Black Belt vs. Skill

Black belt

Recently I was teaching class and we had the front door open to let in some night air. There’s a pizza shop next door and we get a lot of foot traffic passing by.

A man walked by with his little boy. The boy wanted to watch us practice. The man pointed to my black belt and said in a tone of awe, “Look, son. That’s a real black belt!”

It seemed to me that he was talking about the belt itself, not about me. I made a joke that maybe I should not have. I said, “You can buy one for five dollars online.”

I hope they didn’t think that I was mocking them. I just don’t have any reverence for the belt itself – I mean the actual strip of cloth. It is not an idol. Putting it on doesn’t make me a better fighter or martial artist. Even the fact that I have this rank – that I’ve worked for it and earned it – doesn’t necessarily make me a good fighter. I’ve seen black belts with poor technique and almost no fighting ability.

If you’ve earned a belt, great. Don’t let it go to your head. Will you be wearing it the day you’re attacked by a mugger or home invader? The belt can’t save you. It doesn’t stay with you when class is over.

What stays is your skill: Your ability to intercept attacks, strike accurately and without telegraphing, apply joint locks against resistance, and slam some ugly hunk of beef to the ground. Your belt is a five dollar piece of cloth, but your skill stays with you.

Skill is a function of training. Go to class, work hard, make notes, practice at home, and put in the time to become – not a black belt – but a true martial artist, regardless of rank.

Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido

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