Caitlin (who is different from the site author) is a provisional black belt candidate for 1st degree. She and her younger sister have been with NWSMA for about a decade. Here is her essay about what it means to become a black belt!
“Black Belt: What It Is and What It Takes” by Caitlin
When you think of a black belt, what is it that you think of? Well if you’re like most people, you think of a black belt as someone who, obviously, wears a black belt and is good at martial arts. If you’ve watched movies with people like Bruce Lee in them, you even have a visual. These things all are parts of what a black belt does and wears, even what they can sometimes become, but not what they are.
So what is a black belt? A black belt is someone who works relentlessly to become the best that they can be. A black belt knows to respect everyone on and off the training floor. A black belt doesn’t brag to others of their rank and remains humble always. There is always someone more skilled out there. A black belt never disgraces his/her dojo. A black belt always keeps his/her word. A black belt retains the knowledge of the past to protect his/her future. A black belt uses their own time to broaden their skillset. A black belt sees the importance of the most minuscule of movements and uses them to his/her advantage.
Pretty much anyone can say they’ve done these things. Maybe they have. But how can you tell if a black belt has done these things just by watching them? You can watch how much effort they put in during class. Are their stances as long as they could be? Are they focusing on how and when to apply intensity and force to their strikes? You can see how much respect they have by checking how they bow. If they bow with eyes down, not rushed, and at the correct times they are showing proper respect. If they demonstrate control to keep others safe, that is respect. Black belts never use their martial arts unless they are forced to. They practice constantly on their own so that they are prepared if faced with a situation like that. A black belt examines each of his/her mistakes to improve upon himself/herself. Where no mistakes are found, the black belt knows they can still improve in small ways: waiting a split second longer before tensing on the strike, holding the chambered elbow just a little bit to the left, bending the back leg an inch more in short back stance.
You can’t become a true black belt overnight. You have to be determined to get better on a daily basis. Being a black belt takes stamina, courage, and focus. Complacency does nothing to improve your life as a martial artist. It is important to not only practice until it’s perfect, then keep practicing, but to do cross-training and warm-ups. This will keep your body in the condition it needs to be in during intense, advanced training sessions. Being a black belt takes physical strength, but more than anything else, a black belt needs strength of mind.
How do black belts do all of this? Sometimes they don’t. The difference though is that a black belt accepts their imperfections in order to work past them. Sometimes it is the black belt who’s late. Sometimes it’s the black belt who forgets what to do. Next time they won’t be late. They’ll practice twice as hard to remember. They will use their mistakes and learn from them, without making excuses. There is no such thing as perfection. But a black belt in his/her truest form comes pretty close.