The Challenge before us!

A ballerina is a ballerina 100% of the time. A ballerina doesn’t stumble down the street, crashing into things; a ballerina doesn’t look awkward or out of control; a ballerina is a ballerina to the core of her being; it defines her as a person and is manifest in everything she does.
In my view, many martial artists could take a lesson from this. To be martial artists right to our core means that we should act and behave like martial artists all of the time. Why take the escalator when we can run up those stairs? Why stumble on to the mat, when we can walk on with intent and focus?
I have just returned from teaching in the USA where I was frustrated to see more than one martial artist who has lost touch with what it means to be a true black belt. When I see someone wearing a black belt, I expect them to act and behave in a certain way. I expect them to ‘snap to’ and be ‘fully engaged’ in everything they do; especially when on the mat. I expect a black belt to ‘suck it up’ when they are a little uncomfortable and to ‘dig deep’ when the going gets a little rough. The black belt should be a standard that others would want to aspire to; a badge of honour – something to be earned. Perhaps I am too ‘old school’; but a return to traditional martial arts values and standards could be exactly what we need right now. The currency of black belt has been devalued, just like the dollar; it doesn’t buy today, what it bought say, two decades ago. Belt-inflation is rampant; and showing no signs of slowing down. There are of course, exceptions to this trend; and these are the schools and the types of people I choose to associate with. The black belt to me, is a standard of excellence that should serve to inspire and elevate others. I urge anyone who will listen to help in ‘raising the bar’. I understand that people have businesses to run, and an important part of that is student numbers and retention – but at what cost? When the black belt loses all meaning, then there will be nothing for the new student to aspire to – then what?
A ballerina is a ballerina 100% of the time. A black belt martial artist should be a black belt martial artist 100% of the time. The sales and marketing pitch for the martial arts had changed dramatically in the past several decades; now, the brochures and sign-writing spout the ‘benefits’ such as: Confidence, Respect, Fitness, etc. well okay – forgetting fr a moment about whether or not the art is actually delivering effective self defence, do we really see a lot of Confidence, Respect and Fitness? Are these things self evident in the black belt population? I am afraid I just don’t see it! I dislike being negative, but let’s call it as we see it; where are all the masses of Confident, Respectful and Physically Fit black Belts? At the recent martial arts instructor’s convention in Las Vegas, I saw perhaps 10 % of the instructors walking around that would get a pass rate on those things – and we are talking about the very things they are trying to sell via their brochures and professional marketing campaigns. It’s time for a change; time for a return to traditional martial arts values. If new-age school owners can’t deliver on their promises then prospective students will all start heading to the boxing and kickboxing gyms where they will at least get a good dose of useable and practical self-defence skills.
It seems that the martial arts/combative industry is highly polarised and becoming even more so. At one end we have schools that promise everything but deliver nothing; where a black belt is as easy to attain as a yellow belt was some twenty years ago. At the other end, we have the fight gyms, where good manners, respect and honourable behaviour is pretty scarce, but at least the people who train there are coming away with real and serious fighting capabilities. The challenge for the professional school owners of today is to find a middle ground that gives everyone what they want and need. The challenge is to be able to consistently produce a black belt who has respect for other people, self-discipline, a standard of physical fitness and prowess that is inspiring to others.
I would dearly love to see the professional martial arts schools take up that challenge. Can the professional school deliver effective fighting/self defence skills in an environment that also promotes real ‘self-discipline’, integrity, respect for others, etc? That is the kind of place I would want to spend time in. The kind of place that produces black belts who are black belts 100% of the time. In such a place, the direction is always forward and upward – and instead of lowering the bar, the focus is always on teaching the student to jump higher

JBW 2007

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