Let’s discuss one of the reoccurring diseases that result from Karate training, being Brown Belt-itis.
I first discovered it in my students close to thirty years ago, and despite efforts to stamp it out, the disease keeps popping up in my students. It’s not restricted to brown belts, it can occur at any rank, though rarely is it seen in White Belts. Even more awful it can occur in Black Belts. I’ve even suffered it myself.
It has many symptoms, the cause is known as well as the cure.
The symptoms, well I’ll give some examples. They’re real examples but the students names are withheld, though they may recognize themselves, simply because the disease is real.
In kata studies, it most often occurs as Brown Belt level. It’s where a student concentrates on the new and neglects their prior studies. They lose sight that they must continue to keep progressing on everything. Part of their advancement is that they have to become more responsible for all their art.
At times techniques change in the kata, at sometimes a regular rate of chance, say30% of the students make the same change, a movement that was never taught. This symptom is so regular it may be the way some nervous systems work, but it needs to be conquered.
Another kata challenge is the Brown Belt study of Kusanku Kata. In Isshinryu it is our longest kata, for that reason students get ahead of themselves in the practice of the kata. Thinking of the next technique they forget to finish the technique they are on. Thus blocks become less than slaps and weak or punches become pushes.
For all of the above, the cure is correct practice. I even warn the students that this will occur to stress vigilance. But Brown Belt-itis still lurks.
Another symptom can occur in kumite. The student having developed some technique begins to feel they know more about what they need, often with interesting results.
One student had super kicks and really enjoyed going to the head. After receiving repeated instruction that this wasn’t the best idea at tournaments would still follow his heart. It took repeated tournaments where he got kicked in the groin (with attendant pain) before he could accept that we had a reason for our cautions, and it wasn’t his ability to kick, it was instead when to kick.
Another student was working out with friends who were boxing. He came up with the idea that mixing boxing and karate kicks was the way to win at tournaments. Even with repeated attempts to dissuade him he held to his game plan. Simply put at a karate tournament it didn’t gain points and afterward it was another instructor who made it clear to him. The same message he had heard but couldn’t hear, Brown Belt-itis.
I once had a group of newer students that I spent the evening showing a simple aikido technique, one of the first movements that I had learned from Sutrisno Sensei many years before. We did a lot of drill and
I explained it’s many uses. Later during a free practice period, another student with many different brown belts behind him was impressing them with his jumping spinning crescent kicks, and all they felt they could do was back up. I an older and much slower instructor took the opportunity and told them they were missing the obvious answer. I then stood before the ‘brown’ belt and asked him to let me have it. He started his attack with speed and accuracy, but I didn’t stand there, instead I stepped in and reached out. He went flying 15 or so feet into the wall (the intent of perceived pain the cause). All I did was the same technique I was showing them earlier. They weren’t Brown Belts, but Brown Belt-itis was the cause.
I’ve suffered it myself. Among my earliest studies with Sutrisno Sensei were two of his simplier Kama kata studies (Chosen no Kama Sho and Chosen No Kama Dai). His family kobudo traditions are unique and the forms build on the same core and the kata in the series advance. What makes them unique are the continual handling shifts the kata require. I’ve not seen similar complexity elsewhere. In the early 90’s my studies with Sutrisno Sensei came to an end. Over the years, with arthritis and aging I became convinced that the purpose of the shifting was simply to build handling skill and under no circumstances would it be utilized for real. Then a few years ago I pulled out an older video tape of Sutrisno Sensei working Chosen No Kama Dai with me. There I saw his technique a veritable vegamatic of movement. Where for me it was exercise, for him it was reality, and this wasn’t his most advanced kama study.
Study isn’t videotape to me, and I neglected to review what I already had.
Essentially Brown Belt-itis occurs when we ignore our instructor’s lessons, intentionally or unintentionally. The cure, correct practice.
Be ever vigilant.