You know, people ask me all the time, “Sensei Jon, what is your secret to success?” OK, so no one has ever asked me that, but I have had the great fortune of working with many individuals that seem to really excel at what they do, and I would like to share an observation with you. Every student is different; however, I’ve noticed some recurring trends among the students that become Black Belts, not just Black Belts in the martial arts, but “Black Belts in life.”
Black Belts (and future Black Belts) do not seem to be motivated solely by external rewards. It is easy for someone to say, “I want to be a Black Belt one day!” It is much harder to put in the hours of training and buckets of sweat that it takes to reach the Black Belt level. The students that experience the most success are excited to achieve the next rank, there’s no doubt about that, however they realize that excellence is a journey (not a destination). They enjoy training for the sake of training, and do the right thing even when no one is watching. This is how they are able to persevere and put in the countless hours of training required to reach Black Belt.
Now, some people may be more inclined to enjoy their training than others, and I feel that it is the instructors’ responsibility to try to make the classes as enjoyable and exciting as possible. However, as students, we can cultivate our own passion for the arts in many ways. First of all, we can focus on areas to which we feel naturally inclined. Maybe you love to practice your kata, or perhaps you are more at home in the sparring ring. Either way, that is fine. It is important to work on our weak areas, but many of the best martial artists are experts at only a few techniques (quality vs. quantity).
Figure out a training schedule that works for you. Set aside certain times each week for practice at home. Listen to your favorite music or political talk show while banging out your kicks. Start with 5 minutes a day. Once this becomes a habit, you will have laid the foundation for a very successful martial arts career.
Belts and stripes are wonderful things. However, it is only the hard work that goes into said awards that gives them any meaning.
To share a personal factoid, I have been a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for two and a half years (it generally takes longer to achieve belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu than in other arts). My attendance at class has been fairly consistent over that time period. Sometimes I think one of the greatest things my instructor has done for me has been to keep me at Blue Belt for this long. It has taught me patience, humility, and to stay motivated by seeing progress in my skills, rather than external rewards. Additionally, when I do achieve my purple belt, it will be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I have achieved Black Belts in several other styles of martial arts, but I have worked harder to earn my purple belt than any of those belts, and therefore it will be more meaningful.
Another point I’d like to add- it isn’t terribly important to me when I earn my purple belt. What is important is that I do earn it. A wise person once said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines,” and generally I think that is great advice, but in this case, I am enjoying the journey so much, that I’m happy to keep training hard, knowing that when I am ready, I will receive the next belt.