Kempo Marinate and Black Belt Stew

Or what black belts don’t understand about advanced training, time in grade, seeping in.

Black belt takes time

Black belt takes time

There’s lots of disgruntled whispering at the Black Belt ranks when they see the long times between ranks and testing. Why is it so long? And what value does it have when compared to the four-month average at the lower ranks? It doesn’t seem to translate well at these advanced levels of training. What’s more frustrating is the work includes a lot of the same material in a new light. It seems like starting from scratch. That’s an accurate statement. Black Belts need to relearn their early material with new insights. This is all valuable.

The time between ranks is something I like to call Kempo Marinate. Just like a nice steak or Carne Asada, you need to let the juices soak into the meat. One of the key elements of becoming very good at martial arts is doing repetitions a lot. By the Black Belt level, you need to do it much more than at the lower ranks. In the kyu ranks, a little change is quite noticeable. At the higher levels, change takes longer. It takes thousands of times to work it in deeper into muscle memory. The time in grade requirement reflects this marinating time.

One of the benefits of this level of dedication is you work on the material in different lights, angles and situations. You work on the variations and the no-mind principle. Work continues with different types of attack styles, adapting it on the fly, and spontaneous work.

This age-old tradition works better than most students think. Don’t fight the tradition just because it doesn’t reflect our society’s “instant gratification” syndrome. Let the material soak to the very marrow of your bones. Great ways of doing this is to become a part time or full time instructor. Teaching opens many little doors in the mind and really improves your art. Thinking about why you do things, explaining it to others and then doing them again is a great way to practice.

22 thoughts on “Kempo Marinate and Black Belt Stew

  1. I would give a try. Their chief instructor was on the Discovery Channel show which featured krav maga, and he seems legit.

  2. My dojo is always open to people stopping by, and “at cost” I’d come to your school and teach Circular Wind or Kendo or both at your request. (Cost being transportation and lodging, and I sleep well on couches, or even dojo floors…) 🙂

    Feel free to email me ( if interested.

    • That sounds wonderful. You should post that on your website since it’s such a great opportunity.

      What characteristics of your Circular Wind style distinguishes it from other styles? And is the Kendo system similar to what we see on TV from Japan? (I’m not familiar with Kendo other than it has a sport following with shinai and armor. I just don’t know some things.)

  3. I just moved from Pompano Beach Florida, where I had three students in Kendo, to Ashland Kentucky, where I have not re-opened the school yet. World wide the Ryu has a bit over 30 black belts, 1 of which is 9th Dan (in Japan), 16 of which are 3rd Dan or higher, and the rest are 1st or 2nd Dan. I personally have belted 4 people to 1st through 3rd Dan through direct training, and since I was made Soke, I have sat the grading of two 3rd Dans.

    In Kaihou-Kaze Ryu, I have trained about 11 people, most are 7th Kyu to 10th Kyu, and I have two that are 3rd Kyu and 2nd Kyu. (New art you know. 😉 )

    I will keep the 10/10 belting, but if people were not so into seeing where they were through a belt/etc. I just go to student and teacher (white and black belts) with the brown belt being the final stages of becoming a teacher or senior student.

    • Keep up the good work training the next generation. Do you provide seminars or other ways for non-students to get a taste of your style?

  4. MOST, but of course not all, Kendo schools follow the same guidelines for ranking. Again, that is most. My Sensei (6th Soke), and his Father (5th Soke) although no longer teaching when the belts came out, felt that belts were not the way to go. My Sensei (6th Soke) relented and went with an early belting sequence of five kyu ranks and five dan ranks. He was pressured to go up to 10 of each, but only did so on the student ranks when he moved to the US and opened his Dojo here.

    In my ideal system, I’d not be looking for students that are looking for belts, but are looking for knowledge and looking to help me grow the art through hands on learning and growing in the art together. A person will know they are progressing by the new things being taught and when I present to them their brown belt they know that they are getting close to being pretty good at it…

    (Dang, reading that, I sound pretty conceited…)

    • No, not conceited rather you are purposeful. You know what you want and how to want it to manifest. Your soke did it one way, and tried another. Now as soke you can see it may not be working. A leader sees these things and makes a decision but decisions are not cast in stone, they are tested and improved. I enjoy learning not just from my styles but from anyone who’ll teach me because I enjoy the arts as a whole. Likewise, teachers like you who want to teach what has been passed down the ages are to be admired.
      Do you have many students and junior instructors at your school?

  5. And, no, I don’t think it improved the teaching. I think it degrades it some, but both of the Japanese Kai (Associations) that you need sign off from (at least one of the two) to be able to teach in Japan and to be recognized in Japan, are asking all their schools to use the 10Kyu/10Dan system for conformity and so that people are somewhat on the same sheet of music.

    • Even when all the schools use 10 kyu/dan ranks, do they all represent the same level of competency or is there still variations in ability? I noticed that each “style” has a different view of what constitutes rank. I use ranks as milestones to denote progress. So I added a few more ranks but I don’t charge for testing.

  6. I personally would go to 2 Kyu Ranks, White belt and Brown Belt, and back to the five black belt ranks. Ranking going as White=Student, Brown being Senior Student, 1st and 2nd black belt being Jr. Instructors, requiring that a 3rd or 4th Dan being present during class (and I MEAN present, WATCHING!), 3rd Dan being able to open their own school in the Ryu’s name. 4th Dan (Master) being able to open their own school in their name, and 5th Dan being the Soke/Head of Family.. (Only one of the 5th Dan.)

    But, I’d probably not have a whole lot of students if I did that… I’m not in the Arts for money, and often teach for free, but I do like having students to pass the Arts on to…

    • I think the 2 kyu/5 dan system you suggest is very simple and elegant. It doesn’t seem to allow for the view of superiority by kyu students among themselves. But then they’d need some self-motivation to know where they stand progress wise. How do you acknowledge or let the students know how they are doing material wise with only two ranks?

  7. NP on the misunderstanding! I do things like that often, and don’t have the excuse of reading it late to fall back on..

    Well, I started Kodokan Judo the day after I turned 8 and have been practicing it and training in it every since. I’m currently 5th Dan there. Right around 10 years of age, I started training concurrently with Judo, in Aikido and Kendo. This past December I took my 8th Dan test by a panel of 5 people from Japan (well, three from Japan, and two 8th Dan’s from the US). (This was a three day test that included teaching two students on their first day in Aikido class, a student that just received their 1st Dan, and a student that just received their 3rd Dan, and sparring with 8 senior black belts… Busy three days!!)

    When my Sensei passed away I was tapped out as the 7th Soke of Hasumi Ryu Kendo by him. I received 13 scrolls, starting from 180+ years ago to my Sensei a few years ago, and the Menkyo Kaiden for HRK, originally making me a 5th Dan of the Ryu. I, at the request of Japan and several people I “listen” to, changed the Dan ranking from 5 belts to 10, adjusting the 30 some black belts world wide appropriately.

    I am a 3rd Dan in both Hapkido and Tang Soo Do as well. (I have studied other arts to various levels, including a couple of other black belts, over the last 40 years as well.)

    Over the past 12 years I have taken all of the martial knowledge I have learned (40 years next month), and all of the medical knowledge (about 20 years) I have learned, and created Kaihou-Kaze no waza Jutsu, and over two weeks, 6.5 days a week, presented it to a panel of five Sokes, four from Japan, one from the US, the entire art, from 10th Kyu to 3rd Dan, and was accepted as a valid art this past December as well.

    (See for more!)

    • That is amazing. You really have an impressive resume. Congratulations on your 8th dan elevation. That’s no easy task to accomplish.

      Speaking of adjusting five ranks to ten. As I mentioned in my other post, each system does it differently. One style had ten ranks in black belt with 10 being “master”. This also equals 1st master belt with 10 ranks there. I think 5 and 10 are the common subdivisions of black belt. Do you think the change from 5 to 10 improved the teaching of the system?

    • Sorry about that. I read it late, late at night and misunderstood. Can you tell me and the readers about your style of martial arts. I see you have a Menkyo license which is a big deal in traditional schools.

  8. I take it you read my blog as well? I’m working on two books right now, first and foremost is a MA book on Kaihou-Kaze Ryu, and the second is a re-writing of my Army life that won’t get cut by the DoD. Will probably do a business book on how to solidly create, build and become a successful business as well.

    • I didn’t know about it until the comment here, but now I’ll take a read. Good luck with the book.

  9. I also think to become a master of the art, one should be teaching the art properly and know how to teach it. In many styles just being in the art a certain amount of time is enough. Leaving out the need to be teaching and showing it to others, etc. Key point to have in my book…

    • I definitely agree. That’s the underlying point of the post, that you need to be immersed in the art. The only way to do that is to teach it to others. By doing that you must break down the material in ways you never thought of to explain it. Then you must do it with the students over and over and over again. This is the marinate I mentioned. Thanks for you post.

      What book are you writing?

  10. Congrats, that first time in the class is the hardest!!! I hated my first week. If you want to take things to the next level, give a try, these guys have AMAZING training videos. I have been a member for 6 months and love every minute of it.

    • Max, it seems your link points to a website that has lots of Krav Maga videos and training. Perhaps it was a redundant question.

      I’m not an expert in Krav Maga so I don’t feel qualified to recommend anything (especially since I haven’t seen any of the videos) so I’ll just list a few sources below when I get a chance. You’ll need to judge the quality yourself. If anyone else has experience with the system, please feel free to comment.

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