Nationally certified black belt. Has a nice ring to it, yes? I truly believe that one of the strengths of the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation is its black belt certification process.
The dojo is the most important place of learning for students. It is where they spend the vast majority of their training. It is where the kata, rules, protocols and style become ingrained.
As a sensei, I have the privilege of setting the standards for kyu promotions within my school. And I’m pretty confident that I can tell the difference when one of our ikkyu crosses the line toward the level of shodan.
But I also have an entire organization, the AJJF, to back my opinion. We have a large number of Professors, Senior Instructors and Sensei that serve on examination boards. During an AJJF black belt exam, the examination board provides confirmation that a student has attained the ability to demonstrate Danzan Ryu at black belt level.
Think of what that group of people represents. Each of them has 10, 20, even 50 years of experience practicing Danzan Ryu. Do they each have a different perspective? Yes, they do. But I would say they share similar perspectives more than they differ in perspective. They have a good idea of what is common now and what has happened in the past. They have a broad education in Danzan Ryu.
When an examination board confirms that one of my students does indeed merit black belt rank, I have the backing of the broader organization. More importantly, the student has the backing of a national organization.
The student has demonstrated their ability not just in the confines and comfort of their home dojo. They have demonstrated and succeeded in front of examiners who they may not know, in what may be strange environment and with an uke with whom they are unfamiliar. And, through all of that, they have the knowledge that the examination board recommended them for black belt rank.
Can a black belt exam be daunting? You bet. Is the exam process imperfect? Every now and then, probably so. But when you pass a black belt exam it is a great feeling of accomplishment.
The exam process reinforces confidence and provides a new black belt with confirmation of a milestone in their journey. It is a warm feeling to be welcomed to the ranks of yudansha by the large group of our brother and sister yudansha in the AJJF. They have all gone through the same exam experience to earn their rank.
Beyond that, consider how a black belt certificate looks to the general public. When a prospective student watches one of our classes, they can see the quality of technique, frame and movement. But that is not all. We can assure them that our instructors are nationally certified black belts, and they will know that our school is part of something bigger.
After all of these thoughts about what it means to be a nationally certified black belt, I want to circle back to my opening paragraph: the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation and its black belt certification process.
An organized examination process is strong asset of the AJJF. The process has been in place for so many years and runs so smoothly, we may think it is easy to set rank standards and simple to pull together examination events. Surely it is not easy. But the AJJF is dedicated to upholding these standards and supporting our schools.
It may be easy to take the AJJF and all that it does for granted. But I am sure that my school is better as a part of a federation than it would be as an isolated island. I want to support the organization just as it supports me and supports my school. My AJJF membership is a simple and natural part of that contribution. I am a proud member of the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation. My school is a proud member of the AJJF.
Photos Immediately Above: Examination Team: L to R: Katie Murphy Stevens (caller), Prof John Congistre (examiner), Patrick Hedgepath (new yodan), Prof Kevin Colton (examiner), Prof Sheryl Hager (examiner), Prof Geoff Lane (examiner), Filiberto Gutierrez (uke), Prof Tom Ryan (sensei).
Featured Image, Top: New Shodan: L to R: Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens, Grand-Sensei Cynthia Frueh, New Shodan Michael Thompson, Sensei Joe Bendorf.