Unfortunately, I must take a break from martial arts blogging until late August due to circumstances beyond my control. However, before I do that, I will cover the steps necessary to reach the most important rank in the martial arts: the first-degree black belt.
When you become a black belt, you've proven that you have mastered the basics of your system and developed the necessary foundation for expert-level training. For those two reasons, the first-degree black belt is the most important milestone in the martial arts and can be considered the holy grail of self-defense. Even if you choose not to pursue expert-level training, going to the gym/dojo a couple times a week to practice your techniques will ensure that you keep the ability to make it home safely every night. However, to reach this milestone, you have to overcome certain obstacles, which you typically face at four stages of training. These four stages are beginner (typically white belt), intermediate (usually green belt), advanced (normally brown belt) and the honeymoon period right after you first earn your black belt. In order to help you succeed, here are the major obstacles you will face, as well as tips on how to overcome them.
White Belt Obstacle: Unrealistic Expectations.
Many white belts watch too many Jet Li movies or episodes of "Xena: Warrior Princess" on Netflix and believe that THAT is self-defense. Or they see a UFC PPV with their friends and believe that they can become the next Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey with 45 minutes of training. When white belts discover that realistic self-defense techniques are a lot simpler and less entertaining than what they stream on their tablet, they get turned off and quit. Or, when they realize that the techniques take intensity and hard work to master, they wimp out and go back to watching Netflix on their couch.
Overcome this obstacle with: Research!
Find out what true self-defense and set realistic goals BEFORE you start taking classes. Accept the fact that life will never be as spectacular as the movies because movies are FAKE. Trust me, this will save you a lot of grief in all areas of your life. Realize that it takes UFC stars like Jones and Rousey YEARS of insanely hard work to get to that level. As a beginner, you will have to fight your heart out to even win a club tournament, much less win a title in an organization where multi-time NATIONAL and WORLD champions routinely get their butts kicked.
If you do your due diligence and set realistic goals, you will overcome this obstacle.
Green Belt Obstacle: Discouragement
When a student becomes a green belt, they are put through the grinder. Because they have a fairly good grip of the basics, the master pushes them to their physical and mental limits by teaching them increasingly difficult and complex moves. The master also makes green belts spar more with each other and advanced students, so things can get cutthroat pretty quickly. When this occurs, one of two things happens:
A) The green belt gets injured and becomes too scared to resume training
B) Due to the increase in competition, techniques which used to work for the green belt stop being effective, which means that the green belt starts losing, which in turn means that they get frustrated and give up.
From personal experience, this is the rank at which most students quit.
Overcome this obstacle with: Perseverance!
Even if it seems like you aren't making any progress, keep practicing. Don't give up on the new techniques just because they have a few extra steps: drill them until you finally succeed. If you are injured, continue to observe classes (or read martial arts magazines/watch instructional DVDs if you can't leave your hospital bed) to remind yourself why you decided to train in the first place. If you are on a losing streak, ask your master and more advanced students to help you find your Achilles' heel and to show you how to fix it.
Remembering that hard work pays off (and doing that hard work) will keep you motivated when the going gets tough.
Brown Belt Obstacle: Burnout
The best part about being a brown belt is that you've learned most of the essential techniques of your system. Unfortunately, that is also the worst part. Unlike green belts, brown belts don't learn very many new techniques (if they are taught any at all). Most of their training revolves around refining what they already know, and that gets very boring, very quickly. Not to mention that masters tend to make brown belts wait a long time before they test for black in order to observe their character and test their patience. This is why some brown belts become impatient, burn out, and quit the martial arts entirely at the eleventh hour. Or they see a new and shiny martial art on Youtube and jump ship to pursue that one, only to quit again when that new style gets boring, too. It's the martial arts equivalent of dumping your fiancee for that hot new girl (or guy if you're female) at college or work.
Overcome this obstacle with: Patience!
The night is always darkest before the dawn. Even if it seems like your master will never let you test, keep practicing and, if you are not already doing it, help out around the gym/dojo.
Sooner or later, your dedication will pay off and you will be allowed to test for the holy grail of the martial arts: the first-degree black belt.
Black Belt Obstacle: Overconfidence.
From personal experience, most people quit the martial arts at
green belt. However, I've observed that first-degree black belts have the second-highest attrition rate. Many people believe that once they've become a first-degree black belt that they are invincible. Even worse, they believe that they will be able to remember every technique and do it effectively even if they never study or practice again. This is a tragedy because a black belt who quits basically spent all of their time learning their system only to throw it (and years of their life) into the trashcan.
Overcoming this obstacle with: Discipline!
Try out advanced training to find what you are giving up if you decide to stay an "expert beginner" the rest of your life. If it truly isn't for you, still go to the gym/dojo a couple times a week to keep your skills sharp. That way you won't find yourself completely screwed if you are attacked on the street and can't remember that rear naked choke defense which you learned 20 years ago.
Keep your techniques sharp and you will keep making it home safely every night.