It’s Not a Race to Black Belt… it’s a Journey!

Many students, especially our younger ones, believe that there is a race to black belt.

It has been my experience that boys, teenage and younger, treat training more as a race than girls of the same age do. I have noticed that girls usually want to get it right before moving on while boys just want to keep it moving. Older students (30+) seem more patient and desire to learn to perform techniques correctly and consistently before moving on.

As a teacher, this is a challenge! I need to manage the expectations of the young aggressive students while encouraging their motivation to succeed. I have found many ways of accomplishing both goals.

Young students like to see young black belts. I guess it’s the old saying “if they can do it, I can, too!”

Every now and then I tell a story of one of my younger black belts. We discuss how old they were when they started, how old they were when they tested for black belt, and some of the ups and downs they had along the way. The old saying changes to “if they can stick it out, so can I.”

I also allow students of all belt levels to open and close class and to lead the exercises. The higher level students will get the opportunity to teach a kata to lower belt students. These small opportunities of leadership help to keep the students motivated. It also shows them that with leadership comes responsibility that some students are not in a rush to have. It’s also true that you can learn more deeply about a kata you already know by teaching it to someone else. The students actually slow down, see techniques from a different perspective, and enjoy the journey.

Speaking of journey, I routinely tell all of my students that it is not race, it is a journey. Several times a year I put on my white belt to let them know that the color of the belt is not important. Learning is key. I used to join class and allow one of them to teach. I stopped because they are too strict! I wonder where they got that from!

I am now working on a “Turnaround Day” where, for one class, parents take a class and the students teach them. It’s a big day where their children can convey their excitement about showing what they have learned to others, and to remind them about how much they have accomplished, even if they are at a beginner belt level. And for parents, they may see martial arts practice in a new light.

This might seem like a hard sell for some parents. A benefit of martial arts practice is to break down the self-imposed barriers we may have, and to try new things, even if we may not do them well. When children see parents willing to try new things, it encourages them to pursue new things in the future.

My goal in teaching is to keep the students encouraged and to help them to savor each moment while working for future goals. Remember: it is not a race, it is a journey!