Life Begins At Black Belt

Life begins at black belt

My career and my passion for martial arts are two completely different things, although I do believe my martial arts training does transpire through to everyday life – dedication, focus, confidence, motivation, health etc. But what my career within sales organisations has enabled me to do, is speak to many different people from various walks of life and it is great to see how many people have had some involvement in martial arts, whether they have trained themselves, still study or take their children. Whatever the style, martial arts offer a unique community in which to start conversations and develop relationships.

With this though, there numerous reasons of why people quit their training, some could be valid reasons but most come across as excuses. It could just be a loss of interest which is fine (so long as this is not the fault of the club), as like anything in life people prioritise and martial arts may not be high up on the agenda anymore. It is always a shame to see people leave a club, especially when they have invested time, money and energy into their training but people cannot be forced into doing something they no longer have a desire for. I have had several conversations in the past, with other instructors that believe the most disappointing thing to see, is students leaving when they are so close to earning their black belt. Although this is sometimes hard to understand when they have worked hard to get that far, I disagree with it being the most disappointing thing.

I know of, and spoken to, many people that have studied martial arts and have been so dedicated that they have achieved black belt status and have then quit. I realise that every situation needs to be viewed individually but to me this is the most disappointing thing to find.

The worst reason I have heard for quitting at this point (and I have heard this many times) is that they believe they have learned everything they need to. This is wrong on so many levels. There is so much more to martial arts than simply learning a number of techniques and executing them well enough to pass a grading. But even if this wasn’t the case, or they only wanted to learn the techniques - how good are they going to be if they are not practising anymore? In a self defence situation they aren’t going to be as sharp, good etc than if they were still studying and practising regularly. The same goes for everything.

The other main reason for people quitting at this point is more understandable, but could and should be avoided. It is a lack of motivation. From the very start of joining most martial arts clubs, there is a very clear and defined progression path in the form of a grading system. The number of belts and the criteria varies from each style but they act as achievable goals to work towards. Our martial arts club in Middlesbrough is no exception and although we do not demand it, we do encourage everyone to work towards these goals (belts) as it keeps students motivated and it also helps progression from basic to more advanced techniques.

The problem then comes when black belt is achieved and suddenly there is no defined syllabus to work towards. The students who continue at this point are self motivated and want more from their martial arts. They want martial arts to become part of their everyday lives.

I believe my martial arts journey took a fresh and new direction when I became a black belt. Before this point all of my training was for external rewards. I was young and although I never showed off or highlighted the fact that I studied martial arts, I always took pride in my progress and my ego always took a huge boost when my skills were complimented. I still appreciate the external rewards – when I was awarded my 4th Dan I still lapped up the congratulations and felt immense pride – but now I study more for the internal rewards. By internal rewards I mean all the things I get from my training and studies that cannot be obviously recognised by others. The way that martial arts develop and integrate into my life. My desire now is to learn and grow into a better person.

The very grading system, that motivates you to learn in your particular art, can sometimes be a hindrance on the full martial arts experience. It is an essential part of the journey and you can only truly develop into a martial artist by mastering the techniques. But with such heavy focus on the grading system and the desire to progress through the ranks (external rewards) there is little time to develop in other areas. This is why I think that life in martial arts really starts once you become a black belt and why it is such a shame when people decide to quit at this point.

I urge any student of martial arts to continue their studies and take the time to develop more on a personal level. A new journey begins at black belt, whether you are interested in teaching or not. You have time to grow and adapt your art to suit you more and have further opportunity to learn other aspects of life with martial arts. You can take the time to go as deep into things as you want but other than that you are still training to perfect your technique and maintain your fitness.

If, when you achieve a black belt, you believe that there is nothing else to learn, then you haven’t learnt a single thing.

Matt Fawcett
4th Dan Black Belt