American Kenpo Legacy
Qualities and Characteristics of the Belt Ranks
Attaining rank is often a motivational goal for the majority of martial artists. The value of rank achieved is often different from school to school. Ed Parker realized this to be a problem. So he created his teaching curriculum to be taught in a consistent manner in order to establish uniformity within his American Kenpo association. Since his death, this uniformity has greatly changed. The following qualities and characteristics have been compiled from, Kenpo Karate Student Booklet, by Eric D. Lamkin, 1992, and The Qualities and Characteristics of Rank, by Larry G. Tatum, Black Belt Magazine, October, 1998.
Yellow through 1st Degree Black Belt
(from Kenpo Karate Student Booklet, by Eric D. Lamkin).
The following are the objectives to achieve the qualities and characteristics of each belt:
A Yellow Belt practitioner is given an introduction to the American Kenpo System while developing a working knowledge of the basics – the foundation of the Art.
An Orange Belt practitioner must strive for the development of proper form so as to enhance the effectiveness of the basics.
A Purple Belt practitioner must strive for the development of speed achieved through economy of motion by executing basics with proper form.
A Blue Belt practitioner must possess a proper display of power achieved by the correct application of form plus speed of the basics.
A Green Belt practitioner must strive for the development of timing achieved by the proper application of breath control.
3rd Degree Brown Belt
A 3rd Degree Brown Belt practitioner must strive for the development and display of focused strikes achieved by adding power to breath control.
2nd Degree Brown Belt
A 2nd Degree Brown Belt practitioner must enhance his/her physical fitness in order to increase ones stamina and to make one more tolerant of pain.
1st Degree Brown Belt
A 1st Degree Brown Belt practitioner must strive for the development of mental skills by possessing a working knowledge of the principles, concepts and theories of American Kenpo Karate.
1st Degree Black Belt
A 1st Degree Black Belt must demonstrate his/her expertise in American Kenpo by properly applying these three formulae:
Knowledge of Basics + Form + Speed = Power
Power + Breath Control = Focus
Focus + Physical Conditioning + Working Knowledge of Concepts, Principles and Theories = Expertise in individual self-defense skills.
1st Degree Black Belt through 10th Degree Black Belt
(from The Qualities and Characteristics of Rank, by Larry G. Tatum)
First Degree Black Belt
A first-degree black belt (junior instructor) has achieved a certain level of physical expertise. Understanding the concepts and principles of motion, he has become a formidable fighter defensively and offensively. However, his skills outstrip his ability to communicate and teach, so teaching is essential to any further progress.
Second Degree Black Belt
For the second-degree black belt (associate instructor), the ability to teach has begun to reinforce newfound skills. He has discovered that "to teach is to learn," and this is accomplished by a re-evaluation of past mistakes and bad habits. A new sense of responsibility appears, and he must begin to cultivate an image of authority within the school.
Third Degree Black Belt
At third degree (senior instructor), the black belt fins that first and second-degree black belt look to him for guidance and direction in the execution of techniques. He now has the authority within the school environment to organize a curriculum, express policy and set up tests.
Fourth Degree Black Belt
At fourth-degree black belt (head instructor), the black belt acquires the privilege of overriding others within the school after careful discussion, as well as a more mature ability to communicate that allows teaching first, second and third degree black belts. Together with these responsibilities, the fourth-degree black belt assists the master instructor in seminars, demonstration and other public functions at which the school and the art are represented. His physical expertise should be noticeably above that of more junior black belts, particularly in terms of speed, power and timing.
Fifth Degree Black Belt
The fifth-degree black belt (associate professor), has reached the level at which he begins to teach the art beyond the realm of the school. Although the school curriculum has been carefully spelled out, he is no longer bound by it and has acquired the ability to tailor it to fit individual student needs. At fifth degree, in short, the black belt now moves on to a broader base of responsibility.
Sixth Degree Black Belt
The sixth-degree black belt (professor) has now reached a level at which he can not only teach the art but also begin to positively formulate its concepts and principles outside his school. As a result, caution becomes imperative. He has advanced to a critical point in his art, and it is at this point that his accumulation of time in grade becomes his defense against teaching what he cannot later retract.
Seventh Degree Black Belt
At seventh-degree black belt (senior professor), a noticeable change takes place in the black belt’s understanding of his art. He becomes capable of ascertaining the problems that lie within the teaching of the curriculum. Working from a broader base and beginning to teach locally, nationally and internationally what was once taught mainly at home, he now recognizes that his former ways may not work abroad and must be tailored to particular minds, cultures and agendas. He has realized that while the language of the art remains the same, the varied applications of that language must be fitted to the environment. In brief, a seventh degree who goes out to teach in the world must have learned to tailor his teachings to the place and the people.
Eighth Degree Black Belt
At eighth-degree black belt (associate master), the black belt’s concerns shift to exploring areas of physical mastership that were not visible to him in the past. His art eventually begins to expand physically and mentally, so much so that a definite physical change becomes evident, expressing the fact that he has begun to settle into a physical mastery. Thus, movements are less contrived because they are in the process of becoming embodied within him.
Ninth Degree Black Belt
At ninth-degree black belt (master of the arts), the black belt has reached to a level where, at any given moment, he can choreograph a technique by reaching a "super-conscious" level. No longer separate from the art he has internalized, he has at last embodied it and become an element of it. What he teaches and what he physically embodies are indivisible. His contributions to the martial arts inside and outside the community are many, and his rank is backed by at least 25 years of sacrifice and service.
Tenth Degree Black Belt
Tenth-degree black belt (senior master of the arts) represent a lifelong endeavor to help all humankind. The rank is so respected by peers and students that the person’s word affects the course of the art.
(The titles for the 10 ranks of black belt and the basic ideas of the differences between them came from Ed Parker.
I have added a few needed definitions and explanations and provided interpretations.) - Larry G. Tatum