Category Archives: Thoughts on the Arts

Give it a go.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to study karate. I was absolutely sure being a black belt was what I wanted. It wasn’t until I was in the military that I had the opportunity to begin my training. The first school that I was a part of really gave me a sense of pride and belonging. My instructor was my first example of what it meant to be a black belt. To this day I have the highest level of respect for him, as I know I always will.

Since that first lesson, I have found that the martial arts has become a part of who I am and what I do. Thankfully, I have been part of a great family of martial artists. I am very humbled that I get to learn from some great instructors. I am even more humbled that I am allowed to teach the things I have learned over the years. I get a true sense of pride when I see someone have a revelation based on something I have shared.

Above all, the martial arts community is a fraternity, a family. For those that students that give it their all, there is no better feeling than to receive the next promotion! I am grateful to those I have learned from, whether they were my direct instructor, someone that taught at a seminar, or a friend who clarified something for me.

To those that have wondered what it is like to learn a martial art, I would say, “give it a go, give it your all, you won’t be disappointed.”

How long until…

Black-BeltI receive a number of inquiries on this website from aspiring students. It’s a great feeling to know that the desire for learning a martial art are alive and well here in central Iowa! The exchanges are generally one-off requests about pricing, or how old child must be to join the classes.

Every so often, however, I enter into a back-and-forth conversation with a prospective student that strays from the typical exchange. The prospective student granted permission to me to use our Q&A here. This is from a later communication, and I wanted to publish it because it speaks to the duality of martial arts study — the belt, and the journey…

Question: What days/times is Soke Barongan available for private lessons?

Answer: When you meet him next week, you should discuss his schedule. I believe he is pretty flexible.


Question: How much do private lessons increase a student’s rate of advancement, if at all?

Answer: This is entirely up to the student. Some people require one-on-one, and some require group energy to advance (For example, I was always driven by the advancement of my peers)


Question: I’ve heard/read that a student can be fairly proficient in [[art name]] in a relatively short time. Given that Barongan Kempo resembles [[art name]], would you say that the same can be said for your style as well?

Answer: On average, most students have a firm grasp on the basic building blocks after 12-18 months of consistent study…But again, I’ve seen everything from three months to three years. We will determine not only if a student’s skill are up to standard, but their level of maturity applied to the concepts…The mindset is a larger component than the physical.


Question: Are students learning material that can immediately be applied to self defense situations?

Answer: Yes. Emphatically, yes. I learned more practical self defense in the first week of Barongan Kempo classes than I did in three years of other study.


Question: I’m far more interested in acquiring skill than belts, however, I also think that belts, generally speaking, are or should be a symbol of what a student has learned. By taking private lessons with Soke Barongan 2x a week, how long do u think it would take to advance to black belt?

Answer: There is no formula. If you try to make one, you will fail. Period. Based on all the other answers, you should be able to draw the conclusion that you will be a black belt when you are a black belt. It is up to your level of commitment, maturity, dedication to the school, and what you give back. It could be three years, five years, 10 years, or never. There are schools you can attend where a black belt is a guarantee…This is not it. I’m not saying all this to be brash, but it’s the honest truth. Soke can speak better to the statistics, but I think  1-2% of all students are promoted to black belt. He’s seen thousands of students come and go, but has only awarded a few handfuls of black belts…not to mention, it’s up to the Unified Kempo Karate Association (our family schools) if a student should be promoted, not one person.

**Update: This particular prospect is a humble individual who has practiced in the martial arts for many years. He understands the value of time spent in grade, and HOW to earn his rank. Just to be crystal clear, I am not making an example of one person here, he just happened to be help the conversation along. He provided a great quote from Royce Gracie: “Royce Gracie perfectly summarized my attitude towards the acquisition of belts: “a black belt will only cover 2″ of your butt. YOU have to cover the rest.” –Sensei Bill