April 02, 2012

random reflections: kuro-obi (black belt)

"the color black will never be soiled like any other belt. the color black is the color of will-power. when you have it, you should understand this every time." - shibahara eiken sensei, kuro-obi

i've been hearing my friends rave about this movie so i gave it a shot. the only full movie i could find in youtube was with spanish subtitles which took me quite a while to finish as i have to pause and play to transcribe them in babel fish. my sister, who is fluent in the spanish language, was busy with her take home work so i couldn't invite her to watch the movie with me. nonetheless, the patience i have in translating everything was worth it. i could say that kuro-obi is one of the best martial arts movies i have ever seen.

martial art paractitioners, especially the karateka, will not be disappointed in this movie because this is real karate. no hadouken, no flashy high kicks, no combos, and no strings attached. these are the things which invite the innocent and the ignorant to enroll in dojos as they are misled to think that they can do all the flashy stuff in the films they watch. it was good that movies like these are hitting the big screen to let people know what true martial arts is like.

the story is about three students of shibahara karetedo school during the spark of militarism when the manchukuo colony was established in northern china in 1932. taikan, giryu and choei were the black belts who have completed and mastered the art of karate under shibahara sensei's wing. however, although they may have passed the physical demands of the discipline, they have to learn the deeper lessons of the art. the teachings came in swiftly when the kempeitai military police came to sequester their dojo. during those times, the government ceased the practice of martial arts to avoid any possible uprising from the masses who dare oppose the regime. giryu and taikan insisted that they keep their dojo and challenged the commander to a duel after choei was wounded at the attempt of keeping peace between his fellow students and the police. taikan defeated three policemen who fought him at the defense of their commander. as the commander took his turn in the fight, shibahara sensei had giryu continue the fight. despite the commander drawing his katana, his skills were no match against giryu, who left him close to his death. 

when their master fell ill, one of the three has to be the heir to the lineage of their art; however their master passed away without appointing a successor. after his death, another group of military policemen came but this time with loaded rifles, they have no other choice but to follow the military and become karate instructors. on their way to the police camp, they were ambushed by the commander's children. they found out that the commander committed sepukku because of shame. since giryu was responsible for the death of the children's father, he accepted defeat. he took their attacks, which caused him rolling downhill and was left for dead in the woods. as the three moved on with their lives, the twists of fate brought each to their own enlightenment, which at the end determined the heir to their sensei's black belt.

"there is no first attack in karate. the goal is to avoid the opponent. remember that you do not have to strike not kick your opponent this is what you have to embrace" - shibahara eiken, kuro-obi
watching the movie made me reminisce about how i grew up in martial arts. when  i was in elementary there were summer school programs being offered to make children more productive during vacation and one of them is martial arts. the catch was, they're only accepting 8-years-old children so on my 8th birthday, i requested it as a gift. my mom disapproved of it because girls are not supposed to be brute and violent. moreover, i was a pampered princess. my mom would yell at us if she caught us playing outside home and we get more yelling if we're wounded. however, my dad thinks differently. being a karateka himself, his heart's content is to protect all the women he left at home. but working overseas won't permit him so he wanted us to learn how to protect ourselves and our mother in case inevitable circumstances happen. since he's the man, he has to decide leaving my mom with no other choice but to send us to martial arts lessons. since then, my dad and i's bonding was martial arts. he would often call at home to ask for my progress and he's happy for every milestone achieved.

however, things changed when he found out what i was studying. he didn't like the discipline because the sport i studied focused more on competition than self-defense (i won't mention the name to respect the martial art). when he returned home he told me to stop practicing. my heart sank. at that time, i already went a long way and am just a few notches away from the coveted black belt. all the while i thought i'd stop studying martial arts when i found out that he's been looking for a japanese arts school near home. he and my uncle took karate lessons when they were still studying in the province and he's looking for a branch nearby but was not successful. however, he found traditional aikido, another japanese art, which is also being offered in the same gym where i was studying. he told me i'll become better with aikido. 

it was not hard to start from scratch especially if you have your achievements stuck in your head. although aikido is a defensive martial art, i was more hurt because of my refusal to adjust. sensei x would often say, "you will hurt yourself more if you resist!" before i fly off and roll unto the mats, which is in fact luckier than being locked. i hated my first month. what i could only connect to my practice back then was my love for physics as i am seeing all the theories being taught in school in application. i still practiced in that other art to satiate my ravenous thirst for power and to get that black belt once and for all. but fate was good at teaching people lessons and i was not exempted. i was cheated in a competition and got severely injured. everyone in the gym was disappointed at my act of "letting go" of my shot at joining the philippine team, which made me depressed for a time. 

when the news of my shameful defeat broke out at the dojo, it was a different atmosphere. "it's ok! let's eat it out!" jhay said. since that lunch out that very summer, my life changed. i found a best friend i have never found in the other sport due to tight competitions i have to win. the extra time for practices was changed to dinner or lunch outs depending on what time the sessions i will join. the grudges i keep after practices during hard sparring was changed to laughter. in fact, when i had my sprained shoulder after a bad fall after a throw  executed by my best friend, we watched a movie together right after my shoulder was treated. instead of going home alone, i have commuting buddies. and, the most wonderful thing of all, i have a second father in sensei x. as i drifted in the lessons and the companionship i had with the new light-hearted and peaceful way of life, i left the other martial art and forget my black belt.

ian sensei and ito sensei... dancing
in my 16 years of practicing martial arts with 12 years of it spent in aikido and in some other arts*, i cannot say that i have become the ideal martial arts practitioner but i know i have become a better person. martial arts is a way of life and there is much to learn outside the dojo and the mats. there are times when i have become the ravenous and bold taikan, the idealistic and timid giryu, and the weak and powerless choei in all the moments of my life. there are times when i need to become aggressive to stand firmly for what i believe in; when i  just have to sit back and watch because i have no power over the situation; or times when i don't need to act on thing -- whoever i have become and will become in the future, they represent the phases i must undergo in life to grow. as what ueshiba sensei, "life is growth. if we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead." whatever life may hold -- whether fate would compel to become any of the three -- we must not resist as wisdom comes with every experience. if we embrace and stop resisting, we then become the black belts of our own lives. 

of course, aikido has black belts. we call our black belts yudansha and they wear hakama on top of the black belt. however, my dreams of wearing the hakama was not as aggressive as when i was training hard for the black belt in the other discipline. if i'll be wearing a hakama i will only have these reasons: (1) he'll kick me out of the dojo because i am always hesitating to be promoted and (2) to help him teach aikido. i am not yet ready for the latter (but i can feel the former soon hehehehe). i don't know when i will wear my hakama as there are things in my life which need to be on top priority too like work and studies. whenever the day will be, it will definitely be a beginning of something else. 


"the greatest victory is victory over oneself" - morihei ueshiba
note: the kuro-obi photos were just googled.
* the other art will have its new entry. i cannot tell when. the clue about the other art is "patience"


  1. ugh.. my dad wanted us to take karate-do, but I was too immerse in the solar system and galaxies far far away... ;P **nerd/geek in the making** when I was like 8. My dad would wake me and my brother at 7 in the morning to do kicks and punches... now i wish I could do it.. Looking for a good MMA school here... I know I can do it, but I just to lazy sometimes.. hahaha

    1. no one's too late for anything :) you told me before you're enrolling in jiu jitsu right?

  2. "martial art paractitioners, especially the karateka, will not be disappointed in this movie because this is real karate. no hadouken"

    No hadouken?


    *walks out disappointed*


    1. hahahaha... sabi ko nga gagawa ako ng review ng tekken e. but then i would have a lot of haters when i do.

  3. That film has a message unique to every audience. Took me awhile before i finally got what that movie meant for me. For me, the 3 of them personifies the black belt practitioner as a whole. Taikan's strength and aggressiveness in combat. Giryu's self restraint obedience to his master and choei's pacifist nature. And perhaps, it was a display of the 5 virtues of the japanese martial art. Taikan's quest for knowledge of the mastery of the art and swift execution of justice. Giryu's benevolence and constant trust in human kindness. And choei's absolute obedience to his master's will which shows supreme etiquette. Hmmm...yes..i think thats about it really.. :-)

  4. hello mr anonymous with a signature smile. of all the movies i have watched, this one struck me the most because i can relate to it some 3 or 4 years ago with me as the pacifist "choei" in an attempt to "save everything". the movie's similar to what i have experienced except for the killing. thus, i immediately wrote my reflections on it. having achieved so much in this discipline is no joke especially if you have been practicing it for quite a while that it has already become you. :|