When you first start training in the martial arts, the idea that you, personally, can and will become a "black belt" (or your style's equivalent) seems rather remote.
You work for years and years, and then, if you stick with it, eventually your teacher will decide that you meet the requirements for that rank, and bingo! You're a black belt.
That happened to me in August, 2013.
I remember very well the feeling of amazement and shock. If you know me or have read this blog a long time, you know the story, but if you don't, here's the short version:
We started training under our teacher David Jones in a suburb of Memphis back in 2008. Moving around from Memphis to Vegas to Texas, we ended up training with my current teacher, Mark Lynn.
There's actually a weird connection between those two men - I think I've told that story here on the blog and I definitely have in person, but we'll just skip it for now.
Anyway, we used to go back to Memphis to reconnect and train with David, usually around when he hosted Bruce Chiu of Arnis International. This trip, Mark decided to go along with us, so it was kinda neat to have both my old teacher and my current one in one place.
My teacher Mark took this opportunity to have David, Bruce, and all the seniors there check us out secretly at our "play session" the night before the seminar, and then, at the end of the seminar, where promotions often happened for the local group... he promoted us to 1st degree black in front of our old school and teacher.
Looking back, it's obvious, but at the time, we had ZERO clue this was going to happen. EVERYONE at the seminar knew EXCEPT us.
So yes, I was secretly tested and surprise promoted to Dayang Isa. Obviously, we were stunned and overwhelmed by it, but I think we would have been the same even if we'd been promoted the traditional way. So yes, I remember that feeling QUITE well.
Almost 10 years later, in July 2023, we promoted our first student to the rank of Lakan Isa, or 1st degree black belt, in Presas Arnis as we teach it at Kindred Protective Arts.
This is us, with our students who attended the ceremony, including students who train at satellite programs that our students run.
We did not have a black belt test. We had a black belt promotion, where our candidate spent two hours demonstrating his understanding of what we do and teach at our school.
It was more like a graduation ceremony than any kind of test. He earned his rank in class and there was no doubt he was being promoted.
Of course, THIS time, I knew it was coming. We planned and organized this event for months and months. I stressed out over it like you would NOT believe.
After all, this was our first one. It was going to set the standard and tone for the ceremonies to follow, and we wanted to get it going on the best foot possible.
I got our certificate designed vs. doing it myself (and it took a lot of time and effort - right, Stephanie? - to get it just right, and it turned out great). We organized after-ceremony festivities. We made sure to let everyone know super-early so we'd have a good shot at getting the vast majority of students - dressed out in uniform - to attend (we were about 85% successful in that).
We had to pack everyone into our tiny little space elbow to elbow, but we did it, and in the end, it turned out as well as I dared to hope it might.
Our new Lakan Isa did a fantastic job, everyone learned a lot, and it was a fantastic day for our school. It was just about perfect.
I can tell you, for a fact, that promoting a student to black belt is WAY more fun than becoming one yourself.
Sure, I was a bundle of nerves FOR our student (and for our school). When you are working on shepherding a community and students, those little details are something you fret about. I am pretty sure I was way more nervous than our student was.
Now, our student is not an expert in Presas Arnis. Neither am I, to be honest, and that's not what the rank means in our world.
He's "mastered" the basics enough that he can now really LEARN as he gets deeper and deeper into the art. He's already great - he's going to be ridiculously good as he learns more. He's also teaching his own students (under our guidance) and that will make him better, too.
The sense of pride and satisfaction when a student does really well is just... well...
Just like at the promotion ceremony, I'm at a loss for words to describe it.
Yeah, I know, ME, lost for words.
Whatever the right description is, it makes that joy in earning your black belt seem like a mildly good day in comparison.
So yeah, I found something in the martial arts that's better than earning your own black belt.
It's your student, earning theirs.
Have you promoted a student to black belt (and beyond)? What did it feel like for you? If you've promoted many, does that feeling change over time? I'd love to hear from you!