When I sat down tonight to write my blog, I had already decided I wanted to write about being able to adapt and evolve with the changes the lockdown has brought...but honestly, I'm tired of writing, thinking, planning and talking about the lockdown...it's all anyone seems to be talking about at the moment and I for one, would like a break from it all.
So I thought I'd talk about a matter that's close to my own heart. I want to talk to you instead about the truth about belts, and explain to you my view and opinions on what it means to achieve a black belt.
Over the years, I've been asked countless times about belts and progression. I get it - it's exciting and motivating to know you are getting better and improving. It feels good to be rewarded and to have a new belt as physical proof of your skill.
When martial arts came to the West, many schools commercialised on their popularity and became 'black belt factories'. By holding gradings every three months or so, students would be able to get that buzz of leveling up and being awarded a new belt, while, of course, having to pay a fee to their school to participate. But practically, how much is it possible to learn in three months? Especially for those only training for one to two hours each week?
Gradings have always left me torn - I love getting my students together and celebrating their successes, but on the other hand I don't think progression should be something they should have to pay for. In addition, it is always a disappointment to those who have tried hard but do not achieve their next belt.
I've been teaching a long time, and as any teacher will know - everybody learns at their own speed. There are those that are 'naturals' and will pick things up very quickly, others that move along at a more steady pace, and others that have to work ten times as hard in order to grasp something their peer may have picked up very easily.
I believe as a teacher, you don't need a grading to decide who is ready for a belt and who's not. You should know your students, and you should have a good understanding of what they are and are not capable of.
Martial arts is a journey, and to me it's a way of life. It's not a hobby, it's not something that can be 'completed', and being awarded a black belt in any discipline within a year or two of training isn't, to me, something that reflects the dedication and skill required to hold that grade.
The way I prefer to award belts to my students, is during class without any prior notification. There is no pressure, there is no disappointment, embarrassment or feeling of failure and there is nothing to pay.
Of course, the belt you will be given by me when you are ready is the exact same belt you may be awarded by another school within a few short months of joining up. Their monetary value is exactly the same, the material is exactly the same, they may have even been purchased from the same supplier! But, what is different is the journey you took to get that belt. The value that belt has to you; when you hold that belt in your hands and understand that it represents your struggle as you tried to perfect a move months before finally succeeding, the nights you didn't feel like coming to class but did anyway, your determination to keep going when few others would. You have grown in ability and as a person. That's what that belt means.
If you have been awarded a belt by me, rest assured you earned it.