What does the black belt really mean?

What does the black belt really mean?

This past weekend was the pre-test for our Summer 2015 Black Belt testing to be held on Saturday June 27th. We have over 30 students testing for their first Black Belt or for higher levels of Black Belt. And as I sat at the head table during the pre-test, I found myself thinking about what it really means to be a Black Belt.

The Black Belt may be one of the most well known symbols of the martial arts, full of misconceptions and stereotypes. To those who have never trained, the Black Belt represents the highest level of martial arts skill. To a new student, a Black Belt becomes a worthy goal to achieve. For serious martial artists, it becomes an ideal to strive towards. But what exactly is a Black Belt and what does wearing a Black Belt really say about you?

When I was younger, I thought Black Belts had been around for thousands of years. I had heard that the harder a student trained, the darker their belt would get from the sweat, dirt and blood. When it finally turned black, they were considered experts. Obviously these tales weren’t true. The fact is that when the first Black Belts were given by Jigoro Kano in the mid 1880’s, they were used simply as a visual way to acknowledge and separate his most experienced students from the rest. It’s also now known that he didn’t get the idea from any ancient secret text or mysterious martial arts manuscript, but from Japanese public school swimming programs.

But is a Black Belt just a way to reward technical skill, or is there more to it?

The idea that you have to be a fearsome fighter, or be able to break bricks with your head prior to being considered a Black Belt is impressive, but false. The Black Belt is more about internal growth and discipline than it is about fighting prowess.

The discipline, indomitable spirit, and perseverance that it takes to make it from White Belt to Black Belt is more impressive to me than someone’s ability to break boards. Most people can’t stick with anything for a few weeks, let alone three to four years of constant practice. And it’s during this time that we learn that the martial arts is really about self-improvement, not just self defense. We begin to look past the belt and see the ideals of the Black Belt Excellence, such as honor, integrity, courtesy, and discipline as the goals.

That’s why students who earn their Black Belt see it as the beginning of their training, not the end.

The truth is that wearing a Black Belt doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t living and training like a Black Belt. In fact, anyone who wanted to could call a martial arts supply store, spend $30 and get a brand new black belt in the mail within a few days. But without the dedication, ideals and values of Black Belt Excellence, that belt is just a worthless piece of cloth.

So the next time you tie your belt on, whether it’s a Black Belt or not, remember that the belt itself is meaningless unless the person wearing it gives it meaning. As Royce Gracie once said “A black belt is for covering 2 inches of you. You have to cover the rest.”

1 Comment
  1. Master Greco, thank you for your inspiring words.
    Your dedication to this discipline has inspired me to focus and keep working hard to better myself.

    The journey has just began!

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