that a kick was just kick and a punch was just a punch (sound familiar?). Who was I, to try and guide these newcomers into their journey towards whatever it was they were trying to learn? But as I progressed, I came to understand that white belts also needed to understand how to kick and how to punch, and wouldn’t learn unless someone showed them.
I guess my point is that as a student learns, it becomes important to help the newer students to progress so that they can show the newest practitioners, and so on and so forth. You can’t be an efficient teacher without somehow helping the students to grow to to the point where they will teach others. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Tonight, I had the benefit of having an experienced black belt teach me and show me a form in his particular martial art. It was humbling, because he could have spent his time practicing his own thing, but he spent time showing me the way instead. And isn’t that what’s important? No matter what level you reach, someone will need to carry on the way.
And this, dear friends, is the martial arts ladder. We grow, we learn, and we teach. So for every two steps you take, be sure to help someone else take one as well. Someday, that white belt may become a Sensei who teaches someone one new.