How Real is Your Black Belt?
Many people seem to be overly impressed by the black belt; it is almost like they expect the belt itself to carry some magical powers or something of the sort. The first thing that most students I have had have asked me is, “How long will it take for me to get my black belt?” It is as if they are there for that magical belt, and not the training itself.
Let’s get one thing perfectly straight right now. A black belt is nothing more than a belt made or cotton and/or silk, and stitching, that’s it. You can buy one for about $5 from some of the martial arts supply catalogs. It is not magical. It carries no super powers. Being awarded a black belt doesn’t make you invincible. It is not the belt or the rank that matters, but the skills that you have developed while you worked toward earning that belt. The black belt is simply a symbol of what you have achieved, nothing more.
You wear the belt; it does not wear you. Wearing a black belt does not give you martial arts skills; it does not all of a sudden make you a fighter, a self-defense expert, or enlightened. All of those things are things which you develop through hard work, working through pain, injuries, blood, sweat, and tears. You wear the belt externally; those qualities come from the inside.
Make sure that you understand not only what your belt represents, but where your skill level actually is. There are black belts, and then there are black belts. Not every black belt is awarded equally or earned by the same standards. Believing that simply because you have been awarded a black belt, you can defend yourself against anyone and everyone, is a sure way to get yourself in big trouble. See your skill level rationally. Don’t be mislead by the color of your belt or the rank on your wall.
My belt rank is harmless; it’s my hands and feet you should worry about. So many people seem to be obsessed with rank, either getting promoted to a higher rank or worried about whether or not someone else deserves the rank that they have been promoted to. When the rubber actually meets the road, it truly doesn’t matter one way or the other.
Your belt rank is not going to save you; the only thing that will save you is your mindset, your skills, and your preparation. Someone’s belt rank is harmless; it’s their hands, feet, and what is in their pockets that you need to be concerned with. As with most things, people are concerned with the external appearance of things, instead of what really matters.
People who are overly concerned with someone’s belt rank remind me of some ancient wisdom taught by the great teacher of fables, Aesop. He taught that we should be aware that we do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow. This seems to be the direction that martial arts are headed in today’s society. People want the appearance of being a martial artist, but without the substance.
When it comes right down to it, martial arts are about self-defense, not titles, trophies, belts, or bragging rights. It comes down to whether or not you know how to defend yourself, even without a weapon. Martial arts are in the spirit, the mind, and the body, not around your waist or on your wall.
There is another old saying, “He who is an ass and takes himself to be a stag, finds his mistake when he comes to leap the ditch.” Don’t be a foolish, ego-driven person, who thinks more highly of yourself than you should; keep yourself focused on the real substance of the martial arts. Graciously accept the honors that are awarded to you, the trophies that you may win, the titles and rank that your instructor honors you with, but never forget what your martial arts are truly about.
Dr. Bohdi Sanders is the award-winning author of the #1 Bestseller, Modern Bushido: Living a Life of Excellence, along with 8 other books on the warrior lifestyle and martial arts and warrior philosophy. Dr. Sanders is a 5th Dan in Shotokan Karate and is the CEO of Kaizen Quest Publishing. All of his books are available on both Amazon and on his website, www.TheWisdomWarrior.com.