A Black Belt Story

So, one day I’m teaching class at my school. One of the instructors picks up the phone, talks for a minute, then comes over and says, “It’s a long distance call for you.” The instructor tells me its about a black belt I had given someone.

I go over to the phone and talk to this guy and find that he is the head of a chain of schools, ten of them, and he is trying to authenticate whether I had given his instructor—Dan Severn—a black belt. I freeze up, immediately. Dan and I had been friends, but he had been junior to me, about six months, as we went up the ranks. In this case I don’t remember. I think I had bought my franchise school and moved away before he got his black. I got my black belt when I was just eighteen, I was the youngest awarded to that date. Then, zoom, I was off and on the road to open a school. I remember we hung around together outside the school, but I don’t remember awarding him any belts. The timing doesn’t make sense.

I just can’t put it together, so I say, “Can I call you back? I’m in the middle of a class.”

I start teaching the next class but I’m really bothered; on the one hand, Dan might just be claiming what never happened; on the other hand, I guess I could have forgotten I attended a ceremony, or something like that. Back then, being a new black belt myself, I didn’t see how I could have awarded it alone; that would not have been the etiquette. It wasn’t done in those days. More importantly, this guy on the phone painted a picture of him as the head of ten schools, and you could just tell it was a thriving thing, they were tournament champions, sparring teams, the whole thing… and all based on this, his lineage. But he hadn’t addressed me like a grandteacher, and I was beginning to think that he had discovered something wrong in Dan’s story and was trying to validate his heritage.

After class, I call him back and, cautiously, ask him a few more questions. I probe, “Did you study from Dan?” and he says, “Yeah.” And he starts to tell me he’s got a big organization with hundreds of students, and they love to go to tournaments, and it’s a whole thing, and all this. “And we have this ritual,” he says. “Every time we go to a tournament, we take it out of a case and have a ceremony.” And I interrupt, “Take what out of the case?” And he says, “The black belt from Dan, the original one he gave me.” And I ask, “What are you talking about?” And he says, “Well, Dan gave me HIS black belt.”

And suddenly it hits me. There had been this prankish thing, that when people were awarded their black belts they would steal them from some of the more senior teachers because they were “worn in.” And it could happen to you, even if you were only a few months in. So I had bought Dan a black belt for about three dollars and given it to him, so when the time came—he was a very big guy—he wouldn’t have to order it, and wait, or steal it, or whatever. The fellow on the phone is asking me if this three dollar piece of cloth was the same one I had GIVEN Dan which, of course, he wore after being tested by someone else after I had left. I say, “Oh, that, sure, I gave him that.” The guy says, “Well, that’s all I’m checking up on, the lineage of the belt.” and he hangs up.

When the call ends, I sit there, wondering if he had taken it out of the case during our phone call, and let it sit, say, on the desk while we were talking. I sort of hope so.

One Response to “A Black Belt Story”

  1. Jeff says:

    That’s funny.

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