There is something mystical about a martial arts Black Belt. One need only look at our pop culture enthusiasm for Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and kung fu movies to see that. Even country music superstar Braid Paisley knows it. His song “Online,” a ditty about a dorky guy wanting to appear cool in his online profile, says, “I’m a black belt in karate.” The phrase “black belt” conjures up images of dangerous men who are capable of kicking major butt with some seriously cool moves. But is that all that being a Black Belt really means?
Being a Black Belt means that you have the drive and confidence to set, accomplish, and surpass your goals in order to arrive at the beginning. – Pete Kingsley, 2nd degree Black Belt
Every martial arts school attaches a meaning to each of their belt ranks, and taekwondo is no different. If you want to know them, look it up on the Internet, but each color belt rank describes a student’s learning path from beginner to expert. The belt rank meaning I find most interesting is that attached to the 1st degree black belt. “The tree has reached maturity and overcome the darkness. It must now plant seeds for the future.”
Being a Black Belt means bearing an enormous responsibility to pass along what was freely and passionately given to you by your seniors. – Krista Held, 1st degree Black Belt
The phrase “plant seeds” implies continued growth. There are, after all, nine Black Belt ranks. Clearly the journey is not over once you tie on your first-degree belt. There is more learning to be done. “Interestingly, many people think that being a Black Belt means you’ve mastered your martial art,” says OMA chief instructor Karyn Graff. “In many arts, however, being a Black Belt means you’ve mastered the basics; certainly no trivial task, but a very different concept.” So, you know the basics, you learn even more cool stuff and maybe you even teach some of that stuff to others; that’s it?
Being a black belt means, to me, that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to; set a goal, chase after it, persevere, and you will conquer/achieve it. – Bryan O’Malley, 3rd degree Black Belt
If you spend any amount of time around the dojahng, you will hear the instructors talk about “Black Belt attitude.” Attend a Tiny Tigers class and you will hear the instructors ask, “Are you standing like a Black Belt?” What does it mean?
Clearly, a Tiny Tiger or a beginner student cannot be expected to perform the same moves as a Black Belt. So, just as clearly, being a Black Belt must transcend the merely physical. It is a state of being, a mindset, and an approach to life both on and off the training floor.
A Black Belt is understanding ones body, mind, and self so that one can begin. – Cyndl Hale, 1st degree Black Belt
As you walk in the door at Oakmont Martial Arts, you see the Songahm star painted on the wall, surrounded by the various values that are taught to students: discipline, integrity, goals, focus, esteem, respect, attitude, persistence. A Black Belt embodies all of these. Such values are not just meaningful in the context of martial arts, but in the every day: at work, at school, on the playground.
Being a black belt means constantly developing myself physically, mentally, and emotionally to handle the many challenges and opportunities that life presents; and to pass along these tools to our students so that they can grow, mature, and best take advantage of the opportunities that arise in their lifetimes. – Karyn Graff, 3rd degree Black Belt
This, then, is the true meaning of being a Black Belt. You haven’t just learned some pretty impressive moves. You don’t just bask in the admiration of others. You have embraced all of the values and made them part of your every day life. You have made the attitude of the training floor an integral part of who you are, and, like a perfect piece of obsidian, you reflect those values back to those around you. You are capable of passing them on to others, through word or deed.
The true meaning of a Black Belt is less about the strength of our bodies, and more about the strength of our minds and hearts. And that means we can all be “Black Belts” in our own way. We may not be able to wear the symbol of rank on our person, but we can wear it spiritually through what we choose to do each day. It’s an empowering thought, that we have the ability to live our lives at a higher level.
My black belt is not so much a token of my accomplishments but a reminder of my potential, and the constant responsibility I have to live up to it. – Scott Weston, 3rd degree Black Belt
In the hallway leading to Studio B there is a poster: two hands grasping a black belt tied around a person’s waist. The caption reads, “A black belt is nothing more than a belt that goes around your waist. Being a black belt is a state of mind and attitude.”
So, how will you display your Black Belt attitude today?
Mary Sutton is the mother of two Oakmont Martial Arts students (Mary and Michael) a student herself, and a freelance writer. See more of her writing at http://www.summaria.net.