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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

They Ain't Lyin' About that "Black Belt is Just the Beginning" Thing

They tell you, as you are working your way to rank, that black belt is just the first step.

That black belt - 1st Degree - represents that you have mastered the basics and are now ready to learn.

When you aren't one, this sounds a little wrong.  I mean, given how much emphasis styles with a black belt put on it, and how long it can take (in legit programs anyway)... well, it seems like they're pulling your leg a bit.  There can't be many more techniques that you'd have to learn - how many can there be?  And once you've learned it, you've learned it - why spend any more time on it?

After all you've learned to get to Black Belt, there can't be any more to learn, right?

There are plenty of people who become 1st black and quit and think they're finished with martial arts (like beating a boss in a video game and then playing a different game). Or, worse they become 1st black, think they know all there really is to know in the style, and quit and do their own thing.  A special few of those "create their own style" and promote themselves to 10th dan or call themselves "Soke".

Here's a lesson I learned the other day that proves them wrong - that 1st black really is the first step, and you really have just mastered the basics of your style.

We bought a video on Amazon that is a recording of a 1991 seminar featuring Professor Remy Presas, Professor Wally Jay, and George Dillman.  You can see it for yourself here.

Mr. Chick was watching it, but I was sitting next to him working on something, and I was half-listening.  The video starts with Remy Presas teaching a session. He's working on a core technique of ours, brush-grab-strike.  See an example below (image of Bob Quinn taken from this video HERE)

He put a stick in his hand and did what I call a "cut block" (I can't recall where I picked up the term, but I use that to differentiate from other kinds of blocks, like a supported block or a Dos Manos - two hands - block).  This block is more of a deflection block than a force-on-force block.  That is, you can't use it when the opponent is swinging for the hills, but it works well - and sets up a lot of things - when things are slowed down.  We use it a lot to set up locks, traps, disarms, and the like.

He then said that it was brush grab strike, with a stick.

And I sat straight up in my seat.

I learned this cut block and the brush grab strike techniques years ago, in the first few months of my training.  It wasn't until just then, watching a short snippet of video from several decades ago, that I'd heard that explicitly.

The cut block is brush grab strike with a stick in your hand!

Nearly a decade of study, and I didn't make that connection.  I had in other places, but not specifically there.

And later, thinking on this and playing with it in class, I had the real epiphany.  When I cut block versus a forehand strike (our #1 or #3 strike), the way I end up - the way it's most comfortable to me - is to end up with my stick low (think knee or rib strike, below the arm).  But this is far from the best thing to do all the time. Sure, it'll work and we have things we can do there.  There's lots more if I can end up with my stick high, chambered on my shoulder (think head strike), but I have to work hard to make that happen, as it just doesn't "feel right" and isn't "what I want to do".

What if it's comfortable and natural and "feels right" to me because of how I practice brush grab strike?

What if I makes sure I practice my empty hand brush grab strike where my brush hand - the second beat - goes "over" the lead hand and then practice it where it goes "under" the lead hand?  Will the "stick on top" end point of cut blocking (and block check counter) come more "naturally"?  Will it be easier for me to do what I want, not just what is habit?

I know, I just lost most of you who aren't in my style but you Arnis guys who do this probably get what I'm saying. The second beat can go "above" the first hand (high line) or "below" the first hand (low line).  Then the third strike will be either naturally chambered to go low or high, depending on that second strike.

Is the empty hand version - brush grab strike - the key to making where my third beat with a stick in this specific cut blocking sequence go where I want it to go, versus where it just "ends up naturally"?

Can I make myself equally "comfortable" by practicing both ways? I'm guessing that I can, and now I'm going to see if it's true.  I have a new understanding of a core technique that I learned way back when I first picked up a stick.

Now, I could have been told this by any of my teachers.  If they did tell me, it didn't stick until the moment I was ready to understand it.  I don't think I could have made the connection between all of this without the years of practice and the understanding of all of the techniques involved.  It's one thing to be told a thing, it's another to know a thing because you've discovered it yourself.

This, my friend, is black belt stuff.  This is why you keep training.

If you've kept studying after you became a black belt, did you have AHA! moments like this?  Let me know in the comments!

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