When you think of a karate black belt, you probably picture a real badass. That’s at least partially true: Getting a black belt takes a lot of hard work. But most black belts don’t look like movie stars–they look just like you.
That ain’t karate
A lot of people use the word “karate” to describe all martial arts. But every martial art is different–sometimes very different–and learning the proper names is a good way of telling them apart. A few Japanese martial arts actually are known as karate. Other Japanese martial arts include jiu-jitsu, which a lot of MMA fighters practice, and judo, which is an Olympic sport.
Taekwondo, a Korean martial art that focuses on kicking, is also an Olympic sport. And if you’ve ever watched a Jackie Chan or Jet Li movie, you’ve seen Chinese kung fu and wushu in action. Other famous martial arts include Muay thai, from Thailand, and capoeira, which was created by African slaves in Brazil.
Just like in the movies
Some of the things you see in karate movies are true. For example, it really does take a lot of practice to get good at martial arts, and it really is worth all the effort. If you find a martial art that you really love, the practice will feel more like play than work.
There’s a lot of bowing in martial arts, too. Bowing is a way of showing respect and acknowledgement, like a nod of the head. You almost always practice in groups, and you get to scream when you punch or kick. You might even learn a few words in a different language, which you’ll use to count or say simple things like “attention, bow.”
Some martial arts schools will sell you a uniform with their logo embroidered on the back. The uniforms for each art look a little different, but they’re always comfortable and loose enough that you can move freely. Some martial arts schools, especially smaller community programs, will let you practice in your street clothes. Always plan on being barefoot.
Lots of choices
The bigger the city you live in, the more martial arts you’ll have to choose from. Each one is different, so you want to try a few different classes and find the one that feels best to you.
If you get stressed out or frustrated a lot, classes that focus a lot on kicks and punches are a great way to let that stress out. If you’re in the right class, the teacher actually wants you to hit something.
Every class has a different vibe, so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t like the first school you visit. Most martial arts classes let you come in and try a class for free, or at least watch. Just keep looking until you find one that works for you.
When you first join a martial arts class, the teacher will have some pretty high expectations. He (or she) will want you to show up with clean clothes and a clean body. He’ll want you to listen to what he says, try your hardest in class, and follow some basic rules of etiquette, like bowing when you come into the school or when you go on and off the practice mat. If you look like you’re having a hard day, the teacher might also pull you aside and ask what’s up.
It’s okay for you to have high expectations in return. You should feel safe in class, and your teacher should treat you and the other students with respect, too.
Most martial arts schools use colored belts or sashes to show how much you’ve learned. White is almost always the beginner color, and only really advanced students get to wear a black belt.
Remember what we said about hard work? Watch out for schools that will sell you a black belt right away for money, or that move you up through the belt ranks even if you haven’t mastered the techniques. After all, if you’re going to have a badass black belt, it better be legit.