What a Black Belt means to me

Discussion in 'Korean Martial Arts Articles' started by ahsanmustafa, Jul 22, 2010.

  1. ahsanmustafa

    ahsanmustafa Valued Member

    You know, from all the thousands of people who start training in martial arts on a daily basis, only a handful make it to their first grading. And, the percentage who progress through the ranks gets smaller and smaller, the higher you grade.

    So you can imagine, only a tiny percentage ever attain the prestigious black belt.

    I consider myself very lucky to have made it. Sure, it took a lot out of my social life, dedicating three evenings a week to study taekwondo. Plus, all the supplementary training outside of class. It took a lot of bruises, welts and frustration in learning new patterns. Mastering a new kick. Punching the wall till my knuckles were raw red and bleeding, and the skin had grazed.

    Other people drinked, smoked and took drugs when they were down. I studied taekwondo. Studied, not just trained. If I wasn't training, I was reading about it.

    You see. I didn’t want to be just an ‘average’ black belt. I wanted to look and feel like one.

    Theoretically, it is possible to gain the black belt putting in part-time hours and part-time effort. But the end result will be, you will look like a part-time black belt. And, I’ve seen plenty of those.

    No disrespect to anyone. Everyone trains for different reasons, most people take it as a hobby, which is fine.

    However, I turned it into a passion. A reason for living.

    You may think that is fanatical, but training became a religion for me. My first love was taekwondo, and you never forget your first love.

    According to the official definition, a black belt signifies maturity in taekwondo. The opposite of white belt. It indicates imperviousness to darkness and fear.

    On a more personal level, it means so much more to me. And then again, it means absolutely nothing.

    What is more important is a black belt mentality.

    The other day, some of my senior kids were not paying attention and generally misbehaving. So, I told them to take off their belts and go to the back row. Behind the junior grades.

    Then, during the course of the class, I instructed ‘white belts do this technique, red belts do this technique’. One of the demoted red belts said to me ‘what are we supposed to do?’ (since I temporarily had taken their red belts away from them).

    Obviously these kids had a lot to learn. It was lecture time again.

    Regardless of what colour of belt you are wearing around your waist, do not let it define you. If your ‘red’ belt is taken away from you, does that mean you lose your abilities? Does that mean you forget your red belt techniques?

    Whenever I am walking down any street, in any country of the world, I know that I am a black belt. I know I have a responsibility not only to myself and those close to me, but to the reputation of taekwondo and martial arts. I do not need to wear a black belt around my waist to know that. I have a black belt mentality.

    I know many non-martial artists in my day to day life who also have a black belt mentality.

    Being a black belt is a state of mind. The responsibility which comes with being a black belt is a responsibility to the betterment of your local community, society and the world.

    Respect, integrity, and an indomitable spirit, with which you can conquer any obstacle.

    Helen Keller had a black belt mentality. Anne Frank had a black belt mentality. Mother Teresa had a black belt mentality. Nelson Mandela has a black belt mentality.

    Overcoming adversity, regardless of your personal limitations or disabilities. To have the inner strength to deal with whatever cards life has dealt you. That is having a black belt attitude towards life.

    So, regardless of whether you are a martial artist or not, let me ask you, do you have a black belt mentality?

    Ahsan Mustafa
  2. drvosjeca

    drvosjeca New Member

    I support you on this... mentality is most important part.
  3. Giovanni

    Giovanni nefarious editor Supporter

    i hate to burst your bubble, but it's an arbitrary "accomplishment". yes, it's mostly mental and i agree with you on that. and i agree with many many of your other points regarding inner strength, discipline, commitment, etc. but having a black belt means what? that you've passed some sort of arbitrary time and tasks to get "promoted". on the street, it means nothing. less than nothing. nobody cares. doesn't mean that mugger x is going to reconsider trying to kill you for a couple bucks.

    and besides, even in martial arts, having a black belt typically means only a beginning. certainly, it's not the end of training.
  4. Hatamoto

    Hatamoto Beardy Man Kenobi Supporter

    I think someone missed the point of the article.
  5. Giovanni

    Giovanni nefarious editor Supporter

    sorry, i think you're missing the point of my response. i was not clear enough. i will try to clarify and will hopefully do better.

    i agree with the op on many, many points and the post raises many, many salient topics. but just want to clarify that 'black belt' is a completely meaningless term. even saying having a 'black belt mentality' means nothing. you can't even define that state of mind as 'black belt'. i just think that the metaphor is not apt. what to call it? not sure.
  6. Wisdom_Heart

    Wisdom_Heart Siddhartha Gautama

    I have a little hard time with the black belt concept.

    I do not define myself by the embellishment that is around my waist. I see a black belt as an accomplishment, but it does not define me as a human.

    There are many black belts out their that do not have what you call the " black belt mentality" The passion, the respect, and the gratitude comes from within not from a a piece of cloth.
  7. Hatamoto

    Hatamoto Beardy Man Kenobi Supporter

    I see better, thanks Giovanni. I guess it refers to ahsan's own idea of the black belt, which to me is reasonable. When I think of a black belt I still think of the high standards of respect and skill it *should* represent. I don't think the metaphor is entirely inaccurate, though, if you think of the standard that used to be in place before things became so much more commercialised.
  8. Giovanni

    Giovanni nefarious editor Supporter

    thank you hatamoto. good points there also.
  9. Bruce W Sims

    Bruce W Sims Banned Banned

    This may not make a lot of sense at first glance but I tend to look at a BB in much the same way as I view a Roman Collar on the clergy. The collar itself means nothing but takes its energy from the commitment of the individual to a particular way of life or "calling". I wear a BB not because I have a certificate to go along with it, but because I have made a choice to follow a particular approach to things. FWIW.

    Best Wishes,


    SPIKE THE RAVEN Valued Member

    I was awarded my black belt a little over two years ago.Kind of proud to get it,especially at my "advanced age"...Eventually I found a frame to fit my black belt certificate.. someday I may actually hang it on the wall downstairs in my "office"...
  11. 23197

    23197 Valued Member

    Like Spike, I too earned my BB at an 'advanced age'. Personally this was a goal I set long ago and due to twists and turns of life I was unable to attain it until recently. Reaching 1st dan level for me is a new beginning. I have begun a new level of training and am wearing a different colored belt. I am still the same person with the same job and same morals. I simply wish to honor my teacher as he has his and so forth. I do understand what the author here is attempting to relate and respect his personal views as I do those of all who have posted.
  12. monkeywrench

    monkeywrench Valued Member

    I mostly agree with this post. In my style, a black belt means you have a good grasp of the basics of the style and your real training has only begun.

    I don't mean to take anything away from the article here. I just think the whole idea of a "black belt" is overblown.
  13. kc245

    kc245 New Member

    I truly support you on this article!
  14. Dexter99

    Dexter99 New Member

    I'm with Monkeywrench and others on the matter of the black belt as a beginning. It's like getting your drivers license. You can get to the grocery store, but it ain't formula 1.
    As for making my students take off their belts, I'm still thinking about that one.
  15. Bruce W Sims

    Bruce W Sims Banned Banned

    I also think there is a huge difference between how Asians see a BB and how it is viewed in the West. It seems that Asians consider the BB as a start while many Westerners would then wonder what the two years learning and passing though GEUP was all about. Perhaps there is a need to re-examine what it is that would reconcile these two very different POV.

    Best Wishes,

  16. monkeywrench

    monkeywrench Valued Member

    That's a good point. As the saying goes, "life is learning". I'll bring up BJJ (and no, I don't practice it but I have heard quite a bit about the belt system) as an example. In BJJ, you may earn your black belt after many years of training or you may get it faster if you have proven your skills and mastery by winning matches.

    Some styles can get you to black belt in two years. I'm not sure how that works...but it happens.

    I've been training for almost six years and don't even have a brown belt. I have taken time off for various things, but still. I'm not worried about the belt. Belts just hold your pants up.
  17. daggers

    daggers Valued Member

    a black belt to me means you have mastered the moves and are ready to understand how to use them
  18. tdparisi83

    tdparisi83 New Member

    Ideally, (and this is not always the case) a Black Belt is awarded to a student who has displayed a certain proficiency and skill. Unfortunately, many schools in TKD set the bar for black belt much lower than others.

    Sadly, I would say TKD as a martial art generally sets the bar for black belt much lower than other styles. In BJJ or Karate it takes 5-10 years to get to black belt, but in many TKD schools, it can take 2.

    I don't say this to down Taekwondo. I have a 3rd Dan, and I am proud of the rank that I earned. I looked at where the bar is set, and I know that I can just do enough to buy the belt. But I didn't stop there. I tell myself that a Black Belt student should be the best of the best. While the bar was set lower for the group, I set it higher for myself. That's why I give my all at every training session. I strive for constant improvement. I set challenging goals, and I work toward those goals every day.

    And no, my goals are not just to get the next rank. Some goals involve learning a new technique, or refining an old one. Other goals include conditioning and performance.

    Earning a Black Belt should be a new beginning, as several of you have noted. There is a Black Belt mindset, whether some of you want to believe it or not. However, not all people who wear the belt really take this to heart.

    Many of you are correct. At some schools, in some styles, a black belt means nothing. It is just a piece of cloth that someone waited 2 years for, and paid enough money for. I've seen the "Belt Factories" and "McDojos." It is a sad truth when a master forsakes his teachings of discipline, honor, and service for the short win of a belt testing fee.

    It is the choice of each student, master, and practitioner to decide what your black belt means, and to either rise above, or settle for "good enough."
  19. Bruce W Sims

    Bruce W Sims Banned Banned

    I think that is a HUGE difference, TD. I would also add that BB does not mean the same these days as it did when, say, Koreans first started training in TKD.

    Used to be that noone attached much significance to the GEUP rankings. They were essentially just enough to keep the newbies out from under foot of the advanced classes. I think starting to teach kids gave the GEUPs greater emphasis. This probably explains why many of the old-timers buzzed right into BB after about a year when now it can take two or three years to make it through the GEUP ranks.

    The art provides the structure, but its the practitioner that gives that structure meaning.

    Best Wishes,

  20. brisrocket

    brisrocket KaiZen & Liberalis

    Great topic.

    The journey to black belt provides skill, knowledge and character.

    I think that Black belts can motivate students by modelling the results of travelling that journey of their martial art.

    For the black belt rank holder, it sets the expectation to maintain a certain level of conduct.

    It's all good!

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