What Does It Mean To Be A Black Belt? Part 1

What Does It Mean To Be A Black Belt?

In this post I want to explore the question that everyone either asks themselves or their peers. What does it mean to be a black belt? Now, before we go any further, I think that it’s important to mention that this is what I view as a black belt in Adrenalin’s four walls. In other school’s, black belt means something entirely different. For most, it’s a level of physical competency against your peers. And I have a lot of respect for that. In BJJ, as a general rule, you can’t progress to your next belt until you can competitively handle yourself against students above your level. And I think in that martial arts system that is 100% valid. Being a student of BJJ myself, I love that whole concept of getting your black belt when you have mastered the physical and strategic elements of that system. Just grapple any black belt from BJJ and you will see that there are no short cuts taken to earn that belt.

I have spent a good deal of time pondering the meaning of a black belt in our school and I have come to realize that it is not so much a trophy that indicates a level of physical mastery but more of a representation of physical and mental transformation. Boy that’s a mouthful – let me try and explain what I mean . When you start training at Adrenalin, you start training with a certain goal in mind. For some it’s about losing weight, for others it’s about learning how to defend yourself, and for others it’s building self confidence. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. You all start with a vision for your future. And you join the martial arts to help you achieve that goal. Now if you stick with it, what happens? In most cases you achieve your goal but more notably you make an internal shift where the martial arts becomes a vehicle and mechanism for you to achieve anything you want. So how do the martial arts do that? Well if you think about all of the attributes it takes you to get from white belt to black belt your list might look like this: persistence, commitment, facing fears, overcoming obstacles, overcoming self-defeating beliefs, applying self control, keeping your ego in check and we could go on for pages. The point is if you get yourself internally wired like this you can achieve anything you want in life. Because the internal attributes that it takes to get to a black belt are the same for any achievement.

So what about the physical aspect of black belt you ask? Our curriculum covers so many bases that mastery of the complete curriculum would be a difficult task for anyone. Especially given the fact that most of you only train a few hours a week and achieve your black belt in a three to four year time frame. This is not to take anything away from your development, skill level or competency. But simply to state a fact that to master over 150 techniques would take longer than its takes to achieve your black belt. I think the best we can aim for collectively, is to have a great overall skill set that covers all ranges of combat to a level that is achievable for your age, gender, interest level, physical capabilities and the time that you have to dedicate to training.  I think it’s also healthy to find your own strengths within the curriculum and do what you can to make that the central part of your game. Some of you will gravitate towards ground fighting, some to self-defense and others to striking. As long as your overall skill set doesn’t suffer this is a great way to get out of training what you desire. It’s also a great way to train if injuries make it difficult for you to do “everything”.

So what about black belts who don’t look as sharp as others? Lets be honest here. Some people who achieve their black belt don’t have the athleticism, physical prowess or mental fortitude that other black belts do. This is not to take anything away from any black belt but simply to state a fact. When I got my first black belt, I was crap. I trained like a maniac but did not have the skills that I have now. My sparring was terrible; my ability to defend myself if the shit hit the fan was negligible and my technique was ok but certainly nothing to be wow-ed by. So how is a black belt justified when a student is clearly far from the top of the food chain, as I was? For me it goes back to transformation again. For any black belts reading this article, think about how different you are now, compared to what you were as a white belt. For me the space or difference between who you were then and who you are now (and what you can do) is represented in your belt colour.  Your black belt is a metaphor for the journey that you have taken to get you to this place. It doesn’t mean that you’re a world beater, that you’re the best martial artist on the planet or that you’re invincible. It simply means that you’re ready. Ready for what, you ask. You’re ready to start mastering yourself. Mastering yourself internally and externally.  If you want to truly master the martial arts, you have train for over 20+ years, minimum. Can you do it in less time? Yes. Are you going to be a master of every range of combat? No. So what do you do? You do everything you can to fill the gaps and inadequacies in your arsenal. And always be prepared to learn and grow. If you can consistently chip away at your game for life, you are a true black belt. If you get it then quit, you only just got out of the starting blocks.

Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.

Glenda Cloud