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.


Clint Bird said…
Dear Professor,

I love reading your Log, its nice to read somthing that is positive and informative on a regular basis. Not somthing we get to see in the press unfortunately. I wonder if I am in the minority for thinking misery is not the best way to sell papers.
Anonymous said…
John, this was exactly what I wanted to hear from the last 2 weeks of what I went through with a friend of mine. I always want to learn more to better myself as a person and in BJJ, I have been doing exactly this but a step at a time. A friend of mine who is much younger than me does BJJ too and sometimes he does not see where I am coming from when I tell him that we have to improve ourselves as human being in everything we do, be it martial arts or a career, studies etc...I couldnt get the nessage across to him and he mentions that he is content with the way he is. Sometimes I just say that he will never be as good as I am or even beat me if he has this attitude in life. I am gald that you mentioned this. Now I can show him that you have this mentality...the mentality of a true Martial Artist....Thanks for the Advise John.

Best Regards

BJJ NZ said…
You terrify me with these posts. They always make me look over my shoulder to see if you're looking at me or watching my every move.

JBW said…
Thanks everyone - I do appreciate your comments. In some subtle way - I gauge my writing style by the feedback I get. Some types of posts get lots of feedback - other types get none. Over time, I hope to get a feel for the types of posts that people are more interested in.
This particular topic is pretty close to my heart - i feel strongly about it - and would hope that people out there are also interested. So tanks again.
Liam said…
This is excellent John. I have followed your blog for a while and it always inspires!

JBW said…
Thanks again everyone for your kind comments. I appreciate knowing that these posts are actually read. Sometimes, at least in my mind, I wonder if others are interested in these types of thoughts - as opposed to the 'crush, kill & maim' style of martial arts articles.
Thanks again,
AnnT. said…
I loved this blog, thank you. In some aspects of my life, I am not at all content with 'good enough'. 'Good enough for *me*' is an entirely different, and very high standard, which I aspire to apply to the other areas of my life. Your blog reminds me of a quote I read once "Obsessed is the word the lazy use to describe the dedicated".
JBW said…
thanks for that. Good one! Dedicated - love it!

warmest regards,
sean said…
this is what martial arts is about. learning to apply the principles into every day life. Just as shortcuts and flat spots don't work on the mat they don't work in real life without muscle and wasted energy.
So what starts out as a good idea ultimately takes longer or in other words has consequences.
Anonymous said…
Hi John.
I believe this is what martial arts is all about, always striving. But does it apply equally well in other matters in life?

There are people who have that attitude with wealth, and no amount of money is enough. When do we sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labour? If at all.

As a standard of quality, it is good. What about as a personal philosophy?
Mike Massie said…
Fantastic post. I'll be sure to link it from my blog.
Sensei Poretz said…
Well said. The meaning of "Back Belt" had suffered greatly in the last decades, and the martial arts in general have suffered in terms of credibility. As a profession/vocation we need to constantly raise the bar for ourselves and our students. Only then will the arts return to their proper place in society.

Gregory Poretz
Aaron Hensley said…
I love the higher standard! I have been fortunate to have been in martial arts my entire life. I sometimes lose the motivation to constantly push myself to those higher standards and instead focus on helping others reach that level. But, when I refocus and set goals, that Black Belt attitude kicks into overdrive and I love that feeling. The hard part is to balance my personal martial arts and with keeping my school and students at the level that makes me happy and keeps the bills paid. I recently recovered from a broken collar bone and torn muscle and have been refired for over a month and it feels great. I have been training hard and preparing for competition in Vegas! Look forward to seeing you at the UFAF conference.

All the best,
Aaron Hensley
Rowan in the ACT said…
Brilliant, thank you so much for taking the time to write blogs like this.
mick tully said…
Hi John
Ever since myself and Al Peasland trained with you recently,we have thought and discussed a lot about what raising the bar means to us both.For myself its seeking out more inspirational people in all fields of interest I have and getting their guidance,if I was content with getting by I would never have got to meet and train with some of my heroes and inspirations(yourself included)....as for the material black belt?.......doesn't even compare to the blackbelt mindset.......and I know that's not included in a 36month beginner to blackbelt package........perhaps if people realised the true worth of the knowledge,friendship and guidance that comes with spending any extended time in the company of true giants.....the piece of cotton would show its true worth
Thanks for the kind words on your previous blog sir
Mick x
JBW said…
Mick, Rowan,Aaron, Gregory, Sean and others who have spend some of their valuable time to make comments. I very much appreciate it. I am really pleased to know you all got something out of it. This type of topic resonates deeply within me ... I have a smallish school (compared to some of my friends) of only 200 or so (mostly adults) but we are very big on excellence, technical mindset and making huge and measureable gains. To grow my school (in terms of numbers) I would have to move to a larger premises, run more classes, and change too much about the way I live my life to be assured of my continued spiritual and physical well-being. So instead of going that route - I prefer to leverage what I understand about my martial arts, into other areas - seminars, military/Law enforcement work, writing books, DVD's, curriculum design, some property investment and authoring magazine articles and blogs like this, etc.
I love the variety and the mental challenge that this affords.
For me personally, excellence begins with a mindset - the type of mindset that allows us to be more fruitful and productive in other areas of our lives. Many instructors talk about concepts like 'leverage' for example - but it is clear to me that few of them really understand what it means, otherwise they would be using it in other areas of their lives. How about buying your wife some flowers every now and then - that's leverage! How about buying a second property instead of a new car - and having someone else make the mortgage payments, that's leverage. Howe about doing something kind for someone who can't ever pay you back - but may evntually do something nicve for someone else themselves becasue you did it for them - thats leverage. Making big things happen with little effort - that's leverage! And this is just one of the concepts that we talk about every day when on the mat.
time to go - taking my family to the movies ..
thanks again everyone,
Anonymous said…
John, it is beautiful...just what you said...little things you do that could do a lot for others...that brings in Social responsibility and caring into society...You are Great not only as a Martial Artist but as a person, a human being setting excellent examples. I beleive that a true Martial Artist is a person who seeks harmony within his/her world, who when faced with a challenge seeks to overcome it through the forces of Ying and Yang. A True Martial Artist in my opinion is a Black belt in Life but it cannot be said now that a Black belt is a True Martial Artist. That is why I do not beleive in the system of Belts because it does not determine the type of person you are but only to a certain degree..

Thanks for your Wisdom again John.

Urban Samurai said…
Couldn't agree more with you on this issue, John. Like everything else on this planet the martial arts are more and more being touched by the icy fingers of commercialism and the need to compromise values and standards in order to reach a broader section of society. A blackbelt be mean something more than just an accessory to tie around your waist to impress other gullible people. Those who hold a blackbelt should, in my opinion, have a higher level of conciousness than those who don't, which means they should have a profound understanding of not only their art, but also of the world in which they live, of the universe itself. It has got nothing to do with elitism or even ego; it has everything to do with being properly qualified to teach and practice a highly complex system of not just combat, but also spiritual and mental endeavor. Being true to the belt is about being true to yourself. It's about being honest with yourself and those you teach.
Great post.
utkenpo said…
Great article! Thank you so much for putting into words what a lot of us have in our heads as we look around the martial arts world.
Anonymous said…
Great blog John. I felt it was personal, and also inspiring. Makes me realise how far I have to come in BJJ.

It helps to see where your mind is at in terms of dedication and passion.

Thank You

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