A Higher Standard
Black Belts should be held to a higher standard.
Be in better shape than most; be more accountable than most; be more well-read than most; have better relationships than most. What has that to do with martial arts, you might say? Well, it has plenty to do with ‘excellence’ – and to me, that is what the black belt should be about; living in a state of excellence that lifts you above the norm!
Whether it’s a BJJ Black Belt, a Karate Black Belt, a Tae Kwon Do Black Belt, makes no difference in terms of how high you set the standards for yourself. I do not like the trend of ‘lowering the bar’ to the point where every dysfunctional, malcontent can just walk up and step over it. I am all for raising the bar, so that people have to work, and aspire and work some more before they can develop the skills to make the leap they need to.
Renowned author Robert Kiyosaki once told me that the single biggest reason why people fail to succeed in life is because they are willing to live by the ‘good enough to get by’ credo. Oh, I eat well enough to ‘get by’; oh, I make enough money to ‘get by’; oh, my relationship is good enough so that we don’t need to get divorced; oh, I know enough about martial arts and what I do to ‘get by’ in class tonight, etc. The ‘good enough to get by’ attitude did not get us across the ocean to other lands; it certainly did not get us across space to stand on the moon; it did not inspire Helio Gracie to bring Jiu Jitsu to the professional fighting arena in Brazil; it did not help Mohammed Ali up into the ring; it did not assist Thomas Edison in his search for the electric light; and it did not inspire the legendary martial artists of out time (or any other) to take the art or their skills to the heights they did. ‘Good enough to get by’ is the credo of the mediocre. It is the first thing we need to shed, if we are to live by a standard of Black Belt Excellence.
I travel to the United States once or twice a year. I head over to instruct several hundred of Chuck Norris’s Black Belts for a couple if days in Las Vegas each year; and I head over to teach and man my booth at the MAIA Convention (a martial arts trade show) as well. The Americans are good at many things relating to business and the running of martial arts schools; most professional instructors here (myself included) can learn a great deal from them. However, each year I see more and more school owners there, talking up the concept of Black Belt Excellence, while at the same time allowing the standard of what it means to be a Black Belt to slip ad falter. I don’t want to be seen as someone getting up on their ‘high horse’ about what a Black Belt should mean – but come on, it should mean ‘Something’! I understand that this ‘slippage’ is driven by the needs of business; the easier it is for someone to get their Black Belt, the more likely it becomes that we can ‘sell’ that goal to the masses. I think I the long run, less and less people will be willing to pay for something that they perceive to have little or no value.
My feeling is that is incumbent upon some segment of the martial arts community to ‘go the other way’, and do what needs to be done to ‘raise the bar’ and lift the standards in their own particular brand of practice. Many martial arts school owners need to stop just talking about excellence and actually start delivering ‘excellence’ and expecting as much from the students. This requires work, research, a willingness to move beyond the comfort zone and some serious self-examination. This is not for everyone; it is certainly not for those who are totally content with what they have achieved, who they are, what they teach and how their schools are running; but such people are probably not reading this article in any case.
If you’re reading this article, you are the kind of person who is interested in always knowing more; in keeping yourself informed; the kind of person who may be willing to do his or her part in ‘raising the bar’ in the Australasian martial arts industry. You may not be a school owner yet, but you may well be one day in the future.
We Australians and Kiwi’s have a lot to offer the wider martial arts world. We bring a lot to the table; we are highly innovative, closely linked to and influenced by the nearby martial culture of Asia and we have retained much of the old-school training ethic that prevailed some thirty years ago. At the same time, the world has become a much smaller place over the last few decades; and this means that we as much access to cutting edge training and information as anyone else in the world. This combination of old-school training ethic, innovation and cutting-edge information sees us perfectly positioned and qualified to help ‘set the standard’ for what it means to be a Black Belt.
Be accountable – be prepared and willing to be held to a higher standard.
Train well – train smart.