Blood, Sweat, Tears, Time, and Treasure: This Is What It Takes To Get Your Black Belt.

My journey in martial arts started  in 1978 when I was 7 years old and my mom first walked me into an after school boxing program in the basement of my elementary school, run by Bob Dekker.

I would go on to spend my junior high and high school years studying Taekwon-do under Master Nhumey Tropp; another 3 years studying Kickboxing under Coach Haru Shinimanishi and WKA world heavy-weight kickboxing champion (and two-time UFC champion) Maurice Smith; another year of Wing Chun with my friend Mark, who had studied Tsun-Jo Wing Chun with John Beall (who studied under James DeMile and Ed Hart; both of them studied under Bruce Lee) for many years, and his friend, a Chinese exchange student [whose name escapes me--sorry] who studied traditional Wing Chun under William Chung (a student of Yip Man; Man was also Bruce Lee's instructor).

I then found Sensei Vernon Owens, who at that time was the highest ranked black belt internationally in Joko Ninomiya's Enshin Karate.  I also spent many hours learning freestyle wrestling from my friend Kwame, who wrestled Varsity at Garfield High School, and many more studying Brazilian Jujitsu under Professors Marcello Alonso (Carlson Garcie Jr. affiliate) and Rodriego Lopez (Gracie Barra affiliate). My journey in Enshin (then Kenzen Karate, after Sensei Owens left Enshin to form his own organization) took me 8 years.


Just speaking to my time in traditional Japanese bare-knuckle/knockdown karate, I was seriously injured (I ultimately required 4 separate knee surgeries), jailed after being falsely accused, and finally dumped by my girlfriend at the time, which left me homeless.

Yet, then as now, I trained. Without fail. Regardless of whatever chaos and craziness was going on in my personal life. Unless it was a serious injury, like when I fell down 50 ft into an empty ravine and had to be carried out by paramedics on a backboard; or when I torn my ACL and meniscus, at the same time, while training for the Sabaki Challenge. Otherwise, you would find me training where ever and whenever I could.

It is a relative handful that walk a particular path on the journey towards mastering the basics of a style/system/art, and an even smaller group that actually go on to get their black belt (or relative equivalent) in their particular style/system/art. In my time in the arts, I have found there are common themes that characterize this walk, regardless of system or style: blood, sweat, tears, time, and treasure.

The blood represents, in both an allegorical and literal sense; in particular the occasional injuries that do occur during training. While every effort is made to keep karate training safe, this karate is specifically designed to work in the real world against opponents of all types. Thus, we train in the direction of full-contact, with or without weapons. This has an element of danger associated with it.

The sweat is the result of physical exertion. Also, soreness. And the feeling that comes from being uncomfortable when first learning something new; much like the clamminess of a sweaty gi when cold air hits it. Physical conditioning can mean the difference between escape or hospitalization.

Tears. They can be tears of joy that come from accomplishing a long-term goal. Tears of pain, related to an injury. Or the tears that come from the flood of repressed memories of past assaults and/or situations of  intimidation that are sometimes released during scenario training.

Time, more specifically in this case, speaks to the number of years or hours training and commitment made to the school (dojo) by a student.

Treasure are the timely financial contributions and in-kind donations made to the dojo by its students and instructor.

21st Century Martial Arts of Seattle is primarily a school of self-defense, because GCL Modern Karate is primarily a real-world, no-nonsense, self-defense art!


Like any college, there are required courses, and electives. Also, like any college there are examinations, group projects, and homework. And, like any college, the point is to graduate; or in this case, to attain a black belt! 

And what is required to get your black belt, at this school, is blood, sweat, tears, time, and treasure!

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