The Ultimate Black Belt Test as a yearly project where XX amount of people join, then go through their tests together is finished. This 9 year (or so) project is coming to an end in its current form, as I've come to a place where I can no longer adequately manage the participants to a degree that enhances and/or improves the program.
What is left behind the current testers and all those who have participated is, I think, a good number of useful ideas, a 1000 good memories, and a million or so words on what black belt testing could and should be, might be, and/or is becoming.
I think part of the end of the program stems from my own disillusion with the martial arts world, in general, specifically the world of business, school management that is, where I've been a longtime fixture. I think the UBBT has served its purpose, which looking back now, has been to open up dialogue about ways we might improve the process and the outcome of testing.
The UBBT has evolved into a similar program, www.The100.us, where we're also working on the fabric of our efforts as martial arts teachers, but where rank and/or the attainment of rank is not a factor. The 100. is where we are continuing the discussion of expanding the teachers role in his/her community --and in the world.
I initially set out to make the UBBT a part of my 7th dan test, as I've been a 6th dan for more than a decade and was looking for something I could contribute to the martial arts world that would represent the skill level I envisioned a 7th dan should have (that is, not just the physical skills, but managerial and organizing skills as well). But in the years I've been running the UBBT I have lost the desire to attain new rank, partly due to the fact, I think, that I've been looking so hard and long at what rank is, what it means (or doesn't mean), and what my peers do --or don't do --as high ranking black belts.
I'm currently involved in learning and becoming proficient at judo and jiu-jitsu, partly due to my interest in the arts, and partly due to close proximity to competent teachers. I'm also not very talented in either art, not for lack of trying and/or of length of time trying to gain more skill, so rather than the less-than-enthusiastic practice of skills I'm well versed in, I am pursuing more skill in grappling, as I thoroughly enjoy the struggle of the grappling game. I'm not going to be testing for 7th dan anytime soon, if ever, although I am going to try to achieve a brown belt level of skill in BJJ. I've had a gradual and now rather abrupt disconnection with my longtime martial arts master teacher, after 30 years, --and at my/our age, I don't see an opening for either of us returning to the teacher/student relationship we once enjoyed. And frankly, to earn rank from anyone else would, to me, be meaningless --and I've no interested in advancing myself, so I am finishing my own testing process, as a black belt in TKD / eclectic martial arts.
Not advancing beyond the rank of 6th dan might, I think, in itself serve as a tool for other teachers. I was recently told that Shotokan karate's founder Gichin Funakoshi passed away as a 5th dan. That, and the fact that with some exceptions, I am in general, disappointed with the number of 7th and 8th dans I've been meeting, as it seems the rank is, more or less, a fairly meaningless (to the world, not to the individual) accouterment. To continue to run a testing program that helps people gain new rank no longer interests me, although the discussion of what the martial arts are, in today's world --and what purpose they might serve beyond the obvious, is something I'm still interested in discussing and exploring.
I am, however, open to the idea that exemplary effort from martial arts teachers who are my students might be awarded with new rank, if their work serves as a model for an ideal of performance and contribution I think is worthy of recognition. Several of my longtime students are doing work in the world, on behalf of the martial arts and at the highest levels, that is so important I am compelled to encourage them and have them advance in status, if only to point the way for those that might follow them. So while I will still offer rank to my own, truly dedicated, students, I will not advance anyone beyond my own rank, nor will I continue this effort to serve as a grading source for all styles of black belts, as I had originally set out to do.
Not to take anything away from anyone I have ever awarded rank to, as every black belt I have given others has been heartfelt and hard-earned, but during the UBBT it has occurred to me that "the ultimate" experience, as a serious student of this Way, is to work so very hard for something, to dedicate one's life to being worthy of advancement, and then to let go of it.
This idea is, for me, right now, a statement about the true nature of the work, as best I can currently express it.
April 10-14, 2013 I will be hosting our yearly build-vention in Greensboro, Alabama --and this will be the final event and graduation of all past and current UBBT members seeking rank and/or who are participating in the program.
Aug. 15, 2012