May 5, 2015, Israel
Belts, that pesky issue that never seems to go away.
I worked hard for my belts, for each and every one.
When I arrived back in Israel in the 1980s I had already earned a fairly high rank in Oyama Kyukushin Karate. I never expected that rank to be recognized by the school I had just joined in Israel. I joined as a white belt and never mentioned that I had another belt at home. It was not relevant. I was here to learn.
Once again I started as a beginner. Once again I put on a white belt, with pride. My teacher Itay did not ask to see any papers, documents,diplomas. He had me kick the bag.
Boy do I remember that old bag. It was as hard as wood and I kicked every day, again and again and again.
I never approached my instructor and asked for a rank.
As it turned out I skipped yellow belt and tested for orange. Then came green, blue and then ...brown.
Each test was more challenging than the next.
By the time I was ready to test for Brown belt I had already been teaching a kids group in my community. I was already a teacher.
My teacher knew this, and for this reason he made my test particularly challenging.
I was never the most aggressive fighter, I never liked hurting people. So my strategy for the test was to excel in the technique demonstration part and ...cruise through the fighting part. It was not to be.
But first some background.
I had always come to class three times per week, and each time I stayed for all three lessons. Each lesson was the same and yet I stayed for all three lessons. I finished one lesson and I began the very same lesson again. 5 to 6, 6 to 7, and then 7 to 8. First one in, last one out.
After class I drove home and went to the gym for some weight lifting.
Before my test for brown belt I devoted 15 hours a week to martial arts training. On top of that there was running, sprinting, stair climbing and jump roping. I took this seriously and yet...I nearly did not pass.
Following the technique part of the test my teacher called me into his office. I sat down and he said I was 50/50. I.e. there was a pretty good chance I would not pass. He said in order to pass I had to excel in the fighting part, I had to "go out there like a tiger!"
It was not easy. Every one of my opponents was a formidable fighter. The way it worked was, I fought one guy for one minute, then he sat down, rested, had a drink. And I fought another. Thus each fighter was well rested while I was progressively more exhausted.
The first ten minutes were Judo. The next ten minutes were Kickboxing, and the last ten minutes were free style (what eventually became known as MMA). Despite being in the best fighting shape of my life after twenty minutes of this I was wiped out. I felt I had no gas left, but I kept going. No matter what I was going to finish those thirty fights. Pass or fail no longer mattered, I was not going to quick, I was not going to let my teacher down.
When the last minute came it felt like an eternity. The time was announced every 10 seconds....40 seconds to go, 30 seconds to go..it seemed to never end.
And then it was every 5 seconds. It seemed to last forever. When it was finally over I collapsed on the floor face down. Two of the guys picked me up and put my head in the sink and turned on the water. It was over.
Later on I found out that I passed.
My teacher Itay called me over. "I wanted to make this test particularly difficult for you. I know that you are a teacher, and someday you will be testing students and awarding them ranks. I want you to understand something. We are friends, and friends give each other gifts, but friends do not give each other ranks/belts. You have to earn your ranks. I made this test very difficult for you so that you should never forget this lesson."
I never forgot this lesson. I honor that lesson. Beg, cry, bribe or threaten, you will not get a belt until you earn it.
Friends do not "give" each other ranks, you can not buy a rank.
The good old days...before fame, "The Human Weapon" and all that glitter...
The years pass, so fast. My ranks mean a great deal to me because I know how hard I worked for them. I never pressured anyone into giving me a rank, I never asked for a rank. I never threatened to quit an organization unless I was "given" a higher rank.
Moshe with Sensei Sakai and Terao at the Oyama dojo
We tend to overrate ourselves. This is human nature for "normal" people. People who are more critical or "less happy" tend to have a more realistic view of themselves and of life.
When I was a student at the Oyama Kyokushin dojo in New York City I kept an attendance sheet. No, this was not required by the school, it was required by me.
I attended the morning class which began at 7:15. To do so I had to be up at 5 am, take an hour long train ride from my home in Brooklyn, NY.
After work I often attended class as well. I kept a calendar and made note of every class. Turns out I was not attending as many classes as I thought? Our memory is selective.
With my chart I made a line for each class I attended and this way I could be honest with myself. My goal was at least 5 lessons a week but without keeping track there was no way I would achieve this.
We forget that we missed class because we had to meet someone, and then there was a holiday, en exam, a paper due, and then...something else. We might think "Oh, I go to class all the time" but then when we actually check our chart we discover that we attended far less than we thought.
Keep a chart and stay honest!
One of my personal attendance sheets from 1987. I maintained my average of 5 lessons per week.
Moshe Katz, Brooklyn, NY, June 1988. It has been a long journey
Lets not forget that ranks are here to motivate us. They mean nothing other than that. No belt or diploma ever protected anyone, in the end only your skill and your spirit matter.
When it comes to your training never let anything or anyone stand in your way!!
Remember, this is for you! You are doing this to protect yourself, believe in yourself and never give up.
Never give up.
And as my teacher said to me, in the end "your day of glory will come."