I got my first black belt at 18 years of age after about 8 years training, but I didn’t feel like a black belt. Sure, I had pretty good technique, but I knew that I had great weaknesses and plenty to learn. I didn’t have the confidence that I felt should accompany an achievement like a ‘black belt’. In fact, it took many black belts before I finally felt comfortable wearing one.
To me, a black belt should first and foremost have a good all-round knowledge of martial arts. They should have a level of familiarity with all ranges of fighting; striking, clinching and grappling. A black belt should also have strong ethics and conduct themselves as a positive member of the community. A black belt should model the behaviours I expect from all representatives of the dojo. A black belt should be able to fight, and have the discipline, self-control and sensibility to know when to, and when not to, fight. A true martial artist should only use violence to protect, never to gain. A black belt should know that they have earned the belt, and feel worthy of wearing it.
I designed the Sobukan syllabus with this in mind. A Sobukan black belt would only be awarded to an individual who met these criteria and more. A Sobukan black belt must be able to ‘hold their own’ in striking with a karate black belt, in the clinch with a judo black belt and on the ground with a BJJ blue belt. This explains the breadth of our syllabus and the time required to progress through the ranks. It has kept our standards high, and to date, no student has been awarded with a black belt. Until tonight.
Pacey walked in our doors six years ago, and I must say he was a most ‘unremarkable’ young man. He was quiet, and to be honest, not particularly talented. If you had told me then that Pacey would be our first black belt, I would not have believed it. However, Pacey turned out to be my favourite kind of student: open-minded, hard-working and tenacious. On top of this, he is courageous, loyal, humble and self-aware.
I claim little credit for his development, but I am proud to say that Pacey is now a very remarkable man. He can fight! Pacey has had some amazing fights against athletes far superior in experience and skill, yet he always takes the fight to the man. He has fought an MMA champion, and Kudo and Kyokushin black belts and has made me proud every time. In fact, Pacey’s greatest opponent is often himself. Like a terrier, he can sometimes forget balance and work himself into the ground.
Pacey has won Kudo and BJJ matches. He has trained and graded in Japan. He has taught classes and helped mentor many of you. He has been a reliable lieutenant and has always helped out when needed. Pacey has also exercised great discipline in various situations and demonstrated great character. I have been blessed to have him as a student and friend.
Pacey, I am very proud and honoured to award you Sobukan’s very first black belt. You have earned it and you deserve it. Congratulations!