When you hear the words “black belt,” what comes to mind? Someone in a white uniform shattering boards with their bare hands? A man in an action movie punching and kicking his ways through waves of bad guys? Young kids lined up in a gym, carefully trading punches and kicks?
There’s no doubt that being a black belt martial artist is a status symbol, a title that anyone will instantly recognize and respect. However, many people, including some who claim the title of black belt themselves, fail to understand what earning the rank really means. Becoming a black belt doesn’t mean learning to beat people up or break boards with your hands. A black belt isn’t a strip of cloth you take off when you leave the gym, or a title that you aim for as an end goal. Becoming a black belt is a journey and, more importantly, a way of life.
Legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight said it best: “The key is not the will to win…everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” This has never been more true than with martial arts.
When you begin martial arts instruction, there are two things you’ll learn about before you put on a uniform or step on the mats, no matter the style: self-discipline and perseverance. All martial arts emphasize the importance of self-discipline. At its core, the goal of practicing any martial art isn’t to earn your black belt or learn how to fight or defend yourself: the true goal is becoming the best you can be, and that journey never ends. A martial artist and a black belt is always striving to learn and always striving to improve. Learning the discipline of a martial art emphasizes making a routine of positive behaviors like concentration, perseverance and respect.
The qualities that make a true black belt are carried outside of classes and training. The benefits of martial arts teachings are so wide spread and well recorded that they have been embraced by the psychiatric community as treatments for ADHD, anxiety, depression, impulsiveness and aggression. Some parents shy away from this option, finding it counterintuitive to use an activity they perceive as violent to treat aggression, but martial arts place heavy emphasis on discipline and control, providing a safe and healthy outlet for bottled up emotions and stress.
Learning a martial art is challenging and demanding, but it is also an excellent option for children (and adults) who have struggled with other sports or activities. Unlike team sports such as soccer and baseball, where those who struggle are often left behind, martial arts are all-inclusive: everyone participates equally, and the primary goal is not to best someone else, but to best yourself.
Striving for self-improvement takes courage. It forces you to accept your flaws for what they are and then work to best them and improve them, no matter how difficult that may be. It doesn’t allow you to sit back and declare your actions “good enough.” Becoming a black belt means always improving, always learning, always teaching others and always helping others to improve—as you improve yourself.