The rankings and levels and what they represented, the Japanese provided a system of indicating growth or advancement through belts. The story behind this started in a Japanese kodokan or ground-fighting school. What's now modern jujitsu and judo system, new grapplers started classes in the winter when snow fell. They were given brand new gis (white cotton uniforms) with a belt to tie around their jackets to keep it from flailing. They practiced waza’s (techniques) on the snow and hence soiled their uniforms. Students were allowed to wash their gis but not their belts. In the spring, they practiced on the grass where their belts would turn green. In the summer when the grass would die, they’d practice on the dirt and their belts turned brown. Then practice would continue throughout the fall where their belts turned black and afterwards returning to a faded white in the winter. The longer the student practiced, the darker the belt would get and through continued season-after-season practice, the belts would become frayed. As time passed, the belt torn and tattered became an indicator of how long a student trained. This was became the today’s system of ranking using different colored belts to signify level or ranking. The black belt was an indication of someone who has attained a “dan” ranking.
Six Sigma uses this belt ranking system to grade the proficiency of its students in the same manner. According to Six Sigma, “the term Black Belt has its roots in the exotic realm of martial arts. Like a person skilled in the Oriental sport of karate, the Six Sigma Black Belt is self-assured and knowledgeable, the result of intensive training and real-world experience. The Six Sigma Black Belt is disciplined, purposeful, and decisive, able to lead highly focused efforts aimed at improving a company’s bottom line. And, to ensure continued improvement, the Black Belt works affirmatively to identify and mentor new Black Belts.”
As a martial artist, I learned that the purity and culture that this ranking method represented has meaning beyond the color of the cloth. Martial arts and the achievement of belt ranking symbolize not only physical excellence, but the mental and spiritual. As Gichin Funakoshi taught in his classes, the dojo kun speaks of five goals:
Seek perfection of character
Refrain from violent behavior.
Master Funakoshi believed that, for the true karate-ka, the dojo kun should not only be considered a set of rules of conduct in the dojo, but a guide to everyday life. Everything we learn in the dojo, we should apply to everyday life.
“Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto” Seek perfection of character
This is the ultimate goal of karate. The other four principles of the dojo kun, as well as the entire nijyu kun, all tell us what it means to seek perfection of character—how we can go about pursuing this highest objectives. But this is the most important thing. We seek perfection of character from the inside out. It is something we should do every moment of every day of our lives.
This means we should never stop learning. Karate training, like life itself, is an ongoing process of growth and personal education, a process that lasts for a lifetime. It is good to set goals, but as soon as we accomplish them, it is important to set our sights on the next goal, to improve. To seek perfection of character is to always seek to improve oneself, to always endeavor to learn and grow.
“Makoto no michi o mamoru koto” Be faithful
To be faithful means to be sincere in everything you do. Here we are talking about making a total effort, all the time, in whatever you do.
To be faithful of course means that you have to be true to other people, to your obligations—but it also means you have to be true to yourself. And to do so means you have to do your best in everything you do.
When you are faithful to yourself, others will have faith in you. This creates mutual trust between people. Being faithful to yourself is essential to realizing the first goal of being the best person you can be.
“Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto” Endeavor
Try hard at everything you do. No matter what you are doing, whether it’s training, working, having a relationship—give it one hundred percent. To do anything else is to cheat yourself and others. If you don’t endeavor to do your best, you are not being faithful to yourself and others, and you are not trying to seek perfection of character.
“Reigi o omonzuru koto” Respect others
A true martial artist always shows respect to other people. And it is something you ought to feel in your heart. Showing respect is a sign of humility, and humility is necessary for an open mind, which it turn is necessary to learn, to grow. You can always learn something from every person you meet. Likewise, every person you encounter is a possible opponent of some kind, and that opponent can pose a threat to you, physical or otherwise. In either case, if you respect everyone, you will more clearly see things for what they are, and you will be able to get the most of every experience.
“Keki no yu o imashimuru koto” Refrain from violent behavior
This is a reminder to keep calm inside. Control yourself at all times, from within. Conflict within is a form of violence. It leads to violent actions, which is something you should try to avoid at all costs. A martial artist should always be in control, and that begins with an inner calmness, with peace of mind. If you are forced to defend yourself as a last resort, then it is all right to do so. But you will only be successful defending yourself when you maintain a calm, clear mind, in which case using karate technique to protect yourself will truly be your reaction of last resort.
Through the course of Lean training, the purity of a martial arts black belt will provide the core and basis a team leader will need to strive and achieve excellence.