One of the first questions often asked by those inquiring into the Martial Arts is “How long does it take to get a black belt?” Not earn one, but get one. This is one of the most often asked questions of martial artists and a perfect example of the difference in a karate student and a Martial Artist.
Non-martial artists have so many misconceptions about what a black belt is that it gives new students unrealistic expectations. I used to think that a black belt meant you mastered the art. Mr. Epps taught me that a black belt is a master of the basics – and even that is to the individual’s ability. But there is a standard. And the standard combined with the sacrifice to get there is too much for most people. That is why few will make it to Black Belt.
There are so many great arts, skills, and techniques. The more you learn, the more you realize you will never know it all. At Black Belt, true learning is just beginning. At this level, you have learned how to learn. If you keep a “white belt mentality” you will always be learning and refining your arsenal. If you want it – the Martial Arts offers you a lifetime of training and teaching.
Most people will begin Martial Arts training in order to either learn how to defend themselves, get in shape, or both. However, they must find a deeper level of Martial Arts purpose in order to find true success and fulfillment.
You cannot give something away which you do not possess. You can’t teach your family self-discipline unless you have self-discipline. The same with self-esteem, self-control and respect; living by Christ-like character qualities. Martial Arts give you a method by which to live your life bigger than yourself.
Martial Arts is more than fighting. We take Martial Arts training in order to become better people. The true benefit of learning how to fight is the development of your character. When you have the ability and confidence to defend yourself, you change. You become better a person.
You should be the same person whether or not you are wearing your Black Belt. You are the same person whenever you take your Black Belt off. Wearing it is not what makes you a black belt. It is what has been developed on the inside. A stranger should be able to walk into the dojo and be able to recognize the Black Belts by the manner in which they behave.
Martial Arts classes focus your students’ attention. This improves their ability to learn. Learning builds a sense of accomplishment. With each new accomplishment, their self-confidence grows, and confidence is the first step in empowering their physical and mental abilities.
Once they begin to develop self-confidence, you can then instill the values of respect, courtesy, honesty, perseverance, and integrity. When a person has confidence in themselves it gives them the power to make the right decisions.
Some life skills can be learned quickly, but most, the more valuable skills, personality traits, take time to develop. It is a process. But, once learned, these traits of respect, courtesy, and persistence will transfer to every other area of your life.
Martial Arts has more to do with fighting the “battles” within you than it has to do with learning to fight others. The biggest challenges sometimes are overcoming your own fears, self-doubt, lack of focus, re-prioritizing our lives, and not wanting to do things that are out of our “comfort zones.”
Like a scientist creates in his laboratory, the dojo can be a lab for improving the student’s character.
The belts you earn are simply a built-in goal system. The student must build the desire to set goals for themselves. The Martial Arts will develop many skills that will help the student achieve success in their goals.
Since Martial Arts are about more than punching and kicking, in this new age of Mixed Martial Arts and Cage Fighters, I fear we are losing the focus on character the arts have long possessed. Don’t ever sacrifice character for martial skill.
For me it has meant sacrifice – personally (working through pain and injuries and resources of time, energy, dollars), for my family, even vocationally.
It has taught me humility and patience - stretching my potential until it cries for mercy; knowing what I am and am not, and what I wanted to become. It is an ongoing, continuous refinement of Martial Art skill and character.
As someone very meaningful to me once told me, “find someone worthy to pass it on to.” That is my request – humbly pass it on to someone worthy.