Black vs. White

Hopefully, yesterday I managed to communicate some of what’s going through my head in regards to knighthood and the SCA. It’s a complicated ball of thoughts, one which for some reason I reflexively shy away from looking at too closely. After all, one could (and I’m not saying I do) take the uncharitable view that knighthood is “just” a fighting award, reserved for those combatants who achieve a certain level of prowess. After all, isn’t that kind of what a black belt in martial arts is? This train of thought then begs a question:

Why don’t I get hung up about black belts?

After all, that’s another rank that is often idolized in popular culture. For better or worse, being a black belt carries an aura of mystique with it, as if at any moment the black belt could, with the twitch of a finger, flip out and kill everyone. So why don’t I get all flustered at the thought of being a black belt?

Maybe it’s because I am a black belt, and became one at such a young age. I first achieved the rank when I was 11, and was a 3rd degree black belt by the time I stopped practicing Taekwondo. In other words, I’ve been a black belt for most of my life. Now if you want to discuss whether or not a child of that age can “truly understand what it means to be a black belt,” I’ll grant you that that is an important discussion. And while I’m not sure where I fall on that issue (I’d like to think I grew into the position), that’s not the conversation I want to have right now. What interests me now is the differences I perceive between being a black belt and being a knight.

Intellectually, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference. Both ranks can be seen as a level of mastery, or at least mastery of the basics. But culturally, I’ve come to view them as different. Perhaps it’s their position in the rank structure. I came from a fairly westernized martial arts background. My dad’s instructor was Korean, but our school had a fairly typical ranks structure. You started out as a white belt, and then every few months tested for the next rank until you were ready to test for your black belt. As such, you could easily measure your progress. Orange belt? Then you’re just about done with the first tier. Blue? You’re about halfway. Red? Best start preparing hard for that black belt test in your near future.

The SCA, on the other hand, doesn’t have that rigorous structure. You fight, you get better. You play the game, you progress. Eventually, someone notices you and decides you’re ready. You get offered knighthood. At least, that’s what the process looks like while you’re in it. As such, it’s hard to know exactly where you are on the path, which for me means that path can look long right up until the moment it isn’t. Without any clear-cut goals or markers, it lends a certain amount of mystery to the final achievement.

Maybe this is intentional; I don’t know. Much like I don’t know why being a black belt and knighthood hold such different places in my mind. But they do, and maybe this difference is part of the reason. Maybe I just got exposed to being a black belt early enough, I didn’t have time to see it as a Big Thing™. Either way, thinking and writing about it like this does seem to be helping. If nothing else, it helps me clear my mind enough that I (hopefully) won’t be brooding too obviously while at work.