A Black Belt is not Something you Earn, it is Something you Become

12003973_10153622628455871_1018021166963204721_nWe held a Black Belt Exam in our school last month, where a talented young man achieved a goal he had been working on for four years. This was also the first Black Belt Exam in our school for a student who had trained exclusively at Fire Phoenix Martial Arts, so it was significant for the school as well as the student.

The process of getting a Black Belt is an intense, refining process. The Black Belt Exam is like a furnace, an intense heat that burns away the outer layers, the impurities and leaves a strong, solid core that is impervious to external factors. It is a process during which the Black Belt candidate internalises the principles of Hapkido and the martial arts and makes them a part of themselves.

There is a story told of a farmer who was inspired to mine for diamonds, and this story makes me think of the search for a Black Belt as well.

There was once a farmer who lived on a farm in a hilly area where he farmed sheep. It was a farm that made enough money for the farmer to support himself, but there was not a lot left over. He worked hard and he had everything he needed. He was content with this until one day some strangers came to his village, and told of how they had found diamond mines. Diamond mines – imagine that! How much wealth there would be! How could the daily grind of sheep farming ever compare to that?

So the farmer decided to sell up his farm and travel, searching for his diamond mine. He travelled far and wide, searching, follow new clues, listening to rumours of where the diamonds might be mined, dashing to mountainside caverns and beachside cave systems, always searching for the elusive diamond mine. At last, footsore, weary, with no money left and full of disillusionment, he returned back to his old village.

There, he discovered, diamonds had been found! Asking for more details, he found that they had actually been found on his old farm! He was devastated, and also amazed. He went and spoke to the man who bought his farm from him, and found that there was a cave on the farm in the hills that turned out to be a diamond mine. The farmer knew of the cave, he used to use it to shelter with his sheep in storms.

12038061_10153622630875871_1055340105642275361_nThe thing he didn’t realise was that diamonds in their raw state do not resemble the sparking crystal stones we see on diamond rings and necklaces. The look like dull brown stones. It is the process of polishing them, refining them, cutting them that makes diamonds what they are. By destroying them in their raw form, the beauty and wonder that is within can shine through.

This story always makes me think of the process of becoming a Black Belt. To become a Black Belt, we must be prepared to sacrifice what we are for what we might become. To become more than the dull brown stones, we need to put ourselves through a process that demands everything from us, that changes us into something much more than we ever were before.

The story also illustrates that sometimes on the path to our Black Belt, we look for a quick fix, a magic solution that will get us to our goal faster. We look for other options that will take the place of the hard work that is required to get our Black Belt. The fact is, there is not one. There is simply day after day of hard physical work, hard mental work to keep slogging away at the things we need to work on.

The path to Black Belt calls on us to make sacrifices. Some of the sacrifices we make are of our time – we spend a lot of time on our training, sometimes choosing to come to class when there are other fun things we could be doing. Sometimes we sacrifice comfort – we stretch a little deeper, we train a little harder, we collect bruises, bumps and knocks as we train. Sometimes we sacrifice our pride or ego, to submit to doing what our instructor asks us to do even if we don’t want to, or are scared to. It is making these sacrifices that builds us up mentally to be able to withstand a Black Belt Exam and come out of it on the other side stronger and more than we were before.

12042648_10153622625745871_4982656721780597830_nAfter the Black Belt exam, you understand that you ARE a Black Belt, it is not simply something you earn and can be removed when you change clothes. It is something that is a part of who you are, because it is something that you have had to work incredibly hard to become.

Sometimes when extended family members come to watch a Black Belt exam and they have not witnesses first hand the training, they are shocked at what a Black Belt exam demands of a student. They are scared for the Black Belt candidate because what they are being asked to do seems completely unreasonable. It is only unreasonable without the preparation of the sacrifices and hard work in the years of classes leading up to this one special event. This event is a once in a lifetime event that you always carry with you as a source of strength and motivation in daily life.

Congratulations to Ethan on his Black Belt, to all our Black Belt students and to those who are coming in the future.

The Meaning of Black Belt

B8dfkvHIcAAlZFTHaving a Black Belt is kind of like magic. People react to you differently when they see you wearing it, even if they do not study Martial Arts. It has a lot of meaning to everyone, everyone knows what a Black Belt is, or thinks they do. But any Martial Arts student can tell you, it’s not magic, it’s just lots and lots and lots of practice.

Way back in 1999, on the evening before my first Black Belt Exam, I wrote an entry in an occasional journal I keep, which sometimes makes me cringe, sometimes makes me laugh and always makes me think.

I wrote, …” That is what this arid, barren, harsh land has taught me. How to fight. Physically with my hands and feet, and mentally in throwing myself into things quite alone ad having to stand up for myself.” I went on to say that Black belt was a way to …” prove to the world I can be true to who I am… I can do things on my own, control my own life.”

You see, Black belt is something you have to do on your own. That is in no way devaluing the help and guidance you may receive from your Instructors, fellow students and friends. But if you haven’t got the spirit to stand up when there are a million reasons to sit down, all the help you have been given along the way counts for nothing. You stand or you sit. Your choice.

It’s funny, learning to fight. I have never been a fighter physically, but I have fought many intellectual battles in the past, for sometimes quite surprisingly stupid causes. I think that the discipline of Martial Arts shows you which battles are worth fighting. And the strange thing about knowing how to fight is that you come to understand that you don’t really need to fight at all. You just have to change your understanding of a situation. Then you see all the shades of okay in between right and wrong, and then the focus shifts to trying to understand, rather than trying to judge.

The hardest thing I have learnt, and, truth to tell, am still learning since becoming a Black Belt is about accountability. There are so many reasons and excuses about why not, the struggle is finding reasons why. Why you have not done something is usually about other people – “The dog ate my homework” why you do something is about what motivates you.

What usually motivates us is what is easiest to do – the path of least resistance. Follow the path your parents laid out, do what all your friends are doing, act as convention dictates you ought to.

images-2Since I have become a Black Belt, some of these motivators have failed me. I have seen them for what they really are and have decided they are not for me. That has meant drawing up new plans about how to act, new motivators, and that has been a bit scary. Think about it – take all the values you have been taught to hold dear, and throw them away. What is left? Only you. And you have to look at you and analyse what you have there. Have you got enough value in you to live your own life by your own rules, not your parent’s, not your friend’s, but yours? I think the meaning of Black Belt is to look at that question, and whatever answers you get to it, be prepared to make the changes your answer requires.

For many people today. Mufasa’s words from the movie, “The Lion King” ring true – “you are more than what you have become.” That is a great tragedy, and the meaning of Black Belt is to make sure that statement can never be applied to you. There is another quote – “the most important thing is this, to sacrifice what we are for what we may become.” Black Belt means living that sacrifice.

All in all, Black Belt means to take control of your life. You decide your character traits, or values after a lot of honest looking at yourself, and you live those values in your life.

For me that has meant not allowing other people, especially their emotions, to affect my personal decisions. It has meant only allowing people whose feedback I value have impact on me. It has meant consulting with myself for approval first, not trying to get the approval of the rest of the world.

Even Black Belts still aspire to achieve a Black Belt. That is because Black Belt is not just the coloured belt you wear when you put on your uniform. It is living up to everything Black Belt represents, and that is something you can always strive for, no matter how long you have been a Black Belt.