Posted in young then older

What Does it Mean to Earn a Black Belt?

Over the years I have heard SBN Lee mention that it’s easy to get a black belt.  All you have to do is go to the martial arts store and buy one, for a little extra money you can have the clerk embroider it with whatever you want it to say. 


But of course, we all know that as much as you might parade around with this black belt and maybe even intimidate a couple of people with it, you would always know that you didn’t actually earn it.


So what does it mean to earn a black belt?  Different schools have different standards.  At our school, SBN Lee has developed his system based on the Kuk Sool curriculum but mostly SBN Lee is looking for students who possess or have developed the black belt spirit.  


What is “the black belt spirit”?  It is not something that grows out of your head the minute you learn the 47th technique.  Some kids have it the day they start–their challenge is to keep the flame alive. Some kids have to learn it and their challenge is to have faith that it will come.   


So what is this mysterious black belt spirit? Well, it’s lots of things but I’d say it’s mostly made up of earnest consistent effort.  


Consistency.  It’s such a humble concept. Yes, just come to class consistently, have faith, try hard, and all good things will come.


It reminds me of Woody Allen’s quote:  “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  I bet each and every adult in this room has at least one story about the one time they gave up before they even tried.  Those regrets last a lifetime.  

Consistency is the key to succeeding–not only succeeding at obtaining a black belt, but succeeding at any worthy endeavor.  


Because sometimes it looks bleak out there.  For a kid like Jared, or even a person like me,  there are many forces pulling at him, distracting him, asking for his attention.  These forces might be positive (like football or his G.P.A.) or less positive.


That’s why it’s important to thank the people who helped Jared be consistent, the family that supported him and got him to class even on the days he needed a little extra prodding…(Thanks!)


How do you continue to be consistent when class seems either too hard, too easy, too challenging, or too repetitious?


Hopefully you stay consistent because while you were busy rising through the ranks you learned that this isn’t just about earning a black belt, it’s about earning self respect.  Then you learn you earned your belt and your self respect through earnest, consistent effort.  As Sir says, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of success.   The more you try, the more you win…The more you win, the more you try.  What’s not to like? 


I do not mean to diminish the sweat that goes into black belt training, but it is at the heart of everything we do and it’s the only way any of us get better. 


So it’s all back to Student Creed #1:  I will respect myself and others.  It’s a great moral compass that will help you make decisions about how to go through the world.  


It’s about learning that you can always improve your game and push past your current limits.  Even if your game or your limits change as you age. 


It’s about how you feel after you try hard and overcome that urge to give up, sit down, and let the naysayers win.


Those of us who train have learned that even if you don’t have a physical or mental epiphany during each class, your mind and body feel grateful and sated when you are done.  


On the best days you realize that for one hour you managed to focus on this moment right now and live fully in your body–like a cheetah sprinting after a gazelle.  On the worst days, oh well, at least you did fifty sit ups.  That’s gotta be worth something.


I hope that this black belt spirit stays with Jared (as hokey as that might sound).  I hope he will feel the need to do his stretching and then stretch out even when he’s on vacation or in his college dorm room.  I hope that later in life he will feel the urge to get himself to a gym and train even when others are over-indulging and giving up.  


Because earning a black belt is not the end of your studies, it’s just the beginning of a lifetime of choices about how you want to go through the world and how your actions will define who you are.


Will Jared grow as a martial artist as his body changes like Sharif did?  Will he become the next instructor to privately hone a student’s skills like Sandra did?  Will he take his skills as a martial artist and excel in another sport elsewhere like Melissa and Ryan Lim?  Or will he abandon his practice altogether, “Whew! Scratch that one off the list!”  It’s his choice and only time will tell.  


There is more than one right answer and no matter what answer Jared chooses, we hope he will always feel welcome here and that he goes out into the world to use his formidable physical and mental powers to make the world a better place one push up at a time.



Maria Young Ace Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (500) Independent Contractor providing the following services: Office Management, Bookkeeping, Web Design, Marketing and Instruction in Yoga and Martial Arts for children and adults. Black Belt, 4 year program, LockBoxing. Maria studied under Erik Lee and won Grand Champion at the Kuk Sool Tri-State Tournament in 2006. Experience Certified Yoga Instructor: 700 hour level. At Piedmont Yoga, Maria’s main instructors were Richard Rosen, Rodney Yee, and Clare Finn. To them she is eternally grateful. Richard Rosen, founder Piedmont Yoga Studio & editor of Yoga Journal says: “Among the 30...students Maria was always among the more assiduous and adept.  If you’re thinking of adding Yoga instruction to your program, then I highly recommend Maria for the job.” College: CSULB: B.A. English Literature, UC Berkeley: M.A. Comparative Literature