Every journey begins with a first step. In our American culture we often say that, "it is the journey that matters, and not the destination." This can sound cliche, but it is imbued with truth. In Japanese culture, this concept is referred to as the "Do" or the Way, a path. This traditional martial arts journey can have practical, tangible value such improved health, balance, flexibility, self-defense skills, and more. However, it can also lead toward self-cultivation; in other words, improved self-confidence and focus, helping the individual to move beyond self-imposed limitations and toward a sense of fulfillment that comes from challenging oneself. As a traditional martial artist, American Eagle Stylists take their first steps as white belts, and they may mark their progress in moments of visible achievement in the form of belt ranks such as yellow, green, blue, purple, and the levels of brown. It takes years of training, with demonstration of patience and maturing into each rank's unique challenges (not a chronological maturity of age, but a development of understanding, demonstration of attitude and school involvement, concern for fellow students, and other aspects which mark growth in the style). Having acheived the standards for knowledge, skills, involvement, and consistency, the student may one day be put up to test for the rank of black belt. This is not the end of their journey, but a new chapter with exciting (and challenging) days ahead, as there are 10 degrees (or Dan) of black belt. In the American Eagle Style, students who are under the age of 18 may test for junior rank or adult rank status of black belt, and students under 16 may only test for junior rank status. This is determined by the student's instructor.
On Friday, September 18, a junior rank black belt testing was held for three individuals. These testings are open to the student's immediate family to watch. The judging panel was led by Grandmaster Crandall and consisted of four Master Instructors, Chief Instructor Stalloch and Senior Instructors Cumings and Crandall. There were also numerous other instructors present. The testing lasted four hours, including the written exam. One of the Red Tops came to the testing to assist as a partner for sparring and self-defense. The first part of the testing ran concurrently with the brown belt testing, and when the brown belt testing ended, those candidates went home and the testing continued for the three candidates.
On Saturday, September 19, an adult rank black belt testing was held for three individuals (testing 2nd Degree Black Belt), and this testing was "closed," meaning no family or students were allowed to watch the testing. The judging panel was led by Grandmaster Crandall and consisted of Master Stalloch, Master Chuff, Master Freleigh, Master Moller, Chief Instructor Stalloch, Senior Instructor Cumings, and many other 5th and 6th degree black belt instructors. The testing lasted nearly five hours.
Both testings began with an intensive written examination including information about the style, the school, philosophical concepts of yin and yang, the lineage or "roots" of the school, and more. This segment of the test was "closed book," and the student had to rely on their knowledge alone. The students testing for 2nd Dan had increasingly challenging questions with short answer written responses.
Following the written examination, the physical skills and knowledge of the students were tested. The first degree candidates are required to know 11 traditional katas, including Chulgi 1, Eye of the Eagle, the Palgwes, and others (junior rank candidates do not need to know Old Koryo). 2nd Degree candidates also need to know and additional 5 katas including New Koryo, Chulgi 2, Heian 1, Chip Su, and Guem Gang. Other areas tested included punches, kicks, stances, 36 basic forms, advanced techniques, floor exercises, takedowns, self-defense, defenses against guns and knives, come alongs and control techniques, sparring individual and multiple opponents, bag work, and other areas. All first degree candidates are also required to write a 500 word paper prior to the testing.
Black belt is a prestigious rank, one recognized around the world. In the American Eagle Style, there are ten degrees (levels, sometimes referred to as Dan) of black belt. Only one person may hold the rank of 10th degree black belt, the head of the school who determines its direction and certifies its instructors. The American Martial Arts Institute is under the direction of its founder, Grandmaster Crandall (10th degree). Similarly, only one individual may hold the rank of 9th degree black belt, the style's successor. Every other degree of black belt is earned through years of training and formal testings. In addition there are 8 gyups (belt ranks) that must be earned prior to testing for first degree black belt. All students begin as white belts and test for each rank, maturing in the style as they acquire knowledge, skills, and demonstrate proper martial arts attitude for the style's high standards and traditions.
The American Martial Arts Institute is a traditional school, one which follows the "old ways" of training. This means that the style's standards, knowledge, techniques, ettiquettes, philosophy, and processes are maintained consistently from generation-to-generation. Following this tradition, the rank of first degree black belt cannot be earned prior to a minimum of 5 1/2 years of training, and generally takes 6-8 years or more to earn. The rank of first degree is graded out of a score of 100 possible points, with a minimum of 80 points needed to pass, and the exam is rigorous. Some students take significantly longer, as these are minimum time requirements.
First degree black belt candidates are also required to bring in up to 15 of their martial arts books or DVDs, including resources not produced by the American Martial Arts Institute. The students are expected to have written their name in each of these items, as they are part of their personal library. Grandmaster Crandall, the Master Instructors (and sometimes other members of the judging panel) pose questions to the candidates about their books and what they have learned from them, including questions regarding their current perspective of the martial arts, its history, styles, and other other aspects. This verbal question and answer session is part of the candidate's grade and can also include a written component.
Critical to all students who test for the brown belt and black belt ranks is a demonstration of school involvement and a proper martial arts attitude and accountability. This includes participating in seminars, weapons' competitions, sparring competitions, weapon's classes, ceremonial luncheons, and other events held by the school throughout the year to help students grow into their rank and understanding of their rank. These events are held specifically as part of their training, and the student must choose to become involved in these areas areas as part of their rank's responsibilities.
Grandmaster Crandall is pleased to announce that the following American Eagle Style students have passed their black belt examinations:
1st Degree Black Belt, Junior Rank Status Ryan Byrne, Victoria DeLuca, and Brady Morris
2nd Degree Black Belt Kyleigh Hoyle, Ryan Payne, and Douglas Hotvedt
It was an impressive moment of growth for the school and style. These individuals will receive their certificate of rank at the next black belt ceremonial luncheon.