Monday, August 8, 2016

GUEST POST: Black Belt Isn't Everything

Please welcome today's guest poster, Kevin Bradbury.

We just received the latest issue of MA Success magazine from Century (Sept 2016 issue) and I read something that really bothered me in their Inspiration Ovation column by Karen Eden.

In the column she writes about the rank of red belt, in her system, the rank right before black.

I understand her goal was to talk about staying motivated at a point when a lot of people drop out but some of her statements struck me as self-righteous and condescending.

For example, she talks about how when meeting someone who says they made it to brown or red belt:

“...in my mind’s eye, I immediately sum them up: they are the quitters.”

People have lots of reasons why they may stop martial arts training.  My wife, daughter, and I all had our training interrupted twice by job changes and interstate moves.  Being in the Presas lineage of Filipino Martial Arts, it was doubly hard for my wife and I to find the right teacher to continue our training with, and that took us a year and a half and a move cross-country to accomplish.

People stop training for reasons related to health, career, and family.  I would not apply the derogatory term of “quitter” to them.  Maybe they reached the point where they felt like they had gotten out of martial arts training what had set out to and did not feel the need to pass some instructor’s arbitrary and subjective finish line.

After all, black belt is not necessarily the perfect and only measure of martial arts progress.  Neither is it the end-goal of our training.

She continues to state:

“I would honestly be more impressed if you told me you had a Gucci belt than if you told me you had a red belt from 20 years ago.  For me, having “no belt” is more impressive than someone who quit at the rank of red belt.”

Seriously?  I applaud anyone who has given their time and money to have studied a martial art  at some point in their life.  Good on them!  I’d like to draw them back in, not insult them with an arrogant attitude of superiority.  Would it have been ok if they quit after they hit black belt?  Is there any rank at which she feels they are not beneath her for having stopped?  Or any reason?

 Not all students who enter martial arts training are lifers.  That’s OK!  

If we want others to embrace the martial arts more we need to drop the exclusiveness.  People come and go in our schools.  None of us are entitled to our students time and money.  We should be grateful to be in the position of getting to touch so many people’s lives in a positive way, for however long they choose to stay with us.

Look, if you’re at the point of being a martial arts instructor- martial arts is your thing.  It is a big and important thing in your life.  I get that completely - my life and my family's lives revolve around the martial arts (my wife, myself, and both daughters are involved in the martial arts in one way or another).  Much of our free time and money is spent on this hobby.

I understand, though, if someone else chooses differently.

Not everyone is going to have the same level of commitment to everything, and that's okay.  I’m willing to bet the column’s author quit something at some point in her life that others felt was very important but didn't appeal to her.  That’s okay, too.  I don’t think that makes her weak of character.

Later in the column she goes on to acknowledge that life gets in the way sometimes and if you are really not committed you’ll get not get past red belt.  She also talks about the support that her instructor gave her that helped her through the tough times and that she tries to show support and understanding to her students to help them through the tough parts.  But based on the earlier words in the column that compassion vanishes once the person decides that something else in their life is more important.

She ends with:

“Nothing impresses an instructor more than a good black belt.”

We all know not all black belts are created equal and rank of any kind often means someone put in the time and money.  Rank of any level is hardly an indicator of skill.  We value it because it is an indicator of our effort and commitment, but that's not the only measure of worth in the martial arts.

 I cannot impose my level of effort and commitment on every person who expresses an interest in learning our art.  All I can do is embrace them, encourage them and try my best to help them get out of it everything they need to get out of it and hope that they derive from it some of the same pleasure and satisfaction I do.  And they’re done when they’re done.

Then they are former students who I will always welcome back and not deride them as “quitters”.


+Kevin Bradbury  is an instructor at Mid-Cities Arnis and an assistant instructor at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  Mr. Bradbury holds Lakan Isa (Black Belt) in Presas Arnis, Black Belt in Pacific Archipelago Combatives, and Black Belt in Goju-Shorei weapons system.  Mr. Bradbury is currently studying for his Instructor certification in Knife Combatives from Hock Hochheim.