I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine recently. He's had some aikido experience but has a black belt in Kenpo. That belt was hard earned with years of practice and a ton of effort. I think his final test was as much an endurance thing as much as a skill test. Almost a hazing.
So we were talking about my kids. I have them in Taekwando right now. I think it's an excellent art to learn and fits my kids well. I happen to mention that they will be going for their black belt test within a year. My friend made a face. He asked if it was a "kids" black belt. I told him that in their school, kids of a certain age and higher (12 or so I think) can earn an adult's black belt. The face continued. He believed that this practice 'cheapens' the belt grade.
He commented... "I don't like kids getting black belts." He said that in his mind that meant that the kid could take on an adult black belt and have an even chance at "winning". I understood his point and didn't give it too much thought. I didn't even argue the point or anything with him. I'd say a couple weeks past since this conversation took place. I had a thought occur to me today.
What is a black belt according to aikido? I was always taught that the rank of black belt was earned by any student showing that they are at a certain point in learning aikido. That they are generally capable in their syllabus and probably a little more. They know the basics and are ready to self-explore aikido and continue learning from wherever or whomever. Nothing is said about whether the black belt can actually defend oneself against an older, or larger opponent. Or beat someone in a fight.
I've also heard the chief instructor at my kids' dojo say that he will make you into the best black belt you can be. That seems to go along with the notion I was taught. He expects you to know your kata really well and have a thorough understanding of your basics (stances and kicks). Each kid progresses at his/her own rate. As it turns out, although my Son has been doing TKD longer, my daughter will be testing for her black belt at about the same time. I've seen other students in his school move at their pace as well.
So, what is a black belt?? It's just a marker. Formal recognition that you've reached a certain point in your practice. I don't think of it as an indication that you are now a lethal weapon. It's pretty much at this point that you realize that you don't know anything.