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34 Years Ago Today

What Is A "Black Sash" Worth?

In December 2000, a kung fu teacher from China named Master Wang held a seminar at my friend John Morrow's school in Moline. Several students showed up to study a variety of kung fu and tai chi techniques. I enjoyed meeting him, and it was obvious he had studied a while. Being a skeptic, I doubted that he was a real master. Anyone can come over from China with a little experience and fool us Americans. Many do.

But I still enjoyed the seminar. Master Wang had us practice different techniques with a partner, and he kept watching me. He said something to his interpreter, and the interpreter came over to me and said, "Master Wang says that you have kung fu."

Well, I was flattered. At the end of class, the interpreter told me that Master Wang was in town helping to build a Chinese restaurant for a friend, and he would like to train with me while he was there. He and the interpreter came over to my school twice a week for a few weeks. It was an interesting experience, and I learned as much as I could. Master Wang couldn't have weighed more than 140 pounds, and yet he was the first person I met who could relax when I attacked and push me--a 195 pound guy--around with little effort. It was clear that Master Wang had "kung fu."

I read something interesting last year. It asked the question, "How much would you take for your black sash? How much money would you take to give up the sash and the hard work and the achievements that it represents?"

Now I've never really been impressed by a sash color. I treat white white students with equal respect to black sash instructors. That's just the way I am. At work, I treat the custodian with the same respect as the CEO.

But the person posing the question asked if I would take $50,000 for my black sash. I thought about it and realized that I wouldn't. It was way too little money for the hard work and enjoyment that kung fu had brought to my life.

Okay, the article went on, anticipating the reaction--would you take $100,000?

No, I wouldn't. When I think of the countless hours, weeks, months, years that I've spent working on my skills since the first class I took on September 20, 1973, I realize that it represents a lot of very hard work. The trophies I've won, starting in 1974, represent a nod by my peers for that hard work. The students I've met, who often talk about what the lessons have meant to them--it's priceless. What kung fu has meant to me personally, philsophically, and the way I've tried to use it to remain centered through some very difficult times--it's worth much more than $100,000. There couldn't be a price high enough to erase 34 years of martial arts experience and skill.

Then why, the article asked, are so many people reluctant to spend $50 a month to gain the knowledge that you have? And why are you so willing to sell your services so cheap?

A golf pro can charge $60 an hour or more for a private lesson. People will pay it. I've paid $165 for a one-hour private lesson with Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. I've lost thousands of dollars sponsoring seminars, including the one by Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, who spent a week in my home last year.

I didn't really consider it a loss, though. I considered it a gain.

I feel sorry for people who dabble in the martial arts, spending a little time in karate, a little time in TKD, a little time in tai chi, but they never spend the time really training hard enough and long enough in one thing to be considered good. So many people over the years have called me and bragged about all the arts they've studied, and they show up for a free introductory lesson and they can't throw a punch. Talking about being a martial artist is a lot easier than digging in and studying.

It's called "kung fu" because it's a skill gained through time and hard practice. What's it worth to you? Unless you put in the time and the hard practice, you'll never know the answer.


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Wow, I don't think I would take $100,000 even for my WHITE sash. It just means more to me than that.

Jim Criscimagna

Well Ken, you could always sell your black sash for $100,000 and with money, go out and buy a new one. Then you could take Nancy on a real long fun vacation and buy her lots of nice things along the way ;^) (Just kidding of course.)

A sash is only a symbol of your achievement and rank. What you have learned and achieved in the arts is most important and can never be bought.


Hey don't give Nancy any ideas. :)

I think about a black sash the same way Bruce Lee described the pages of his book, "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do." Use the pages to clean up a mess, he said.

There are schools who teach you to kiss your black sash when you drop it on the floor. Years ago, I decided to stop worshipping the belt color. If you spill something, use the black sash to clean it up.

What you become through the training, the friends you make, the achievements, and the insight about yourself--that's the value of the sash (or belt).

Kim Miller

It's not the sash itself that means something, it's all the raw work and dedication it took to get there. I saw a quote somewhere once that said a black belt is not something you wear or attain, it is something you are and become.

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