The Black Belt Journey
For some people, getting a black belt is their ultimate goal in taking up a martial art. For others, it’s just the start of a journey, and they may go on to earn other black belts or train to higher dan grades. A black belt is a very powerful symbol, as every guy on the street recognises it as meaning the wearer has ‘mastered’ a martial art. The true meaning is much more complex.
Of course not all black belts have the same ‘value’ or mean that the same level of training and dedication to a martial art has been attained. For the purposes of this article I will assume that a black belt means a student has studied for at least three years to a formal syllabus. I know others would argue that seven years is a more realistic timescale to earn a ‘real’ black belt. I’d certainly agree that a black belt earned in a matter of weeks is of no value whatsoever.
It goes without saying that anyone taking a black belt test should have reached a high level of technical competence and ability in a martial art, but there are many other qualities they should also have developed. Self-discipline, humility, focus, persistence and self- belief are just as important to the senior martial artist as the ability to break boards or perform impressive spinning kicks. As the student reaches higher belt levels, techniques often become increasingly complex and difficult to perform, and without strength of mind the temptation to quit can be too much. By the time he or she reaches belt level, most students become involved in teaching and running classes, and this requires further skills and abilities.
Strangely, there is a high drop-out rate in many martial arts from students in the weeks after achieving their black belt. For some, this is simply because their primary goal was to earn a black belt, and their motivation dies once they have it. For others, their martial art appears to offer little beyond black belt and techniques become simple variations of previous ones. There’s also an element of ego in the black belt drop out factor. Training for months or years to earn tags and stripes on a belt is nothing like the feeling of the first time you are handed the coveted black belt.
Fitness levels tend to peak for students approaching their black belt test, as the thought of an intense grading motivates the person to put in extra hours of training. One of greatest benefits of training to black belt level is developing the ability to stick at something until the end. Most people flit from one thing to another, and modern life is a maze of distractions. Actually persisting with one thing over a number of years can have a powerful knock on effect into the student’s broader life. Many martial artists achieve new career highs and significant goals around the time they reach black belt.
Let’s not forget that achievement of a black belt means the person student is likely to have excellent self defence skills, but the benefits to the individual are far wider.