Shoshin Ryu has a pretty straight forward policy when it comes to promoting black belts. Anyone receiving a black belt must be able to defend themselves against an adult attacker.
Applying this rule to children upholds the integrity of the rank. It also reinforces the idea of putting skill above rank. Regardless of what belt a student wears around their waist, the skill is what holds value. Many martial art systems incorporate “Jr” black belts, often times awarding higher Dan (black belt) ranks to children with as little as 5 years of training. This is not only a watering down of the rank, it sends a message of lowered expectations and a false sense of security for the person who achieves these types of rank. Shoshin Ryu and the dojo would rather keep a younger student at brown belt and let them grow in size and skill. Then when the time comes to test for Shodan (1st degree black) they can both truly defend against adult attackers and be completely prepared to perform well on their black belt test. This mindset also teaches younger practitioners patience, hard work and increases the appreciation for the eventual promotion.
There have been instances where students in the dojo started as children, trained 10+ years until age 16-21 and then tested for Shodan. The result was no less (and one could surely argue much greater) than if they had received a black belt at a younger age, since it is the skill that is sought after and not simply a rank. Rank can be said to have its place in any traditional dojo, but it is NOT the goal. It is nice to have a sense of accomplishment and progression along one’s path. It is good to have a general idea of the skill level of your uke based on rank, even if you haven’t worked together before. However, the need to show off what rank you are is opposite the philosophy of Shoshin Ryu. The instant gratification culture is one that does not belong in the dojo. Students put in the work, the effort and the time. A byproduct of their training is rank. By the time a student of the dojo achieves Shodan, the elation related to the promotion is less apparent. This is at least partially due to the teachings of the Shoshin Ryu Sensei who keep the focus on the training required to achieve this milestone and the letting go of the ego and pride. Not to say that when a student does reach this level that there isn’t a sense of pride and appreciation for the work done, it’s just that it is not the emphasis of the rank itself.
Next time you hear a conversation about someone’s 9 year old child achieving a 3rd degree black belt in a martial art, realize that this is in itself an indication of what is really being taught, and that while the rank may sound impressive, it is by all means misleading and does not represent what the rank is supposed to indicate. If you are seeing increased focus, skill and attitude in your own child then you know that they are truly progressing, and that along with the physical skill there is also a mental fortitude that is being developed. A mindset that does not worry about the immediate reward of an action, but knows that through consistent training and a resolute persistence that anything can be accomplished. In the case of learning self-defense, it is the ability to defend yourself. Think on this.