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Being a Dan,versus having a Midnight blue


Gup: student below the rank of Chodan (1st degree midnight blue)

Midnight Blue (same as “black belt”)

Dan: Midnight blue rank member

Ko Gup Ja: senior Gup member

Yu Dan Ja: Dan members of the rank of 1st,2nd,3rd degree midnight blue

Ko Dan Ja: Dan members of the rank of 4th degree and higher

In just about every martial arts school, the students state: “My goal is black belt”. Ask any Gup student what their goal is after several levels achieved and most will tell you, “To be a Dan, earn my midnight blue or become a Chodan .”

Now, I am not dismissing the goal at all. It is a very worthy and admirable goal and one that many don’t achieve out of those that start. In fact, that is one of the primary reasons we have belts ranking in martial arts, to set goals. However over time It should not be what drives the student to keep going. There is a growing understanding as students progress of all the values and things they never realized about being a martial artist.

It is a well-known fact that a large percentage of students quit training within 6 months of getting awarded their Chodan. They have set their sights on that one particular goal and once they achieved it, there is nothing they see left to drive them forward. This process can take years alone.

However some don’t understand that even the word “Chodan” means first level. Becoming and earning the rank of Chodan is actually the beginning.

Students can understand this idea when compared to the educational school system. They start in grade school (Gup levels) and work their way to 1st Gup (Ko Gup Ja / Senior Gup member) which would compare to 8th grade. Then they graduate and enter high school as a freshman ( Chodan). This begins the second level of understanding of the art. The Chodan has been given all the fundamentals of the art as in grade school and now learns to apply those to application of learning.

Someone who quits training shortly after earning their Midnight Blue has a rank but is not Dan in the sense of “Dan”. I am not trying to downplay the achievement of having and reaching Chodan . I am just trying to differentiate from “being” a Dan. A student must now apply what they’ve learned in order to be “Dan” and not just have a Midnight Blue belt. Being a Dan is a very visible thing because of their actions in growth. They visibly apply the lessons in many ways and give to others as they continue to enhance and explore their own personal training.

Let’s look a couple of comparisons that hopefully drive the point home:

  • You get a driver’s license but never drive afterwards. Are you a driver?

  • You earn a degree in accounting but work as a farmer your entire life. Are you an accountant?

  • You pass the MCAT with flying colors but don’t pursue the medical field any further. Are you a doctor?

  • You earn your Law degree and never practice law

Getting to these levels and achievements takes incredible endurance, fortitude and courage. Hundreds of hours of sacrifice not only by the student but by parents/spouse.

Earning Chodan is not an award to be put up on your mantle. It is to be worn and grown into. If your goal is to get your midnight blue then display it in a trophy case, never putting it around your waist, and wearing it out then they miss the chance to apply all that hard work. There are many outstanding activities out there where trophies, medals, certificates, and other awards are given out for display purposes. A midnight blue is not one of those. A Dan is someone who is dedicated to a long-term pursuit of excellence that includes both technically and philosophically experience.


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