Black Belt Ranking

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
Be Faithful
Respect others
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.

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect.

It’s what we do, each day, everyday, as long as we’re physically able.  We esentially cause an effect good, bad or indifferent, changing or transforming something.  Defect and/or cycle time specific, the goal is to be defects and waste free without sacrificing quality and safety.  A goal is to be flawless each time every time, in effect creating perfect product and service.

Realistically, the laws of physics are against us.  Thank God for something called tolerances.  I like to use the golf swing as my example to illustrate what I mean.  First, I’m lousy at golf.  A good day is when I break 120 (I know, sad).  With that said, it proves that I am far from perfect, but that should not prevent me from trying my best to execute a perfect swing.  Several times in my life I was able to drive past 320 yards and straight as an arrow, or making a 40 foot put knt knowing what I did right (or wrong) to create these “effects”.  Whatever “cause” I created to end up with the desired “effect” was instantly lost in memory eye and hand coordination.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not duplicate this near perfect event (perfect would’ve meant a hole in one, of course, on television, in front of Tiger Woods). 

Resuming the discussion on cause and affect attempts to execute perfectly each and every time is not possible but products and services that fall within tolerance will satisfy customer needs, a least that’s the plan and so far has worked and been working.  Any results outside tolerance will reject parts considered unacceptable.  

So what are these conditions that cause fluctuations in our attempts for perfection?  In a golf swing, it could represent a whole host of things, inherent and unassuming.  In our golf swing example, these are the hand placement, speed and timing, head face-ball contact, small and many nuances that reflect the outcome of the swing. We call these events “common cause variations” as they’re there, identified as problems but not typically significant enough to destructively affect the outcome.  Special cause variation, however, are those that stand out like “sore thumbs” usually intermittent, and require immediate attention as these types normally adversely affect outcomes. Back to the golf swing these are the sonic booms or earthquakes or broken club type of causes.

As we work on Lean Six Sigma projects, we will face defects and cycle time decisions that will have us examine cause and effects and determine which cause variations to address.  Some of them are evident such as replacing a burnt light bulb in a dark room; others may require identification quantifiable metrics and complex statistical analysis to come up with effective and appropriate solutions either way it’ll require the selection of the right tool for the right job from two large boxes called Lean and Six Sigma.

Black Belt in Both Karate and Six Sigma

After nearly 20 years of my life working in purchasing and being really good at it, I took a new position doing something that I really feel can sink my teeth into, working as a Lean Six Sigma technician, in above all industries, oil and gas. Previously, my only experience in oil was working as a purchasing manager for a relatively small company in Santa Maria. My job extended past normal purchasing into finance and some project management. During this time, I recruited the help of reading up on management theories, those being Management by Objectives, Theory of Constraints, eMyth and something I heard so much of called Six Sigma. Prior to this I picked up book called Toyota Production Systems and skimmed through the pages and got enough information to learn words like kaisen, kanban, muda and heijunko. I also picked up some terms like Plan, Do, Check, Act, “see for yourself” and non-value-added. Each of these theories had their own neat method of madness, the one I could not quite grasp due to its usage of forensic and statistical analysis was Six Sigma. After a couple of days, all I managed to retain was the term DMAIC and that this process somehow was able to resolve product defects.

After this stint, I took a job for an ISO 13485 medical device manufacturer that relied solely on Lean concepts. Working in a sterile FDA regulated GMP environment, Standard Operating Procedures or SOP mandated almost every single activity. Though it didn’t go so far as to instruct the number of times you had to wash your hands after taking care of business in the restroom, it was pretty clear that steps were necessary to maintain order to keep close tabs on product control.

Several reasons had me looking to Bakersfield to change course in my life. First, my mother lived about three hours away and she’s elderly. Oftentimes, I’d see myself making long distance drives to see how she was doing. My son lives in Bakersfield and about 30 minutes away from his grandmother. My daughter lives in Fresno about an hour and a half away from Bakersfield but nearly four hours away from Santa Maria. Without outlining a spaghetti diagram, logic pointed towards me looking for work in Bakersfield. So I sent resumes and spoke to about three headhunters. It didn’t take long before I was invited to interviews, all except one was in the oil and gas industry and for purchasing or supply chain management positions. Knowing about purchasing, it wasn’t hard to sell my abilities. What lacked were my years in oil and gas; so, I faced some challenges.

Then out of the blue, I get this call asking for a phone interview. Like the others, I complied and had a nice discussion about what I bring to the table. One many occasions, the topic of Lean and Six Sigma was discussed. I told the truth about what I knew, how I came to my background, and that I was not “belted.” Not really concerned, I knew that having Lean and Six Sigma knowledge would help my position as a buyer. Well, the time came when I was asked to pay a formal visit to be interviewed. I asked how much the purchasing position paid, the human resource person said that it was filled and that I was being considered for the Lean Six Sigma Technician position.

Okay? What happened here?

She said that they had been looking for someone who had both oil and gas and Lean/Six Sigma experience. On both cases, she was right; I had the qualifications, not my strongest, but there, nevertheless.

I had a couple of days before the meeting, and I knew that I needed to brush up on what I knew about defects management and continuous improvement techniques. One thing I can tell you, if you don’t keep up with these concepts, going over details of scientific management theories and forensic and statistical analysis will numb your mind; it did mine and thanks to some abilities for recall, I was prepared.

Several more meetings and a doctor physical later, I got the job.

It was then to end my procrastination, take the green and black belt tests, and add legitimacy to my new role.

Let me share with you one thing. Lean Six Sigma training is not easy. Knowing concepts and passing tests are two different animals. I skimmed through the Green Belt manual and took the test.  With years of practical experience, I felt I had the information locked, but after taking the test, I barely passed. What got me was that the questions were misleading and the answers that matched were worse. A month later, I prepared for the Black Belt and Lean Management tests much differently and passed with ease though I didn’t learn a darn thing.  This time I studied to pass, not learn. I figured that it was like the time I got my karate black belt in 1982: Right after wrapping that belt around my waist for the very first time, I realized then that it was a new beginning and not an end. 

Moral:  I’ve got some real life Lean and Six Sigma practices to implement and it’s going to be a neat ride.


Sensei Domi
Shotokan Karate Blackbelt
Six Sigma Blackbelt