Traditional Chinese arts don't have ranks like Americans have become accustomed to. When karate and TKD became popular in the Seventies and Eighties, the colored belt system became something Americans expected.
Part of our culture is to set goals and achieve them. When I began studying the internal arts from Sifu Phillip Starr and his Yi Li Chuan system, there were four colors of sashes -- white sash (with three levels), yellow sash (three levels), and blue sash, which represented the advanced levels and the equivalent of brown sash -- it also had three levels. Then black sash.
When I began teaching, I took the Yi Li method but also broke each level into colors. Beginning level was white, yellow, and orange. Intermediate level was green, blue, and purple. Advanced level was brown with one black stripe, brown with two black stripes, and brown with three black stripes. Following brown is black sash.
I've been teaching since 1997, and I've had two students achieve black sash -- Rich Coulter and Chris Miller. The next one, I expect will be Kim Kruse, who tests next Sunday, November 20. The photo above shows some hardware she brought home from a tournament a couple of years ago.
Our curriculum is extensive, involving the basics of Hsing-I, Chen tai chi and Bagua. Students learn 11 empty-hand forms and five weapons forms that involve staff, straight sword, broadsword, and elk horn knives. They also learn single and double sticks but primarily from a fighting perspective for self-defense.
There is also Internal Strength exercises to learn, Silk-Reeling, chi kung, fist posture applications, tai chi applications, bagua applications, chin-na, gun and knife defenses, and applications/sparring with all of the weapons. Students learn forms and also what each movement means in a self-defense situation. They learn to fight with each art. After all, that's why they were created, not for being one with the universe.
Tournament competiton isn't mandatory but encouraged, because putting your skills on the line in a public setting like that can teach you a lot about yourself.
All of our curriculum is centered around good internal body mechanics and the philosophical concept of "connecting" and being centered at all times.
Today, Kim had a private lesson as we went over some of the things she needs to refresh herself on for next week's promotion. It will be a gruelling 3 or 4 hours. It won't be easy on Kim, either. :)
One of the things I like most about having students reaching black sash is that it gives me the opportunity to work on the complete curriculum with them. With such a challenging curriculum, it's easy to go without practicing a technique or two for a while. So I've enjoyed each practice recently asking Kim "What do you need to go over?" Because I want to go over it, too.
Black sash is a rare achievement in our group. There is no schedule for promotion. You promote when you're ready at each level. If it takes a year to go from orange sash to green, so be it. You test when you're ready -- and when I think you're ready. Black sash takes tremendous discipline, heart, spirit, and dedication. It takes a good martial artist to reach it.
And when you do, it marks the beginning of your study. The levels up to black only represent the warmup -- getting acquainted with the basics of the arts. Now, the real study begins. There are no "secrets" remaining. There is no such thing as mystical indoor secrets. It's a matter of studying deeper and refining the body mechanics that make the internal arts unique -- and practicing it all thousands and thousands of times.
I look forward to it.