What does the black belt in karate stand for?

The majority of students and teachers can easily identify the physical aspects that are required. The ability to fight, the basic stances and movements that have been practised over and over, and of course the kata. That strange combination of movements we learn for our grading that Sensei will not let us alter in any way. All these things are vitally important. A Black Belt without finely tuned physical skills is not a Black Belt at all. The traditions and skills inherent in that ryu, or school, are the foundation that the Martial Artist requires to progress further. It is on this foundation that the individual’s potential is developed.

There are other aspects, other skills, other attitudes that the Martial Artist must consider before real progress through the ranks of the Yudanshakai may be accomplished. He or she must first realise that they really know very little about their chosen art compared to their Sensei and Sempai (those students senior to them in rank and experience), who have a much respected knowledge when compared with their kohei (juniors). Every student is in a position relative to their experience. You may be a master to some and a student to another. A Black Belt must understand that others on the same path may be ahead or behind, but they are on the same path nevertheless.

Kanchō Paul Mitchell, 9th Dan Hanshi (April 2003)