|CHRISTOPHER N. GEARY
||PROFILE OF A MARTIAL ARTS MASTER
Promotions, titles, and awards are important to martial artists, because they give us an idea of how we are progressing. Over the years, many of my students have asked for details about how, where, when, and by whom I have been promoted. Most of this information can be found in previous chapters, but I decided to write this chapter to provide a clear and easy-to-follow summary of my progression through the various belt rankings. For my students who are reading these words, please keep in mind that hard work and persistence are the key elements to success in the martial arts. As with everything else that you do in life, you get better and better through diligent practice. There is no such thing as being born with a gift. The only gifts that we receive come from working to achieve our aspirations.
In general, the Kyu (Japanese for “boy”) ranks are defined as under belts (the ranks one achieves below black). It is very important to remember that these ranks are primarily for motivation. Your “real” rank in the martial arts comes at the Dan (Japanese for “man”) rankings; this is the rank from first-degree black belt (Shodan) through tenth-degree black belt (Judan).
As you were looking through my websites or reading this book, you may have noticed that some of the certificates that have been awarded to me throughout my martial arts career have been notarized. Unfortunately, since the beginning of my martial arts career, I have heard of individuals from various martial arts organizations that have tried to take away or rescind people’s rank or title after it has been awarded to them. Some people would try to claim rank and title and others would say, “No, that person never received it, or it may have been a copy of someone else’s certificate and they replaced it with their own name.” These people may or may not have been rightfully promoted, but a lot of problems would have been avoided if they had taken the time to have their rank certificates notarized. While nothing is really perfect or 100 percent sure, notarization definitely gives someone greater credibility and could have been a huge deciding factor if any questions arose. I always have it done when I promote someone to black belt and higher, in recognition for their commitment to excellence to themselves and to their instructor.
In the end, history can’t be changed; rank and title that you earn through your martial arts studies will be yours forever and may never be taken from you. Stripping away, canceling, or rescinding rank or title is not considered an honorable practice within the martial arts, but unfortunately there are people and martial arts organizations that try to make their own rules. This lack of integrity is most likely why an individual has eventually left an individual or organization. If you choose to study the martial arts, I suggest that you have your documents and certificates notarized as proof of authenticity (at least in the upper ranks) just as you would have your will or other important documents notarized, because you never know what could happen. In the martial arts, as in all walks of life, some are trustworthy and honorable while others are not.
My very first promotion in the world of martial arts was in the art of Tae Kwon Do in Oakland, California. This promotion was from a Korean man, I believe, who apparently owned the school. I went to this school only a total of a day or two doing private classes. I remember him asking me when I was signing up in his school, “What do you eat, and do you smoke, drink, etc.?” I also remember asking him about a photo on his office wall that looked like him with Bruce Lee. I said, “You knew Bruce Lee. What was he like?” His reply was, “He was a movie star.” Though I never received a rank certificate from him, it was more like: I’m giving you this white belt, and by doing this, I am accepting you as a student. I thought it was kind of cheesy at that time, and I never went back after that. I think it was because he had told me something to the effect that he would see how I would do in the school first before I became a student. It all seemed very staged and set up. I didn’t really know anything but a kick or two. But I could feel the pain coming—this guy was about to molest my wallet.
I don’t really remember too much about the school or the instructor, but I do remember walking down a street in Oakland, California, with a fellow Marine and seeing this place and saying something to the effect of “It would be cool do something like this.” My friend thought it was a bad idea and reminded me that I would not be here to finish anything because we were going to security forces school at the time and would be leaving in a couple of weeks. All I really remember about this place was that it was very small, and I remember changing my clothes in a very small changing room that seemed almost as if it had been built for children. I also remember that his wife was a very beautiful Korean woman.
My first six belt promotions, from yellow to green with brown stripe, were all in the art of Shaolin Ch’uan Fa (Kempo). I was promoted to yellow belt on December 10, 1992. (I believe that I had started out as a white from the beginning, not having any records of any white belt certificates.) My certificate for yellow belt is displayed on the wall at my VP’s school, in recognition of my first expansion school and the first person that I promoted to the rank of black belt—a new evolution.
My second belt promotion in the art came twenty-three days later, on January 2, 1993. This was to the rank of orange belt.
My third belt promotion in the art was on March 27, 1993. I remember this being a special promotion because I was now able wear an all-black gi (uniform). But I believe that I wanted to wait until I received my next rank of blue belt.
My fourth promotion in the art of Kempo Karate was on June 26, 1993. This time it was to the rank of blue belt. If I am remembering correctly, my instructor Sensei Farzin Omidvar said that I had to do a tournament before I was to receive this rank. I remember asking him if I was ready for my blue belt the day after the tournament. I remember him saying something to the effect of “I said after the tournament, not the very next day.”
My fifth promotion was to the rank of green belt on March 17, 1994, by Taroze Vizier. I had double-tested to this rank by passing over a blue belt with a green stripe. I remember this promotion well. I was tested by three people to this rank on this day. I wanted to get promoted on St. Patrick’s Day because of the green belt, even though I was supposed to be on base that day. They worked me very hard on that promotion and it felt good getting it. I had also requested a board meeting on that day because the Marine Corps was going to pass me over for my corporal E-4 rank before I got out, saying, “You don’t need it; you’re getting out in two months,” which was BS. They wanted to play, so we played. Needless to say, I was in some serious trouble when I got back to base. They had told me that all of these people (officers) were waiting around for me and I just blew them off. I had cared about getting my green belt more than I cared about getting my rank from the Marine Corps. On my green belt certificate there was a note at the bottom saying, “C.G. double tested over his blue/green—to the green belt. An outstanding student, Taroze Vizier.” Well, I did end up getting my corporal rank before I got out of the Marines as well, because they knew that it was the right thing to do.
My sixth promotion was to green belt with a brown stripe (green/stripe) on May 9, 1994. This would be my last promotion before getting out of the Marine Corps, and it would be the rank at which I would begin teaching martial arts.
My seventh promotion was to the rank of Iikyu—First Kyu (the rank just before black belt) on March 30, 1995, in the art of American Kenpo. I was promoted to this rank by Professor Nick Cerio, Tenth Dan, while I was testing for my black belt. (This promotion was based on my mastery of the techniques of Shaolin Chu’an Fa, which were similar to the techniques of American Kenpo.) I knew of Professor Cerio because of the seminar/tournament that I had to attend for my blue belt promotion and from his signature that was on my previous belt rank certificates that I had received from United Studios of Self-Defense. Professor Cerio was their advisor at that time but later left. This would be my first promotion by a tenth-degree black belt (the highest rank one can achieve in the martial arts). I remember setting up a camera in my back yard and recording the techniques that I had learned in California and sending the tape off to him in Rhode Island. This is a very standard practice, especially for someone in my situation. This was a real certificate of rank, not a membership certificate of rank. In those days Professor Cerio gave the student a certificate to match up their current rank because they were a member of the NCIMA or a rank certificate for a rank that they had been tested for from him. I received both. After the rank of green/brown there are three levels of brown belt and then black belt, which is your Shodan or First Dan. He had promoted me to First Kyu, the highest level of brown before black belt.
My eighth promotion was to the rank of Shodan, First Dan (first-degree black belt) on November 25, 1995, by Professor Cerio in the art of American Kenpo. This was my first black belt, and I received it the second time that I tested for it. I was twenty-four when I achieved the rank of black belt.
My ninth promotion was about five and half years later to the rank of Sandan (third-degree black belt) on July 4, 2001 (I double-tested over my Nidan rank, second-degree black belt) in the art of Christopher N. Geary’s Shaolin Kempo Karate, Inc. I received this rank from Hanshi Lou Angel (Tenth Dan). I was able to go directly from first to third degree because Hanshi Angel promoted me based on my abilities rather than going by a set time and grade.
My tenth promotion in Kempo Karate took place on October 1, 2002, when Hanshi Lou Angel promoted me to the rank of Godan (fifth-degree black belt) in the art of Christopher N. Geary’s Shaolin Ch’uan Fa. [I double-tested over the rank of Yondan (fourth-degree black belt).] With this rank, I became a master in the martial arts just two months shy of my ten-year mark since I had first begun studying Kempo Karate. Hanshi Angel also recognized me with the title of Shihan (Master, Teacher of Teachers). I remember Hanshi Angel telling me that he had showed the video that I had sent to him and the written techniques to his high-ranking black belts and said, “This is how you should test for your Fifth Dan.” He came to Omaha and personally presented this rank to me. I will never forget the day of my tenth promotion, which stands out in my memory as one of the most significant days of my life.
My eleventh promotion was on August 27, 2003, by Hanshi Angel to the rank of Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt). It was neat getting promoted on that day because it coincided with an exciting astronomical event. The planet Mars was closer to Earth than it had been in the past 60,000 years. It reached a magnitude of –2.9 and had a diameter of around 25 arcseconds. On the morning of August 27, 2003, at 3:00 AM, for those in the Northern Hemisphere, Mars was in the constellation Aquarius in the Southern part of the sky. On August 27, it was less than 55.76 million kilometers (34.65 million miles) away from the Earth.
On August 30, 2003, I received the World Head of Family Sokeship Council International Martial Arts Hall of Fame Master Instructor of the Year award, earned for my accomplishments in the art of Shaolin Kempo. The prestigious international martial arts grandmasters council presented the award at the World Head of Family Sokeship Council’s tenth anniversary celebration in Orlando, Florida.
My twelfth promotion on March 13, 2004, was again to the rank of Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt) by Sijo Victor “Sonny” Gascon (Tenth Dan) in the art of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu (Shaolin and Hawaiian Kempo Method). Some say that Sijo Gascon is credited with bringing the art of Shaolin Ch’uan Fa from Hawaii to the mainland United States. I wanted to be promoted in this art as a historical link to my martial arts lineage. At this time I was one of only twelve people ever promoted by Sijo Gascon to sixth-degree black belt since he began teaching in 1958. I was also recognized with the title of Shihan on the certificate.
On June 29, 2004, I received a Bachelor of Martial Arts Award from Hanshi Lou Angel. The award certificate states that "In recognition of ten years of service, the National College of Martial Arts recognizes the dedication, honor, courage and discipline of Christopher N. Geary with the award of Bachelor of Martial Arts on the Twenty-Nine Day of June, Two Thousand and Four. Grandmaster Hanshi Lou Angel, 10th Dan." This award is usually given by the National College of Martial Arts in recognition of ten years of study in the martial arts. In my case, I asked Hanshi Angel to time the award so that the date would coincide with the ten-year anniversary of the day when I began teaching.
My thirteenth promotion in the martial arts was on October 16, 2004, again to the rank of Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt) by Hanshi Angel, but this time in the art of Tenshi Goju Kai. Tenshi Goju Kai is Hanshi Angel’s main style and version of Goju-Ryu, the hard and soft system devised by Miyagi, whose Goju-Ryu Karate was featured in The Karate Kid movies. At the time of my promotion I was one out of only twenty people to achieve this rank or higher in this art.
On October 18, 2004, I received a teaching certificate from Sijo Gascon allowing me to teach the art of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu. I became the first instructor in history to receive this prestigious teaching certificate in the state of Nebraska and in the entire Midwestern United States since the creation of the style five decades ago. These certificates are only issued to black belt instructors and individuals to which Sijo Gascon has issued rank. On the teaching certificate, I was also recognized and addressed with the title of Sigung, which is the Chinese (Cantonese) version of the Japanese title Shihan (Master, Teacher of Teachers). The title Sigung refers to anyone who heads a Chinese martial arts system and/or a head instructor who holds a master’s rank of sixth- or seventh-degree black belt.
My fourteenth promotion was on June 29, 2005, to the rank of Seventh Dan (Shichidan), again in the art of Christopher N. Geary’s Shaolin Ch’uan Fa by my advisor Hanshi Lou Angel. This was my fourth promotion from Hanshi Angel in my art. I received this rank twenty-one days after my thirty-fourth birthday and on the eleventh anniversary of the founding of my schools.
In July 2005, I traveled to Hawaii to the birthplace of Kempo/Kenpo in the United States to receive the martial arts “School of the Year” award for 2004 presented to me on the island of Oahu by the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society (upon the recommendation of the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society). The award was given in recognition of my accomplishments in the martial arts.
Much to my surprise, I also received a diploma honoring me with the rank of seventh-degree black belt with the title of Professor. (As of this date, fewer than ten people in the history of the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society have received this rank/title.) Professor Jaime Abregana, Jr., Founder of the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society, explained that the Society had done a background check and based on my outstanding accomplishments, credibility, commitment, and development of Kempo/Kenpo, they had decided to award me this prestigious title that is usually given at the rank of Eighth Dan. The diploma was presented to me personally at the Palama settlement (1896), a site of historical importance to the early martial arts development of Kempo/Kenpo in Hawaii, by Professor Jaime Abregana, Jr., and Professor John Pagdilao, the Society’s Co-Founder/President.
On August 2, 2005, I was again awarded the title of Professor, this time by my advisor Hanshi Lou Angel. Hanshi Angel had awarded this title to only one other person prior to me.
On October 14, 2005, I received a letter of proficiency for my abilities in the martial arts from Ron Chapél, Ph.D. (Tenth Dan), after I had demonstrated my martial arts technique for him in person. He is the nation’s foremost authority on Sublevel-4 Kenpo™ Concepts and a long-time student of Senior Grandmaster Ed Parker, Sr. (Tenth Dan). Dr. Chapél had flown in from southern California with one of his students, Ryan Angell (Sixth Dan), to give a seminar in Omaha October 15–16 on Sublevel-4 Kenpo Concepts.
On March 6, 2006, I received Honorary Certification (Seventh-Degree Black Belt) in Kempo Karate from Soke Thomas H. Burdine, Head of Family Kokon Ryu Bujutsu Renmei International. After reviewing my qualifications and lineage, Soke Burdine had decided I was worthy of this honor. Almost 17 years earlier, in April 1989, Soke Burdine had presented Nick Cerio with the title of Professor. In September 1989 Soke Burdine represented the World Soke Council in presenting Professor Cerio the title of Kaichi Yudansha Shihan, acknowledging Professor Cerio to be worthy of a status above that of the Dan ranking system.
Ultimately, I decided that the rank of Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt, which is one rank above that of master) in the arts of Tenshi Goju Kai and Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu was as high as I wanted to go in those systems. Having broadened my base of knowledge by mastering both systems, I knew that any further promotions would have brought no added benefits to me or my students. The ranks from sixth- to tenth-degree black belt in the martial arts are administrative rankings, and one does not need to master additional techniques to attain those levels. (Of course, one never stops learning.) I knew that attaining a higher rank in those systems would have meant playing politics, which I wanted to avoid. Also, I do not teach just one or the other of those systems but instead teach my own system, and I was not interested in having either of the other two systems passed down to me.
My fifteenth promotion was on September 1, 2006, to the rank of Tenth Dan (Judan), in my art of Christopher N. Geary's Shaolin Ch'uan Fa by Dr. Keith Nesbitt, Sr., a world-renowned Grandmaster who lives in Marion, NY. Dr. Nesbitt checked out my background and decided to promote me to the rank of tenth-degree black belt (also known as Tenth Dan), the highest black belt ranking in the martial arts. I received a letter and two certificates in the mail from Dr. Nesbitt. The first certificate says that he found me to be “of good character, sound morals, and a leader among martial artists everywhere.” The other certificate affirms that I am the Founder of my system, Christopher N. Geary's Shaolin Ch'uan Fa, and that I am “hereby registered with The International Martial Arts Masters Federation as Soke/Head of Family with all rights and privileges hereto appertaining." Being promoted to Tenth Dan by Dr. Nesbitt made me the second youngest Judan (tenth-degree black belt) Grandmaster in the world at age 35, and the youngest person in the United States ever to have achieved this rank through legitimate means.