Black Belt - What's Next?

The black belt test is a major event in the life of a martial artist. The significance and just the overwhelming feeling of pride when your instructor ties that shiny new black belt on for the first time is just amazing. Going from just another color belt student to the rank of black belt is a huge step and is the result of years upon years of blood, sweat, tears, dedication, and hard work.

There is elation after the test concludes and you look down at the black belt - your black belt - that is tied around your waist. There is a mixture of awe and a whisper of disbelief. "Did I really just do that?" After that comes the congratulations - the hugs and the hand shakes. You move around the room smiling and thanking everyone.

Afterward, you make your way over to your instructor's house for the after party. You collapse in a chair at the kitchen table, the reality of everything you've gone through that day beginning to slowly sink in. You barely move from your claimed seat as the spikes of adrenalin from the past four hours finally dissipate, leaving you absolutely exhausted - both mentally and physically.

When you finally call it a day and head for home, you're left to your thoughts. They're just prickling at you now, but as the days pass and you head back to class for your first week as a black belt, the thoughts running through your mind start getting louder.

After the first two weeks of being a black belt, you're still adjusting. There's a distinct difference in what's expected of you now. There's the lining up alongside the other black belts instead of the students, more teaching responsibilities, and just a general "trying to figure out how you fit into this new equation" time.

The more you think about it, the louder the question in your mind gets. You've been contemplating it for two weeks now, and it's a big thought. A resounding thought. Not panicked, but more of a question of direction.

"What do I do now?"

As a color belt, this thought never had a chance to settle in my brain. It was always "I need to learn this form next," "I need to improve ___ for my next test," and "I have to become more reactionary in ____."

But as a first dan, my next test is not going to be happening for a minimum of two years. I have one form to learn in that time, and my instructors have told me that they won't be teaching it to me for a while. That's fine with me - I want to improve on other things before I start learning a brand new form. Other than that, I basically have my options open as to what I can focus on next. Mr. G has told me that I can start weapons training if I want, but that's up to me.

All of this adds up to a very relaxed pace. The pressure that I was under from the months leading up to the test to when I took the test is off. It's been put to me like this, "The pressure is off -- the water is still boiling, but that enormous pressure you're under is gone. Now that it's over, you can just have fun."

I feel like I have breathing room again. It's nice, but at the same time, I almost feel goalless. Earning the black belt was a huge goal of mine. In fact, one of my aunt's asked me this after the test, "So what are you going to do now?" as if that test was the end of my martial arts career. Maybe it wasn't meant like that, but the common perception of the black belt outside of those who train is that a black belt is a master.

Uh, no.

There is still so much out there to learn. I earned my black belt, but that doesn't mean that my weaknesses and trouble spots magically vanished when I tied that belt on. Wouldn't that be nice though? In reality, I still struggle with the same things I did as a red belt.

Those things I have trouble with are on my list of things I'm going to start working on improving now that I have breathing room again.

Those are short term goals though, and then I have a long term goal of earning my 2nd dan. I need to have something in the middle though.

Do I want to start weapons training yet? Should I focus on my teaching for a while? I'm still deciding. I'm feeling very on my own with these decisions, and it's taking some getting used to.

However, there will always be new things to learn and areas to improve on. I just have to choose where I want to begin.


SueC said...

I know exactly what you are going through Ariel! It's so important at this time to set some goals otherwise you are at risk of getting the 'black belt blues'. Like you say there is so much more to learn, so many directions to take. You are still young - you have time to just enjoy your training. Unless teaching is a big passion of yours I would delay taking this further at the moment and do some weapons training instead - its fun and paradoxically teaches you much about empty hand arts. However, you must choose your own path. Once you've worked it out please post about it.....

The Strongest Karate said...

Hi Ariel,

The drop-out rate for First Dans is notoriously high in the world of MA. But from what I can see here it looks like you've got some pretty realistic expectations and goals.

All the best in your training!


Sam said...

Hi Ariel,

I read your entire blog through over the last couple of days. Interesting and quite inspiring for someone looking into martial arts for the first time.

Best of luck to you, going forward from here.

Janiece said...

Congrats on earning your Blackbelt.
I remember crying watching my son earn his 1st degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Last year he earn the rank of Master...again the tears of joy and pride because he set good goals. His goal was to be a Master before he was 28 years old. He accomplished his goal by a year.
You sound like an amazing person with great goals and a love of the Martial Arts.
Wishing you only the best in your MA future.

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Evergrey said...

I've been warned about burnout and the shodan drop-out and depression phenomenon. My Sensei encouraged me to, right from the start, make short term and long term goals.

My longest term goal is, if I become good enough, to become an instructor. That should keep me busy for decades to come. :}

And congrats!

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Alexis Moore said...

Once you learn something new, you realize that there are lots of things that you don't know yet and you want to explore it.

As long as you are open-minded to new ideas (and even to helpful criticism), you will surely achieve your goals and will receive more rewarding things.

Anyway, congrats! =)

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Thomas Chippendale said...

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Karina Beazer said...

Wow, congratulations on getting your black belt. Now it's just your duty to stay in shape and remember the things you've learned. I had a friend who got her second degree black belt. She had to crack cinder-blocks with her heel! Her journey has been a successful one so far. I wish you luck your quest as well.

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