I have, of late, given considerable thought to why so few white belts become black belts. This issue is of more than academic interest, as my generation is not getting any younger, and committed karate-ka are needed to carry the style through the next century.

Many years ago I moved to Edison, New Jersey and started teaching at the local community centers and schools. I felt isolated in that if I got sick I had no one to stand in for me, and, even more important, I did not have anyone or any school to share with and help in the grading of students.

Through a circuitous route, I managed to get the names and phone numbers of most the black belts who had studied with Russell Harter (he had a dojo in Somerville years before). I called each and every one of them and asked them if they were interested in helping me form the core of a Shorinjiryu community in mid Jersey. I was surprised to find that not a single one of them was interested. I was beyond surprised. It had never entered my mind that a Shorinjiryu practitioner would consciously choose to stop. Color me naïve.

Years later, I had a dojo with about 40 students. My wife (I am since divorced) was ill and I had to temporarily stop in order to take care of my children. Kyoshi and I found a temporary replacement, Debbie Simms, and turned the school over to her.

Debbie no longer practices karate.

While I was teaching, on occasion I had to go to the doctor's office. On one such occasion I looked up to see an ikkyu diploma in Shorinjiryu Karate. Turns out the doctor had practiced with Russell Harter. After a brief déjà vu session, it became abundantly clear to me that the doctor had absolutely no interest whatsoever in continuing.

Perhaps the title of this article should not be "why we study" but, rather "why we stop studying".

I believe that the two issues are clearly related. That is, we each study Karate for different reasons, and those that stop, in many cases, were studying for the wrong reasons.

So why do people study Karate? Lets see:

"* I want to be a black belt"
"* I want to be tough"
"* I want to be able to impress people"
"* I need exercise"
"* I need to be able to defend myself"
"* I want to be a secret agent?"
"* I like to fight"

I think that to some extent, most people who walk into a dojo do so for one or more of the above reasons. The key issue is not why they initially come, but why they participate.

Any karate-ka who studies solely for the above reasons is, sooner or later (usually sooner) going to stop. The study of karate is too difficult, too time consuming, too repetitive, too grinding and generally too demanding for those looking for an instant transformation into Jackie Chan. And there are far easier ways of exercising (I like a treadmill myself), and god, doing those stretches after the age of 50?

What about the student who wants to be a black belt? A noble goal? When I practiced in Japan, I was often in classes consisting solely of black belts. I was just another student (do I long for those days). Sooo, you are now a black belt. What now? Try longer hours, more responsibility, fewer opportunities to practice, and, yes, even PAPERWORK!

Okay, so what is it that makes someone stay with it year after year, even after it starts to feel like root canal every time they stretch? The answer is Magic! Well, sort of. Perhaps Bushido. It is the desire to touch the infinite, to meld mind and body, to be in harmony with the universe, and to study the mystery that is Karate.

To someone looking for exercise, doing a kumite one hundred times is exhausting, to THE karate-ka, each time one is just a little closer to understanding the truth of it, it feels just a bit better, and, for a few seconds, the two partners become something greater and more magical than each could ever hope to be alone.

Last Thursday night I had a choice. My son Joshua had a concert at school, my professional association had its quarterly meeting, and there was my Karate class. I chose to teach the class. Two ouches from which I have not recovered. But, you see, I had no choice.

Have a very happy holiday, and a great new year. Ous!

(December 1999)