One system’s Master may be another system’s novice!

What’s your style? How about your rank? Who’d you study under?

Have you ever heard such ridiculous questions in your life?

What style you study is important only to those you study along side of.

Your rank means nothing unless it is backed up with time.

And who you studied under doesn’t mean diddly squat when the fists start to fly because a piece of paper detailing grandiose lineage can’t block a punch.

Perhaps I am being a little harsh here, but I find people’s obsession with rank and style and such a bit odious. So, in the interests of perspective, let’s ‘re-rank’ the Martial Arts. In this re-ranking we will not, however, use a belt system, at least the way it is normally used. Instead, we will use various stages of a Martial Artists life.


There are two types of people in this category. They are the person who is not too far removed from birth, or the person who isn’t an artist at all. Quite simply, it is a person who has not discovered the fact that his vast potential is tappable through study of the Martial Arts. A person who has no interest doesn’t even wear a ‘Belt.’

Theoretically it is possible for a person to be a ‘No Belt’ for his entire life, but that seems a little unlikely considering the next rank. I would guess that average age for graduating from No Belt to the next rank, if the person has the potential to become a Martial Artist is about 4 or 5 years of age.


    You know what I am talking about here. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Power Rangers. For me, many long years ago, it was Bruce Lee. The Green Hornet, because of the dazzling presence of Kato, was the origina

Can you change a ‘Celluloid Mind’ into something more substantial?

l ‘Kung Fu Kartoon!’ Once a person has become inspired and starts dancing around making ‘Woop Woop’ sounds he can be considered a white belt in the Real Life Rank System. What has happened is that a person has begun translating a dream into real life...and welcome to the third rank of the Real Martial Arts.

As in the last category, a person could be a ‘Celluloid Belt’ for a long time. And some people do live in a fantasy their entire lives. I would guess that average age for graduating from this rank to the next would be about 7 or 8 years of age. 


Once a person has become ‘Caught’ by the lure of potential Art he begins to search out data. Often this comes in the fact of book and video. Maybe dear old mom buys you a book on beginning Karate. Or maybe you just imitate characters in comic books (My first technique was gleaned from a Buzz Sawyer Comic Strip about the age of 6 or 7. It was a ‘Face on Figure Four Armlock.’) Whatever, you become acquainted with the fact of real technique, and the fact that you are going to have to figure things out, not just dance around and kick lamps off of tables.

A ‘Paper Belt’ is usually stuck at that rank until he becomes responsible for his own finances, or convinces dear old ma to spring for his killing ways.

I would guess that an average age for graduating from this rank to the next would be about 13 or 14 years of age.


We are now leaving the ranks of kids and entering into the real world. The real world, as anybody who has joined a commercial school knows, is dog eat dog. You have to ‘Get that point!’ ‘Move faster!’ Because ‘The

Shadows for enemies and dreams for battles, we are a unique breed.

tournament is next week!’

Most schools are tournament oriented. And while, because of their convenience, they provide a service, oftentimes the service is lacking in many ways.

Gloves and protective gear do not offer reality.

Points do not let the student know what is really workable.

Techniques have been tailored for people who don’t want to get on the ground and roll around.

But, these ‘Convenience Stores of the Martial Arts’ do offer entry into a different world. They do offer a glimpse of the potential available within a person, and they do offer an actual taste of the real life discipline necessary to become an Artist. It is akin to comparing a light bulb to the sun, but at least it is something.

I guess the best way to sum up this disparity is to say that the unfortunate fact is that most commercial schools are bent on making some shmuck fantasize that he’s as bad as the bully on the playground, and if he’s content with living the fantasy he will never have to have it destroyed, and he will never find out that there is something lacking in his life.

Let me make a quick note here. I know that I have stepped on some toes here, and I do sell toe bandages at a nasty profit if you are interested. But let me say that not all schools are obsessed with making a buck at the expense of the student, and that the real point here is that any Art can open the door to who a person really is. Instead of writing me hate mail just ask yourself if you are a better person now than you were yesterday, If you are then the Art is working for you inspite of any comments I might make.

To sum up, a person can be a ‘Tournament Belt’ all his life. With maturity comes the ability to do what you want with your life. But, to guess, I would approximate the age of 25 as a good age for a person graduating from this rank to the next.


What if a person is one day put upon and has his fantasy of being ‘Deadly’ and ‘Unbeatable’ destroyed? What if his Tournament Belt proves inadequate to a situation.
Well, he could go box.

Classical studies offer much. Do you know when to move on?

Or he could search out another school, one that is not as convenient as the 7-11 on the corner. This process of growing from fantasy to reality is a hard one, to be truthful. We, as human beings, tend to pretend that whatever it is we are doing is right, whether it is or not. It is oftentimes just a little too difficult to face ourselves and realize that what we have been doing is inadequate. It is hard to give up the time invested. It is hard to undo loyalty forged, even if that loyalty is misplaced.

So, down to the Classical school.

Ah, Classicism, that workshop where techniques have been handed down for thousands of years and the palace guards did this and the samurai did that and...and poop.

Most classical methods are nothing more than the commercialism of yesterday, with only the fact that the methods are outdated and therefore able to be renamed as a selling factor.

When does junk become antique?

The problem, with a classical system, is that classical postures create amazing amounts of Energy. Unfortunately, this Energy is usually wasted when it comes to fighting.

So, the person in search of a Classical Belt has to come to some agreement with himself regarding the fact that the Classical Art he studies, the Forms and the techniques he practices, bear little resemblance to Freestyle.

Because people are more mature when in search of a Classical Belt, and because there is very serious spiritual gain to be made on this rank, many people stick on this level for long, long times. Because of this, and because Classical systems do offer an upgrading of personal maturity that cannot be equaled in many other areas of society, I offer no average age for graduation. I do think it is sad if a person curtails his Artistic seeking because of satisfaction with a classical system. There is always much more to be gained.


If a person becomes disillusioned with Classical Martial Arts he can always look further. Many people opt for Reality Martial Arts. Reality Martial Arts concern themselves with combat for the sake of combat. Everything tends to be or

Reality training is great, but there are certain drawbacks.

iented towards that moment when a person is jumped on the street. Mind you, the problem here is that they are cultivating, through the way they look upon the world, their own mugging. While Reality Martial Arts are very important, especially if a person is prone to dangerous situations, the fact is that a Classical Art, with it’s tendency towards self control, will go a lot further towards protecting that person for the sole reason that the mind set created is much more peaceful, and the person will not find himself in bad situations, and if he does he will be more prone to settling that situation through peaceful means.

When does a person graduate from Reality Arts? Oftentimes he can’t. He can’t accept less than meaningful combat, and he just goes until his body is no longer able to continue.


When a person is injured, or perhaps of a different mindset right from the beginning, he seeks out Arts such as Tai Chi, Pa Kua, and so on. The purpose here is one of rehabilitating the bod

Are you a ‘Mystical Belt’ in search of a good dictionary?

y, or somehow expanding into a mystical arena.

Actually, a person doesn’t even have to be injured. He just needs to grow old and still retain a love of Art. There is evidence that the founder of Chen style Tai Chi did just that. He apparently wrote that he had grown old and unable to engage in combat, but he entertained himself by creating Kung Fu routines for the children of the village. Interesting slant on Tai Chi.

Average age for graduating from a Mystical Belt? Well, that depends. If a person has access to a modern dictionary mysticism tends to resolve. However, there is no real end to the mystery, because there is no end to the Art. The Art, the True Art, is good for as long as you wish to create happiness.


It is because of people like you

that life is so darned interesting!

There is one last ranking to be had. Interestingly, everybody starts from there, everybody lives there, and everybody goes there. For lack of a comprehensive term, let me just call this last rank the ‘Garage Belt.’ It stands for the fact that, schooling aside, professional instruction aside, a person is always responsible for his own progress, and a person’s progress is measured in those lonely hours of practice. Shadows for enemies and dreams for battles, we are a unique breed. We can live in the realm of artistic abstract. 8 years old or 80, we can create, and we can fight the unfightable fight, beat the unbeatable enemy. We can control ourselves, and we can evolve as human beings.

To close, let me say that the purpose of this article has been one of self examination. Where you are, what rank you hold doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are not a No Belt, and thus you are a breed apart. It is because of people like you that life is so darned interesting.

About the Author: Al Case, 27 years experience, is the author of Case Histories (See Inside Karate).

Monster Martial Arts







This article appeared in the July 1982 Kick Illustrated.