From white belt to black belt: How the path of the black belt creates leaders

Each black belt candidate will receive an essay before the final test date. It’s an exercise in reflection, thinking and the challenge is, “What a black belt means to me.”

It is an objective standard applicable to every tester on the team. Every student with a black belt is responsible not only to himself and his instructors, but also to his fellow testers. If someone lags behind, if someone gets serious nerves, if someone forgets the other half of their form, it’s up to you, as their teammates – as the leader – to lift them.

Everyone must make a mark. But the essay is also very personal, individual. What will I become like a black belt? What has changed for me during my four-year journey?

As with a white belt (or in a white uniform without a belt, before getting this title), there is very little to think about in your martial arts career – everything is in front of you. This applies to both children and adults. Everyone is green, so to speak, when he steps on the mat and slaps his hands for the first time. But every rank you take, from gold to high brown, offers a chance to bounce. It also offers an opportunity to help teach others.

Parents often ask about leadership and how it relates to the black belt. The simple answer is that the process of obtaining a black belt requires leadership, whether the student is shy or proud, reserved or open. If you can’t lead, you can’t become a black belt. And if you can’t teach, if you’re not able or willing to help others, you can’t lead.

Partner drills (there are hundreds, thousands of them during four years of karate lessons) are an example of this. You can compare yourself to someone who significantly outperforms you in skills or knowledge. You can be paired with someone who has just started learning. In either case, your job is to adjust to your partner’s level and pass on – or receive – as much wisdom as you can.

That’s why you often see black belts banging, kicking or blocking more slowly than their white belt partners. There is more to be seen in the demonstration of a well-executed slow blow. The impulse in the lower belt is to offend your movements, to defeat your opponents on a (literally) blow. But the black belt moves more confidently. The speed of lighting is in the arsenal, but only when needed.

In short, the old saying proves true: The black belt is just a white belt that never gives up. Karate children learn how to move, how to express their voice and how to communicate with others. They are also learning to lead on the path of the black belt.

And so the path of the black belt culminates in an essay, an exercise in writing and reflection, a plan to inspire others. What did I learn in my karate? what’s ahead? Who helped me get where I am? Where will it all lead? These are the main issues, especially in the fertile minds of children. And it’s all part of the black belt experience.

David Berry

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