Is to Train – First and foremost, a black belt’s responsibility is to train. Black belts have just started their journey and students who don’t practice will never progress past the most elementary level, which they have just attained. Part of the growth process that occurs in martial arts is just plain old everyday hard work that goes with doing something over and over again until one gets really good at it. Someone once told me that it takes three thousand repetitions before an action becomes automatic. Black belt’s must be willing to go through the effort and sweat it takes to make their motions automatic, clean, smooth and fast. This causes a metamorphosis, in that the physical action of repeating motions generates the psychological changes common to accomplished martial artists – focus and discipline, to name two and along with the improved performance that comes with diligent practice come self-esteem. So training generates quite a few positive life skills in and of itself.
To Think – Not all of martial arts is physical, however a big part is mental. The black belt [student’s] responsibility [outside of the class] is to think about what has occurred in class. This encompasses everything from an analysis of motion to figuring out new techniques to try in sparring. Sensei David Coulter MBE, 7th Dan [Sport Karate Sakai Association’s Chief Instructor] expects his students to practice five hours outside of class for every hour in class. Part of that, of course, is physical practice. But part of it too, is mental. Black belts should use creative visualisation to mentally practice their ideal performance on the mat.
Thinking about what the coach has had to say that week in class is also important. It helps the black belt absorb and learn the “why” of the art, as well as the “how”. This is of critically importance when the black belt is called on to assist in coaching other students.
One of my favourite American Zen epigrams come from the late Kempo Karate pioneer Ed Parker, who said, “The student who knows how will always remain the student. The student who knows why will become the instructor.”
To Assist and Return the Flow – The coach may call on a black belt student to help with teaching, usually with lower belt grades. As the student increases in experience, the responsibility of assisting the coach and helping others as they have been helping becomes apparent. Students may wish to pay back the coach for all the time and effort that has been put into their own training. This is the concept of Karma, or “returning the flow.” The teaching, knowledge and wisdom that has flowed through the instructor and through the black belt student, in turn, flows through to other students. The interesting thing about returning the flow, however, is that by giving to others, the black belt actually gains in other ways.
To Show Respect – Along with assisting, the black belt students should give all due respect to the coach. This not only sets the stage for others in studio to follow, but is an inherent part of the relationship. The black belt student must have a high degree of respect for the instructor in order to be able to learn. This means both in the dojo in obvious way [protocols] and outside the dojo in less obvious ways. Yes the coach must also respect the students in their willingness to learn, but it is the primarily the student’s responsibility to respect and give support to the instructor. When someone has the ability to literally make or break you, you’d better give that person every ounce of respect he or she deserves. If this is a problem, find another instructor you can respect. If you don’t you are cheating the [non-respected] coach as well as yourself.
To Ask Questions Appropriately – Asking questions can be done appropriately or inappropriately, it is done belligerently, with disrespect or animosity. Correctly, it becomes a quest for deeper understanding in order to become a more proficient martial artist or a more knowledgeable assistant. When done with humility and genuine thirst for knowledge, black belt students are able to reach a more thorough comprehension, thereby their martial arts skills and their ability to teach others. It may be, also, that the student has a question about why an instructor handles a situation either one way or the other. This generates the need for genuine communication. Which is the final and most important aspect of the coach / student relationship.