Black Belt is only the Beginning!

RJJ LogoTo the outside world, black belt is the end, the goal, the ultimate aim. However, to the serious student, black belt is only the beginning. I read once that earning your black belt means you have a grasp of the basic concepts. You have learned enough techniques to truly begin learning.

I know this was true for me. I found that I begin to learn deeper at this level, mostly through teaching. I could see my mistakes and short comings as I instructed lower ranks. The longer I taught, the more I felt I learned, the more I started to understand how the basics work.

I know I have so very far to go. I am only beginning to understand how little I know. I am understanding the meaning behind the phrase “it is a journey”. For the serious student, there is no end goal. It is about self improvement, being the best that YOU can be. It is not about ranks or new techniques or awards. It is about the slow steady path we tread to deeper understanding.

This journey is not for everyone. I understand that now more than ever. My journey will not be the same as yours… and that is okay. We are all looking for something. I hope we can all find it along the way.

The journey can be arduous, it can be painful and unrelenting. It is not easy. It is not for everyone. It takes a special person to train for years and years.

   It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.
Jimmy Dugan / A League of Their Own

At some point, we all come to a crossroads. Are we satisfied with where our journey has led us? Have we found what we were looking for? I think the longer we train, the more we change. I know when I first started, I just wanted to earn my black belt.

Over the years, I have found my focus changing. I want more now. I still feel the black belt is an important step, but it is not the ending for me.

In the early days, you strive for the next level. It becomes a motivation. The goals are well defined and easily digestible. You know that if you learn this set of techniques and study for a set amount of time, you will get to the next level. However, as you work towards black belt and beyond, this becomes more hazy. The time between ranks become longer and longer. The requirements become less firm.

If you are going to stay for the long haul, you have to find a passion in it. In the beginning, rank can be an easy passion; but it is not really sustainable. You have to find what moves you. That will be different from what moves me. There are really no right answers. Some enjoy learning, some enjoy teaching, some just need a hobby.

Our art has a high turn over rate. When I started, I was told that on average it takes a student about 5 years to reach their 1st degree black belt. To some, half a decade is a long long time. We live in an always on, instantly available, 24-7 on demand world. It is hard for a lot of us these days to slow down and smell the roses.

To the new student, I would caution patience. Enjoy the journey. Learn all you can, don’t focus on the requirements to exclusion of all else. Study from all the instructors. Not only the ones you click with but the ones you don’t click with. They all have wisdom and different views to share. The more views you experience, the more rounded you can become.

To the ongoing student, I would ask you to examine your passion. Why do you come week after week. Is it for the friends, the experience, the chance to learn? Remember, there is no real correct answer. However, really looking at why you are continuing can help you in the long haul.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut… ‘Dojo-itus’ as Jack Sensei says. If you don’t know why you keep coming, you can get dulled into a sense of sameness. Especially in the higher ranks. Try to look at things from a different view, a different light, a different way.

There is an axiom, ‘Stop and smell the roses’. I know that I tend to get burned out. For example, you drive to work every day, it becomes that you almost autopilot it in after a while. However, if every now and then if you try to pay attention, really pay attention, you notice details on the ride in that you have missed or overlooked and everything becomes new again.

We need this, it is like a reboot for our system. We can see the beauty in things. When we do this in the dojo, we can see the things that we are over looking. We can find our passions for learning again. We can try the same old things in new ways and learn from that experience as well regain a new appreciation for the old ways.

When I started this post, I was speaking of how the outside world views the black belt as an ending. To your average person in the world, black belt is equated with an expert. To the true student, we know it is only the beginning of the journey. That journey can last a lifetime as long as we can sustain ourselves in the long run by finding our passions or what drives us in our quest. So in closing, I would ask you, what drives you in your journey? What is your passion?

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About the Author

My name is Clayton Søby and I am a Nidan from Rushmore Jukite Ju-Jitsu. I started studying Jukite Ju-Jitsu in August 2001. I still train when I can. In the meantime, I keep busy writing a monthly column for the website and studying Aikido here in Maryland. I hope to see you in class whenever I can make it back to visit.