An advanced belt symbol from nature is chosen by the student to represent his training. When Mr. Malouf chose ‘gale’ or ‘kyofu’ in Japanese he expressed strongly the relationship between his approach to training and what a gale can be. The student goes before the class, reads his short essay and then dedicates a performance kata to the symbol chosen. In the photo, he displays the kanji for the Japanese word which he then gets to stencil onto his uniform lapel.
Later, the student will choose a character symbol, something like integrity, honesty, perseverance and others that represents a relationship of his training to that word. This more extensive essay is usually done around the time one is ready for brown belt.
In his presentation of gale, this student writes prosaic words … “my fellow warriors of PMA remember me when you see the wind blowing your banners as you charge into battle, and think of me when a child is filled with wonder seeing a kite fly.”
Choosing symbols to represent one’s training in the dojo causes the student to reflect on his training in depth, why he is are training, the benefits of training, and the good that his training might bring to the community. For many teens and adults, presenting a symbol is often a first time event and a nervous one usually, to get up in front of peers and seniors and express concepts of training. It might be akin to the knights of King Arthur’s day standing up to proclaim their honor and duty to the causes of being a knight. Students take this seriously and I believe it reinforces not just their training, but their other undertakings in life, even if they do not have to choose symbols. For example a student who chooses diligence as representative of his character symbol, by publicly outlining what that means is a way to establishing that virtue in other undertakings such as job, school and family.