What is a black belt really worth?

By Hali SerrianAthens Yoshukai Tournament Bow In

The ranking system is so ingrained in karate culture that most of us don’t even stop to question it. We line up by rank. We defer to higher ranks. We know a black belt should be better at karate than us. But take a step back and questions come to mind: who started the ranking system and when? How did it develop? Why do we have colored belts? If someone is a black belt, how good should they be?

As ancient as it seems, the colored belt/black belt ranking system has only been used in martial arts for a little more than 100 years. Jigaro Kano, founder of Judo, was the first one to Athens Yoshukai Soke Visitconfer black belts on his students in the 1880s. They were sashes rather than proper belts, as they wore kimono rather than dogi (these were developed later, also by Professor Kano). There were black belts and white belts, no in between. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the colored belts were added in between white and black.

Contrary to what the movies and assumption teach, having a black belt does not mean a martial arts practitioner is a walking weapon of destruction, ready to defeat anything that crosses his path. Rather black belt, or Shodan (which we know means “first”) denotes that a practitioner is competent in the basic techniques, philosophies and principles of his chosen style. If a martial arts journey is a flight of stairs, Shodan is the first step. All the kyu grades (the colored belts) are the landing leading to the stairs.

Does this mean the kyu grades are pointless? Of course not. You have to get to the stairs somehow. The kyu grades help those of us who haven’t been practicing martial arts for 30+ years a way to measure our progress, just as the degrees of black belt help to measure the progress of those more experienced. The kyu grades divide three years of material and study into manageable three to six month chunks. It allows more senior Athens Yoshukai Color Belt Teststudents to teach junior students (say a green belt teaching a yellow belt) with a certain amount of authority and confidence. It gives more externally motivated students a clear goal that they can strive for. And it allows incremental improvements to be made on various techniques, with a certain improvement to be made with each rank.

Just because someone is a black belt does not mean they are a super duper awesome martial artist in all aspects. There are fighters and kata folks and teachers and everywhere in between. But if a person does have a black belt, especially in our dojo, you can be assured they at least have a grasp of the basic concepts of Yoshukai. They are no longer a basic student; they are a true learner of the style, one who has put in great time and effort to achieve that rank. That is what a black belt really is; time and effort. Competency, and later excellence, comes when those two requirements are met.

For more information on the history of the ranking system, see this article: http://www.minrec.org/wilson/pdfs/History%20of%20Belts%20and%20Ranks.pdf

Or there’s also Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_belt_%28martial_arts%29

Athens Yoshukai Dawkins

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Advancement Requirements

By Erik Hofmeister

The nuts and bolts of requirements for advancement are available in each style’s curriculum.  Usually, there is a combination of time in rank (i.e. number of months that has elapsed since last promotion), number of hours in class since last promotion, learning new techniques, and refinement of existing techniques.  Usually, each of these must be met at a minimum.  That is, you cannot have the minimum number of class hours and then test unless you also have the time in rank and KarateQuotePathadvancement of techniques.  Why, if you’ve learned all the material in a month, can you not just test and promote?

1) Dwell Time

This is the term I give for learning or improving material, and then time passing.  Maybe you practice that material, maybe you don’t.  After a period of time, trying the same techniques, you will have learned something, or developed.  Not as much as if you had been practicing, obviously, but the brain has had some time to process the information, integrate it into what it already knows, and evolve around that information.  Even if you practice your techniques every day for a month, you will learn something different if you practice the technique once a month for a quarter of a year.  I’m not advocating this as a way to actually learn the technique well- that requires actual practice.  But your knowledge and understanding will evolve just with time.  There is no substitute for time.

2) Giving Back

A student could just come to class and learn the material and soak it up in fewer class hours or fewer months than the minimum.  In doing so, though, they likely will not attend enough class to learn how to apply it (in sparring) or practice teaching it.  Teaching is a critical part of Athens Yoshukai.  It makes students better by improving their understanding, and allows students to give back to the dojo by helping more junior students learn in a smaller group setting.  If a student only learns techniques, their understanding will always be more limited than if they also teach those techniques.

3) Parity

Not all students are equal in athleticism, ability to learn material, ability to attend class, and many other variables.  The minimum requirements help maintain some equality among students.  No matter how many classes you attend or how long you hold a rank, you must learn the material for the next rank and spend the required necessary time in your current rank. If you are able to come to class every day, you must still have that minimum time in rank.  This helps to make sure that all students have a similar rate of opportunity to advance. Again, the more time you put in, the better.  But the minimums help maintain some equality among students.

In addition to the stated minimums and curriculum, there are other important intangibles that affect advancement.  Students should show that they follow the five precepts in the dojo.  Students who are resistant to instruction, who are not respectful to their peers, or have other attitude problems- even apparently minor ones- may not advance.  Yoshukai is not only about technique.  If it were, we would be a karate-jutsu.  Yoshukai is about a way of life and a philosophy.  The combination of time in rank, class hours, learning technique, improving technique, and intangibles are all necessary for advancement in this karate-do.  This is a traditional art, with traditional ideals.  For a more American, monetized way of doing things, try a different style.

A young boy encountered a Zen master on his travels.  “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.  “I wish to be your student and achieve enlightenment,” the boy replied “How long must I study?”  “At least ten years,” answered the master.  “What if I studied twice as hard?” asked the boy.  “Twenty years” replied the master.  “Twenty years!” “What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” the boy asked.  “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.  “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.  “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

KarateMichiPath

What Yoshukai is All About

By Hali SerrianKarateTraditionalTournament2015Bowin

One of Yoshukai karate’s claims to fame is that it is the “Actual Fighting Karate”. Well at the Traditional Tournament in Roswell this past weekend, it certainly showed itself to be that and more.

The Atlanta Tournament is the only closed Yoshukai tournament. This means that there were only Yoshukai dojo present, doing Yoshukai forms, and everyone there was in some way related to our style. The Atlanta tournament has competitions in kata, weapons, self-defense, point sparring and semi-knockdown; there’s something for everyone. Athens Yoshukai Karate represented itself well. Dr. Elrod, Dr. Sharma, Ms. Gao, Mr. Cheesobrough, Ms. Sleeman and myself all competed, and everyone won a first-place medal, or earned a second-place medal because the first was taken by someone in our own dojo!

Before any of the competition started, there was bow in and the presentation of new blackKarateShihanLillyPromotionbelts. All those who had tested at Winter Camp were given their new belts and certificates. There was also the promotion of Shihan Lilley to 7th dan, a rare occurrence and particularly exciting. He is the fourth person in the US to earn this rank, after Master Toyama, Master Culbreth, and Master Blanck.

The first part of the tournament was black belt competition. There was Iai (sword), bo tai sai, and bo tai bo. The iai kata is intricate and precise, but KarateIaiCompetitionthere are lots of pauses and space in between the strikes, so it has a different feel to it than most of our kata. There are strikes from seiza (kneeling position) as well as standing, and there is always kiai. It was powerful to watch. Bo tai said and bo tai bo both involve partnered competitors. It’s basically Ippon Kumite with weapons. I particualary like when the bo person sweeps at the other person’s feet and they have to jump the bo or risk getting hit. Timing has to be almost perfect. With the team who won it was like watching a real fight, which is what it’s supposed to be simulating.

After the blackbelts competed, it was the colored belts’ turn. The divisions were divided into under 18 and adult, and from there divided by rank.  In the open hand forms there was a wide variety, with everything from Shiho Hai to Rho Hai Sho amongst the brown belts, and Nijushichi No Kata up to Kihon Kata Yondan among the lower ranks. It wasn’t the difficulty of the form that determined the winner, but rather the excellence of the form performed. After the forms came the fighting, something many had been waiting the whole tournament for.

KarateBlackbeltPointThe most fun part of watching the tournament was watching the blackbelt point sparring. These are karate-ka who have known each other for 20 or 30 years and they were having a grand time joking around and laughing all while trying to backspin hook kick their buddy in the head. It was quite fun to see. It was also very impressive. They weren’t just punching and kicking and flailing while trying to hit the other. They were carefully calculating how to get the point. They were distracting each other with jokes and waving hands and feints. They were trying to outsmart each other and just have a good time. It really was a game of tag to them and they were enjoying themselves, even if they lost.

Semi-knockdown is a different beast when there are really good fighters present. A good semi-knockdown match is more than two people beating on each other. The winner isn’t determined by who has better technique; it’s who has more stamina, better conditioning and, most importantly, more heart. Semi-knockdown tests the fighters’ spirit, which as we all know is one of Yoshukai’s defining characteristics. Semi-knockdown is preparation for full knockdown fighting, which is what gives Yoshukai its actual fighting karate fame. Wayward blows can lead to injuries, so control is important, and most of the competitors were able to demonstrate that control. When a blow did go wrong, and someone needed a break to check for injury, the offending fighter knelt down facing away from the other, showing respect and that they wouldn’t fight an injured opponent. This is something that  shows that respect is important to us, even between those who are fighting.

After the tournament’s end, some of the folks from our dojo and Clarke County Yoshukai went out for food and social time. It was a lot of fun, with plenty of laughter and good conversation. It emphasized the spirit behind the traditional tournament and all World Yoshukai events: to have fun with your karate friends. Whether you’re practicing in class, competing against top-tier opponents, or just having dinner after all that is done, Yoshukai is a family, and that’s why it’s a great thing to be a part of.

KarateTraditionalTournament2015

How to Self-Produce an Effective Promotional Video

By Krystina Francis

The Athens branch dojo recently launched the first of two videos promoting both Yoshukai Karate and the specific branch. If you have ever priced video production, you will have discovered that the lowest average rate falls between 5k-10k for 90-120 seconds of promotional video. Costs can run MUCH, much higher, though.

Why is video production so expensive? Is it possible to do it yourself or at least significantly reduce the cost? Let’s look at what you pay for when you have someone else do a promotional video from start to finish, and how you can do it yourself using the Athens “Warrior Legacy” project as the example.

Know You Market, and What You Hope to Accomplish

Everything starts with knowing who your audience is, understanding what they want, and identifying objections you need to overcome with your message. One message will not effectively reach all of your audience, so you really have to focus on one group at a time.

You can go as granular as you want, but most dojos likely have 3 basic audiences: Adult Males, Adult Females, and Parents of Children (since they are the decision maker). You don’t have to hire a marketing firm to identify whether you have more of one type or send out surveys on why they chose your dojo- you have a personal relationship with everyone that walks through your door. These are numbers you can run yourself, and questions you can explore directly.

At the Athens Dojo, only adults are taught, not children. We didn’t have to appeal to parents, which made it easy to focus on just two messages- one for men and one for women. And what did we hope to accomplish with the message? New members joining the dojo of course!

But what are some of the objections that potential new members might bring up? Well, for students it might be cost, for older adults it might be the perceived difficulty of the work-outs, and for others it might simply be an unfamiliarity with the Yoshukai style, or even the location of the dojo.

Once you have 1) defined your audience, 2) determined what you hope to accomplish by having a conversation with your audience and 3) identified their potential objections and how to overcome those, it is time to find themes. These generally become apparent by making a simple list for each audience based on what they like about your dojo and why they wanted to start martial arts in the first place.

These themes are the key to the next step- script development!

Total Cost So Far: $0

 

Writing a Script, and Telling a Story

Using the themes you have identified, choose a primary theme to set the stage for the script development. Your goal is to create enough material for a 1-2 minute video. In the video we produced, that worked out to be about 8 scenes. Try to tell a story first, though, and the script should naturally break itself into scenes.

There are some important things to consider when writing your script, which can greatly affect the final cost of the video. Will you need to hire actors or voice over talent? Will you need to scout locations and pay rental fees? Will any of the scenes you describe require special effects or animation? Will you need stunts? Saying yes to any of these questions means potentially big bucks, with acting talent being your cheapest spend.

For me personally, the stage at which I refine a script is also when I look to possible music selections for inspiration. The pacing and the scene selections can be driven by the type of music you choose. I can listen to a piece of music and literally see the video play out in my head, but this is just how I operate creatively. Another approach may work better for someone else.

So let’s look at how this advice played out for the video we launched at the Athens branch. The title of the video reveals the main themes: “Warrior Legacy”. We knew the first video would be directed at a mostly male audience, but we kept it accessible to women by featuring female martial artists throughout and by using a female narrator.

This is how we utilized our themes:

Legacy:

  • History of Yoshukai (legitimizes the style)
  • Training to Teach (being a part of something bigger than self, carrying on traditions)

Warrior:

  • Techniques, Weapons, and Sparring (appealing to Athlete, Protector/Defender, Traditionalist, Competitor)

The objections we overcame included cost and unfamiliarity with the style.

The script did go through a set of revisions before filming in which one scene was cut and the voice over changed slightly. We benefited greatly from having a small team contribute feedback throughout the process. You can look through our original script here, and compare it to the final version of the video. This will also give you a template for formatting your scene descriptions.

But keep in mind that there is no shame in hiring a script writer! A good script is very important, and if you are going to spend on something, spend it here. If you read through your own script and discover overused clichés, such as the phrase “fun for the whole family”, or find that your scenes all seem very separate and unrelated, you probably need a writer to help create your story. Give them your market research, your desired themes, objections to overcome, and tell them the end goal for the video.

Self-Produced Script: $0

Script Writer: $150/hour

Total Cost So far: $0-$600+

 

Casting

Now that you have your script done, you can decide who should be involved in each scene. You will likely find plenty of volunteers from within your own organization, just remember that if you cast children, you ALWAYS have to get a signed consent form from the parents.

If you need actors, find a local casting company and a description of what roles you need filled (called a casting breakdown). Aspiring actors trying to build their resume will often work for free, but if you do offer payment it can be per day, per project or per hour. Basically the pay can be whatever you want, as this will be a non-union production.

The same is true for voice over talent, but in this case, you DO want to pay someone a project fee, and an average rate on the low end would be $150. The reason you will pay a VO talent is that you need someone to produce the voice over clips in their own home studio and send you the files. While you might find an aspiring voice over talent for free, they likely will not have the equipment to produce decent recordings, and you would end up paying a sound studio anyway.

Another option is to purchase your own voice over mic, and use a volunteer within the organization to record the voice over. Since this decision needs to be made during casting, let’s review specifics now instead of in the production section of the article. You can get a basic voice over mic with a pop filter for about $150 that plugs into a computer (see picture). There is a free audio recording software called Audacity that is quite easy to use. You will have spent about the same amount of money as you would hiring a talent, but now you can create your own recordings whenever you need to.Athens Yoshukai Karate Microphone

Scene Volunteers: $0

VO Talent or Recording Mic: $150

Total Cost So far: $150-$750+

 

 

 

Assigning Production Roles

Deciding early on who will be responsible for each area of production is just as important as deciding the players for each scene. Some areas of responsibility include lighting, sound, videography, location selection, directing, wardrobe, coordination, set design, props, and the assembly of the final product in post. Let’s talk briefly about each of these in the context of your project, though, because you may not need every role filled and the same person may talk on several responsibilities for your production.

Director and Assistant Director (AD): The AD is usually responsible for crowd control and as funny as it sounds, yelling direction. For this type of project, your AD may be assigned to wrangle the kids. The director is concerned with specifics (usually having to do with the principal actors) and is constantly reviewing the camera footage to find any detail that may be off and will offer specific direction as needed. The Director in this case will heavily influence or even choose the scenes that go into the final video. Keep in mind that the reason you so often see a writer/director credit given to the same person is because the writer often has a very specific vision of the final product and the filming can benefit from it.

Producer: A common misconception is that the producer pays for the project. There are different types of producers, and yes, sometimes they do fund the project, but they are much more important than that. For a production this size, the producer is going to act as the coordinator for all production activities. They will develop your filming schedule, make sure the appropriate forms get filled out, handle the communications with all parties involved in the production, and will work with the director on locations for filming.

They will probably also ensure that the set is “dressed”, the right props are available when needed, and everyone is wearing the right clothing for each scene. Normally these responsibilities would each belong to a different person or department, but for our purposes, this should be very straightforward. The dojo will likely be the set, the right clothing will be a dogi, and props might be a weapon of choice or a punching bag.

Videographer: This is probably going to be the person in your organization who owns recording equipment, so you don’t have to pay a professional. I would recommend that the person who owns the equipment be responsible for taping the scenes, since they are probably the most familiar with their camera set up. They can also be responsible for the lighting. Even if they do not own lights or diffusers, they can adjust their camera to keep the scenes looking as consistent as possible so that it is not apparent in the final cut what time of day certain scenes were shot. Use the highest possible quality settings available on the camera, even if your distribution for the video will just be Youtube. You can always decrease the video quality in post if necessary, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

Sound: This role may also be filled by the videographer but it really depends on what is happening in the scene. In “Warrior Legacy” we had 2 audio tracks and 1 music track layered in post. The first audio track was simply the audio the camera picked up while filming the students in the dojo. It worked as intended as background noise in the final cut of the video.

The one exception was the video interview with Sensei Hofmeister. In this scene, a shotgun mic was attached to the camera, and that was the only audio track used for that scene. A shotgun mic can also be attached to a boom and held over actors in a scene to pick up sound when the camera needs to be farther away. Like the VO mic, the shotgun mic is a basic tool that would be handy to have on hand for future productions.

The second audio track was the voice over segments recorded separately and of course the soundtrack clip was the third track.

Editor: This is the person that puts everything together. As this is a specialized skill set, you may not have someone on hand proficient at using video editing software. If you do not have someone to edit together your video, and you cannot afford to pay someone, then the easiest tool for you to use will be Windows Live Movie Maker, which is likely installed on a PC with Windows 7 and above. You will have limited to no control over layering audio or adjusting the appearance of the video, but you will be able to easily string together clips and trim them, implement transitions, and create a title or credits screen. This software is extremely easy to use. I’m sure there is a Mac equivalent, as well.

Of course the best option will be a more robust program like Adobe Premiere. You can get a 30 day free trial of the software, and then pay monthly for access until your video is done. However, very little about this software is intuitive. I had previous experience with other video editing and sound editing software, and there was still quite a bit of a learning curve that extended our final timelines. It enabled us to do full frame image pans, apply video corrections and effects, and layer audio at assigned levels, though.

Production Volunteers: $0

Couple months of Premiere: $50

Shotgun Mic: $200

Total Cost So far: $400-$1000+

 

Planning and Execution

You now have your script, your cast, and your crew with their respective equipment. Your producer will put together the filming schedule, and since everyone working on your production will likely be a volunteer, the schedule will be heavily influenced by their availability.

Each day of shooting will have its own Call Sheet. A Call Sheet shows the location of the set, the location of parking, instructs cast and crew on their call times, and may include any special notes or instructions such as: Must bring your release forms, or Bring your Bo with you to set, etc. This can be as informal as an email reminder.

If you want to be really organized, you can use a production slate at the beginning of each scene. This is typically done with a clapperboard, but you can use a small whiteboard. The most important info is the scene number, the take, and the date. The director may take notes on which take they felt was the best, and the production slate will help the editor match the director’s notes to the right video clip.

It is most efficient to immediately deliver the footage to your editor. They can pick out the best clips and begin editing them, while you continue to film other scenes on other days. This will also allow the editor to notify you if footage is unusable and needs to be reshot, which does happen sometimes.

An optional step of preparation you can take for complex or choreographed scenes is to create basic storyboards. This allows you to sketch out how the scene will look and can help set pacing, identify any unique camera angles or close-ups, and determine overall composition.

I would strongly recommend filming some B Roll footage. We ended up using clips of footage that weren’t necessarily described in the script but came in really handy during editing. This type of footage can fill gaps, adjust the pacing, and add interest and context.

 

Total Cost So far: $400-$1000+


Post Production

Have you ever wondered why it takes so long for a feature film to launch after the filming is finished? Post production can take a really long time, but it is when the magic happens. Instead of going from clips to the final product, though, work with your editor to get rough cuts along the way.

These will consist of roughly edited clips strung together to check the pacing and transitions. As the video becomes more refined, the edits will be smoother, the sound will be in place, and any effects will have been applied. But viewing the rough cuts first will help determine if a scene will work the way it was planned.

On “Warrior Legacy”, a rough cut effected the decision replace the choreographed fight scene we shot outdoors with an interior shot of students practicing weapon-on-weapon drills. We also tried out different music selections, and ended up reshooting Sensei Hofmeister’s interview segment after reviewing the footage.

Athens Yoshukai Karate Editing

Once everyone was happy with the final round of edits, a “call to action” was added to the end of the video. This should always be present in a promotional video. You need to further engage the viewer beyond just viewing your content. Give them a link to follow or a number to call.

Total Cost So far: $400-$1000+

 

Distribution

There are multiple free ways to distribute your video. You can host the content on Youtube for free. You can feature it on the homepage of your website. If you are involved in social networks, other enthusiasts will likely help distribute the video when you share it.

Now start work on the script for your next audience!

Video Distribution: $0

Total Cost So far: $400-$1000+


“Warrior Legacy” Credits

Writer, Producer, Director: Krystina Motsinger-Francis

Assistant Director, Script Editor, Choreographer: Sensei Erik Hofmeister

Contributing Editors: Tony Hollifield, Ken Blumreich, Sensei Erik Hofmeister

Music: Yoshida Brothers “Storm”

 

About the Author

Krystina Francis is a hobbyist actor and filmmaker, and the Founder and Director of Projects at Adroit, a premiere business consulting firm. Throughout the years doing project management, she has managed multiple marketing projects, and been responsible for ghost writing articles and press releases on behalf of business executives for distribution in prominent publications and news sites. She is also a student of Yoshukai Karate.