Martial Arts Parents, Please Slow Down

Before I start, I want to note that this post is inspired by another post on another blog. For the source article, please read here.

We are facing a problem which, in many ways, has been accumulating for quite a while now. In the martial arts, the problem has the potential to fundamentally change how business is done, and change it in a way that is much for the worse.

In our modern martial arts, the majority of people want to have a black belt more than they want to earn a black belt. This is a carry-over from other areas of our life, but I wish to stick with the topic at hand. Understand that this is not the condemnation that those who may bristle at the preceding statement wish to see it as upon first read. It is just a simple fact. We live in the time of instant gratification. Internet speeds allow us answers to the most trivial questions almost as fast as we can click. Drive through dinner, DVR allows us to pause and rewind live TV, and I could go on and on.

We are accustomed to getting what we want at the moment we want it. Someone who lives in this gimme-gimme-RIGHT-NOW mindset enrolls their kid in a traditional martial arts school, and cannot understand why the kid is not a black belt in just one year.

While I do believe that anyone can make it to Black Belt, it would be beyond foolish to claim that everyone will make it to Black Belt. In fact, many will not deserve to make it to Black Belt.

“Whoa there Smedley! Did you just say not everyone deserves a Black Belt?”

Yes I did. Allow me to explain.

To some parents of martial arts students, the statement above is borderline blasphemy. No one wants to hear that their kid is not good at something, but to say that their kid doesn’t deserve it?! That is going too far.

At least to the parent.

Speaking as someone who has been through both the Old School method and the McDojo method, I can tell you that the students given black belts in the McDojo month after month in large part do not deserve it. One need only look around at the black belts who could not fight their way out of a door of rose petals to see that some are given, and some earn.

If giving your kid a black belt would ensure that he or she finishes high school and goes to college and becomes a successful person, I would be all for it.

But it doesn’t work that way. No one can give your kid success. Success is earned, period.

I tell you from experience – let…no no no, MAKE your kid earn a Black Belt, and they will go on to finish high school, go on to college, and make something of their life. I have seen it too many times to fall for the other lie.

Your kid wants to be a black belt; make them earn it.

Growing up, my family was poor. My Father measured a man by work. If you worked hard and earned a million dollars, he respected you, just as he did if you worked hard and earned two hundred dollars. If you won a million in the lottery, he didn’t respect you.

I had to work hard, and save for nearly a year to buy my first vehicle. It was a 1967 Chevy pick-up. But when I bought it, it was mine, and I was proud of it. It didn’t matter that it had over 250,000 miles on it. It didn’t matter that I had to repair it every other week. It was mine, and it was something I worked for, and saved for, and earned.

Not so a friend of mine. His parents bought him a new car upon getting his license. He wrecked it within two months, and his foolish parents just bought another for him, which he wrecked within a half year. I took good care of my beat up truck, and had it for five years.

Going back to martial arts, I started and trained in an old school Chinese Martial Art system, under an old school instructor. I was a walking bruise for three solid years. After that point, I started getting good at it, and started leveling the field. But it was a rough go every step of the way.

When I made it to Black Belt (in that style it wasn’t “black belt”, but this is the common term, and I wish to add as little confusion as possible), I was as proud as I could be, and it was a true accomplishment. During the test, I had to display everything, and at times I was sure I would not make it. I had to spar with very hard contact for a length of time that most of the parents out there would call a stop to and sue for child abuse (my parents weren’t even there, so no such call was made).

But hear me on this – there was not just a mere sense of “I’m a black belt now!”. This was a true accomplishment that I had worked very hard for.

No one else sacrificed time with their friends for me to succeed. I did it myself. I took time by myself to practice. I studied, and sweated and bled, and lived and breathed this stuff (still do as it happens…), and reaching Black Belt was a triumph like nothing else I had experienced. It was then that I finally believed in myself. No one ran interference. No one gave me anything. I earned it.

I am not a black belt; I am a Black Belt.

Mine was earned, not given. No non-competitive-we-don’t-count-points, no everyone deserves to make the team, and certainly no one feeling sorry for me.

I did it. Myself.

My instructor taught me, but I am the one who had to stand up and prove myself to the judges.

If you step in and deny this to your child, you are not helping your child at all the way you think you are.

When your kid takes longer to reach Black Belt, stay calm. Don’t pull them out with the line of, “I’ll pull little Timmy in a real martial arts school where he can get a black belt.” The old school instructors will let you and your kid go, but your kid will miss out on the real feeling of pride that comes with really earning the rank.

Anyone can.

Some will.

Most will not.

And some simply do not deserve it.

I know which category I want my kids in. Do you?