I’d estimate that 99% of the people who start martial arts classes never make it to black belt.
In fact, it’s probably less.
Why is that?
While it’s true that life events wipes out a lot of students within the first year, those who remain don’t all make it, either.
Things that routinely take people out of their training include a change in income so they can’t afford it anymore… they lost their job… they’re moving… or are having a baby. And this list goes on.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s because they just don’t fully understand what it really takes to get there.
Sure it sounds exciting and you can imagine the look and weight of it around your waist.
After all, not many people earn a black belt.
You’d feel like a total badass with it around your waist.
That is, until you start to realize it’s work.
Not just work.
A TON of work.
A virtual mountain of sweaty, fatiguing, and disciplined work.
It took me about 3 1/2 years to earn my black belt.
I trained five times a week.
I also assisted/taught at least four days during the week. Sometimes five.
Time with my friends got sacrificed.
Time with my family got sacrificed.
Other activities and interests got sacrificed.
On the other hand, I’ve been in the martial arts just under 30 years and run my own martial arts studio in Salt Lake City, UT.
I’ve promoted nearly 20 people to black belt.
I’ve taught thousands of people in that time.
I’m more excited today to share what I know about the martial arts than ever before.
Was it worth it?
What do you think?
Here are ten golden rules to help you grasp the realities of what it takes to get a black belt:
1. You Must Commit to it
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.” – Abraham Lincoln.
A black belt knows that commitment is the first step in the journey towards black belt. Having a desire or wish is simply not enough. By making a commitment to earning your belt rank, it will help you envision your goal and provide the proper motivation you need to stay on the path.
2. You Must Show Up
“80% of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen
A black belt knows that showing up to class on a regular and consistent basis is nonnegotiable. Attendance is a habit and either you have a good habit or a bad one. There will always be outside pressures that try to pull you away from your training. Build your training into your schedule and make it your routine. While it’s easier said that done, you’re never as busy as you feel.
3. You Must Put in the Work
“I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.” – Michael Jordan
A black belt knows that you can’t earn a black belt without paying your dues. The only way to truly learn is to take action and invest significant time into your training. You can’t earn a black belt by reading about the martial arts alone. You have to get up off the couch and physically practice it regularly and consistently.
4. You Must Set Goals
“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar
A black belt knows that a wish and a plan are not enough to achieve ones goals. In order to be successful, goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound in order for you to succeed. This is known as the “SMART” method of goal setting.
5. You Must Have Focus
“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” – Unknown
A black belt knows that focus is a state of mind and a master key to success. Focus stands for Follow One Course Until Successful. In short, focus is will power and is a habit you need to develop if you ever want to get to black belt. Without focus, you can easily slip into a routine of procrastination, go on tangents, and get distracted. With it, you can move mountains.
6. You Must Do Your Research
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston
A black belt knows that research helps them gain perspective and knowledge. There is a lot more than just the physical aspects of your martial arts training. You also want to stimulate your mind. Read everything you can on my blog as well as any books or manuals on the system you study that you can get your hands on. As my instructor Mr. Paul Mills always reminds me; “Always remain a student of the art no matter what rank you achieve or how long you’ve been at it.”
7. You Must Be Introspective
“The only journey is the one within.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
A black belt knows that meditation, reflection, and introspection gives them wisdom. After each class reflect on what you have learned. Write down what you covered, questions that came up that you didn’t ask, connections in the material you’ve made, quotes from your instructor or even reminders about things you want to investigate in the future. This way you create your own reference material in your own words to go back to throughout your training as you contemplate your art and what you have learned. In this way, the intangible becomes tangible.
8. You Must Eliminate Your Excuses
“Excuses are the nails used to build the house of failure.” – Unknown
A black belt knows that excuses are poison to achievement. Excuses stem from your comfort zone. “I’m too tired”… “I don’t feel like going tonight”… “I will go next class”… “I’ll train tomorrow”… how many of these have crept into your mind? How often have they kept you from your training?
9. You Must Prioritize Your Interests
“You can do anything but not everything.” – David Allen
A black belt knows that it takes discipline and sacrifice to achieve mastery. Do you have too many outside activities fighting for your attention? Perhaps it’s time to prioritize then cut out some of your outside interests. Question everything you do. If it doesn’t help you earn your black belt, it’s prime for the chopping block. Earning a black belt requires sacrifice, focus, and an investment of time and energy in the right places. When you can do this, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
10. You Must Never Give Up
“A black belt is a white belt that never gave up.” – Unknown
A black belt knows that they wouldn’t be a black belt without an indomitable spirit. There will be times where you want to quit…. where it gets too hard…where it’s no longer fun… where you wonder if it’s all worth it. Constantly remind yourself why you started in the first place and reflect back on how far you’ve come. It’s better to progress slowly than to give up completely. Even when you don’t want to go to class or train at home, that’s when you need to go the most. Most of those who quit will likely regret it for the rest of their lives.
As you can see there are many qualities required to earn a black belt.
It’s not something many people earn.
And, with good reason.
What did I miss? Leave a comment below with your golden rules for earning a black belt.