Thursday, June 12, 2008
Favorite Belt Test
There are no colored ranking belts in our version of silat; indeed, we have but two ranks: Guru (teacher) or student. (There was a third in the system my teacher learned, Pendekar, which is reserved for the head of the style, and he honors that, but since we were more or less booted out of that house, we don't use that term save when referring to my teacher's teacher, and infrequently so.)
Sometimes an honorific is added as a prefix to Guru -- Maha, meaning in this instance "great," as in, well, "great teacher!"
So, we don't have belt tests or certificates. A lot of martial arts systems do, and attaining the black belt, though it has been much devalued these days, for many and good reasons, was once considered a Major Deal.
The most memorable rank I achieved, however, was the first belt I got in Okinawa-te, the purple belt. We had six colors in that style -- white, purple, blue, green, brown, and black -- there were two degrees of brown, so there were seven possible ranks when I was there.
This test would have been late in 1967 or early 1968. It was a group thing, all of the tests up to black were. Black, you got on your own. After a hard workout, as you were getting ready to change into your street clothes, Sensei would walk over and say, "I think you are ready." and the test started right then, no warning, no preparation. Since I only got to first brown before we moved away, I never got that tap on the shoulder, but I got to help test a couple of guys who did, and it was a long and hard business. Generally took about five years to get to it.
After the test the night I achieved purple, we celebrated. Sensei had a soda machine in the dojo, and somebody had stuck a couple bottles of champagne in the bottom to cool. We took those, and went outside. Shook them up, and popped the corks, shooting those and a lot of froth into the middle of Sunset Boulevard. Dressed in our black pajamas and looking both fierce and exultant, nobody driving by on their way to Hollywood dared stop and hassle us. (These days, we'd probably have gotten shot by gangbangers, but the times were more gentle then.)
I remember standing barefoot on the sidewalk in my canvas gi, already faded from Rit Dye black to washed-out gray, sipping cheap champagne from a paper cup, and thinking I was one of the toughest bad-asses in the world ...
Ignorance is sometimes truly bliss.
Ah, the good old days ...