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So what does a black belt mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you? I think that most people have some idea that a black belt represents a level of mastery of a given style of martial arts, but the path to achieving a black belt can be a dead end if it is not approached with the proper attitude. I think the goal of black belt, or its equivalent in whatever art a person studies, is a great goal to have. People always do better when they aim to be the best, but there can be a dark side. The goal of black belt can be counterproductive if a student starts to focus solely on obtaining the belt and misses what it signifies.

Martial Arts Black Belt

black belt

I have seen a culture in some martial arts of exalting black belts so high above other students that it becomes detrimental to the school. A culture where black belts are an exclusive club that seems to enjoy authority, more than the responsibility of teaching, can make people want to attain a high rank for the wrong reasons. You have to ask yourself: Do you want to get a black belt, so that you can boss people around, and make people do push-ups for some perceived or unintentional slight? If so, that is the wrong reason.

If a school ends up being a club for the black belts, that is always bad. While respecting a persons’ rank should be part of student interaction, it should not be at the risk of minimizing mutual respect: All students are important, and everyone should be shown respect regardless of rank.

Probably the worst of all related black belt ills is the mindset of attaining a black belt and quitting. I don’t mean people having to stop training due to some unforeseen circumstance in their life. I mean that literally the next day you never see them again! I have seen it happen more than a few times, and I am always amazed when it does. The idea of getting a black belt and then immediately quitting, to me, smacks of consumerism.

Did they get it just to have it? It is as if the black belt was just a commodity. I think that if it is viewed that way, then it is not a worthy goal.

Earn Your Black Belt

black belt

What if you aren’t a black belt though? Does that mean you are somehow insignificant? Absolutely not! I think that regardless of whatever rank a student attains that they should always strive to be the best that they can be, and be proud of their accomplishments. If you are an orange belt, you should strive to be the best orange belt around. You should hold being the best as your standard. If you do, you won’t be an orange belt for long.

Students who focus solely on their ability, and don’t worry about rank, advance quicker and seem to be happier as well. I am a firm believer that you have to be happy regardless of where you are on your journey. If you are only happy when you attain your goal, you will be pretty miserable most of the time.

black belt

Years ago a friend of mine gave me a great piece of wisdom and said, “You earn your black belt long before you get it.” That always stuck with me, and I liked the way it emphasized being what you think a black belt means now, rather than trying to somehow become it later. Set your intention. It is important to focus on being the best that you can be, regardless of rank. In the end, we are all judged by our abilities. Be the best that you can,  and the rank will come to you.

I always took the idea of being a black belt as an incredible responsibility. To me, it meant that I was representing my art, and my teacher. I felt like I was an ambassador and representative for my art. That made me work twice as hard, to live up to the standards I set for myself. It has been many years and I still feel the same sense of responsibility.

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