Accordinf to tradition, the practitioner’s development in the martial arts of the Way is made of three steps: Shu (learning the form), Ha (getting beyond the form) and Ri (trascending). Anyone who wants to learn martial arts begins from the Shu level (form). This level, which involved the whole Kyu sustem, is not part of the Way, it is a preparation to the Way. It deals with learning the technical basics and achieving the right attitude that makes it possible to receive the teachings of the actual Way. Even though the Shu level requires high technical skills, it is not meant to teach the Way. It teaches the form and keeps at good distance from Budo’s spiritual disciplines.
At black-belt level (Ha), the spiritual maturity merges with the techincal one and manifests itself as behaviour. The practinioner is still a student and needs a Master; but the Master won’t teach anything, he will only guide the research. The practitioner is under his own responsibility. His consideration, his responsibility, his dedication and his sacrifice are under test. The Master’s mere presence is the teaching.
The correct beginner’s spirit is the key to understanding martial arts and the goal of kyu levels is to achieve it. Having the spirit of the beginner means allowing true learning, searching for knowledge, and experience. The keikogi’s white colour symbolizes the purity of the beginner’s spirit: it is pure, simple and empty.
This must remind the student to experience him- or herself over and over again and never be satisfied with what he or she has learned. This spirit is of extraordinary importance even at higher levels. The advanced student’s spirit does not replace the beginner’s; on the contrary, it moulds it. If the practioner loses the beginner’s spirit, he or she will not be able to learn anymore. A Japanese saying goes: “In the beginner’s spirit there are many possibilities, in the the expert’s there are few”.
Lower kyu level (6th to 4th kyu)
Students from the lower level exercise for nearly 3 years the basic technical system. Along with physical exercise, an experimental process on the psychic level also begins. Budo’s strict rules are meant to develop this level. Lower levels develop self-discipline, will, patience, the correct way to meet others, and learning abilities. Without these important requirements it is not possible to achieve the higher levels.
This first level of Budo is the foundation for any further development. It teaches the “Low Ways” on which one first learns how to serve, to sacrifice oneself, to endure. Many avoid this experience and try to learn the technique without the right attitude, but in this way they weaken themselves and at the first obstacle they are wrecked.
Higher kyu level (3rd to 1st kyu)
The first confrontations with the Ego begin at this level. The student takes on most of the responsibility in a healthy teacher-to-student relationship. He or she must learn, by inner effort, how to go over unwillingness, rebellion, cowardice and, exercising self-perfection, always search for the correct attitude.
The technical requirements for this level are numerous but modest. They are the most visible side of martial arts that anyone, even without a thorough knowlege of the Way, can learn. In this field, the basics of movements and all the exterior and visible features of the techniques are analyzed and practiced in detail.
At this level there can not be a true understanding of the technique. Only when the inner attitude is freed from Ego’s constraints, when the student has won over egoistic feelings like pride, rightfulness, pretending, etc, the point of the new beginning has been reached. Here begins the way of Budo.
Yudansha student – the warrior (1st to 3rd dan)
The first dan rank of Budo (Shodan) authorizes to wear the black belt and is the first step of the student along the Way. It is not to be confused with mastering the martial art. Shodan means that the student masters the technical basics and that he or she has amplified his or her inner potential, so that in the subsequent grade he or she will be able to experiment the spirit of Budo. Here the Way begins. Dan means both “rank” and “grade” and indicates the grades of the Masters of Budo. Ranks from 1 to 4 are called “Yudansha” or “grades of the warrior”, a level at which one can become an expert of the technique. They learn the same techniques they formally mastered at kyu levels, but now to be comprehended from a higher perspective. At the same time, they find themselves for the first time in an true teacher-to-student relationship, where they have to accept a polite challenge with the Way’s teachings in order to pregress. The practitioner enters the warrior level when he or she also begins to meet requirements such as the perfectioned basic technique and the correct inner attitude. Without perfection of both requirements the highest levels of Budo can not be achieved.
Adapted from the book “Budo”, by Werner Lind