At our recent belt ceremony we heard more about what belts mean at our school. The topic of belts is a very touchy one for some and a very engrossing one for others, oftentimes depending on where a person is on the ‘belt continuum’. Observation has led me to believe that more advanced students claim to think less about belts than newer students. Anyhow, what made this talk interesting was that it gave us another way to think of the belt. Many of us who train in martial arts see the belt as a reward and there’s no doubt that it is indeed that. But it is actually something more.
The reason that our school grants so many belts when compared to many other Krav Maga schools is that belts are seen as goals. Our school Master told us that when he first obtained his Black Belt he asked, “What next?”. He had been conditioned over the years to never be satisfied that “that was it”. He has been training in martial arts since the age of 11 and this is one of the most important lessons he has gained from it: to set goals and always look for the next step — how to improve and get to the next level of greatness. It’s his and the school’s philosophy that belts provide those incremental steps to get to your ultimate end goal, the Black Belt and beyond.
One analogy he gave us is the old adage of:
“What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.
This is, in his opinion, the way to achieve the long-term goal of Black Belt. And what better way to do it in martial arts than defining belts that are not strung out by many months. One could argue that belts separated by a longer time interval serve the same purpose, I suppose. What is truly the difference between a belt being granted every 3 months vs. every 12 months, right? I think, as a matter of personal preference, that the difference is there and appreciate the smaller increments. Again, to paraphrase, the school Master said if he were to set out to lose 20 pounds in 2 months he wouldn’t make that his only goal. It’s too big and tough to measure progress against and could be frustrating and overwhelming. Instead he would first figure that he’d need to lose 10 pounds a month, which means 2.5 pounds a week. This is how the Black Belt journey is subdivided. Assuming the average student requires 4 to 6.5 years of training to achieve that level of mastery and proficiency, the journey is divided by rough intervals by belts (and some of the belts further divided by stripes).
In the end, the belt to us now looks a little different. Yes, it’s a measure of our experience and time spent training. But now, thanks to that talk, we can now recognize it for something even greater — a tangible goal that we can aspire to attain through hard work and dedication every day we spend in class.