Archive for February, 2010

What Does It Take To Get To Black Belt?

February 25, 2010

From Sensei Chris Lacy, London Ju Jitsu

I’m currently training four brown belts towards black belt and as usual I started to think about what it takes to get to black belt. I’ve been a black belt for over fifteen years now and have taught hundreds if not thousands of students in that time. The ratio of students who take up Ju Jitsu and those who get a black belt is maybe a thousand to one. It is definitely hundreds to one. From learning other martial arts and talking to other martial arts teachers I believe that it’s the same in all such disciplines. Of course, life can get in the way. A new job, a heavy workload, a new partner, children, moving city or even country. These life reasons are not the ones that I’m currently dwelling on. It is the dedicated students for whom life does not get in the way and yet they still do not make the grade that interest me. It is also the reason my thoughts return to this when teaching brown belts.

To obtain a brown belt in my club, a student would have had to have trained diligently for at least three years and often considerably longer than that. Yet it seems to be the time that a lot of students give up at brown belt, just one step away from black. Why on earth would a student dedicate so much of their life to something only to give up at the final hurdle? Of course I know that first dan means first step and that getting a black belt is only the start and not the end of one’s training. Until that step is attained however it is often one of  if not the primary goal for a martial artist because just the words “black belt” have an aura about them and is rightly seen as a worthy achievment.

Some students it seem to me are content to reach Brown. Well it’s nearly a black belt isn’t it? No it is not. That is like saying I nearly climbed Everest. You either have or you haven’t.

One thing that it doesn’t take is natural talent. In fact some of the most naturally gifted students don’t make it even as far as brown belt whereas some students that I thought would never last have made it to black. Sometimes the students who find training easy at the beginning never get any better. Is this because they didn’t have to work hard at the start so then struggle as things get tougher? I don’t know. One thing I do know is that one of my best ever students had two left feet for years! I thought he was a hopeless case but he was dedicated and became one of the best practitioners in the school. That is the first attribute necessary. A stubborn will that won’t give up!

One of the biggest hurdles of course is that the training is hard! From brown belt to black belt takes a minimum of a year. The student has to practice at least twice a week but usually three or four times a week. It is intense. The standard is much higher than anything the student has been used to. Injuries are inevitable as is training through the pain barrier. When injuries do occur, it is important to get back on the horse as soon as possible because the body will not like coming back to this training after a long layoff. If you can train at all, even in a very restricted way, that is much better than staying away. This is the main attribute, dedication.

Finally by this stage in the training, the practitioner is normally quite good. Bad habits will have crept in however and everything must be broken down to basics and  re-learned. This can be difficult when some bad habits have worked well in the past. For this next step up though, those things will not work. That can be difficult for some people without the final attribute. Humility. All of the best instructors I’ve known have this in abundance.

One thing I will say is this. Subsequent dan grades are nice but passing first dan was one of the best days of my life without question. Every time I went into a changing room and took that belt out of my bag I felt immensely proud. I knew that I had earned it. I still feel the same way fifteen years later!