The Myth of Black Belt

Old belt 225x300 The Myth of Black Belt

The Myth of Black Belt

Many achieve black belt….few achieve more

It’s a well known fact that many people quit martial arts after achieving their black belt.  I’ve always wondered why this is?! Do they think that once black belt is achieved, that that’s the end of the journey, there’s nothing more to learn? If they are studying martial arts for self defence, do they have the misguided belief that they are now indestructible and able to effectively protect themselves in all situations based on the skills they have acquired? If they are looking at martial arts for fitness or the acquisition of techniques, do they feel they have reached the peak with nothing more to learn? Or is it that the black belt as an image is so engrained in the martial arts, this is what people aim for, not the study of the martial arts itself?

Everyone who has looked at martial arts in any depth knows that there is a distinct difference between martial arts and effective, real world self defence. This was highlighted and emphasised recently in my three part interview with one of the leading figures in the self defence world – Geoff Thompson (Link to part one of interview can be found here). Geoff attained a high grade and skill set in the martial arts, but found through his real world experience that his training in the traditional martial arts had given him overall, a very poor impression of real world violence. We constantly see martial arts schools offering effective self defence training for those that join up, but you have to ask yourself, what is this based on? Does the instructor have any experience of real world violence, or has his self defence experience to date been based on techniques practiced with a partner in the comfort of the dojo or academy? An image is associated with martial arts, and with the idea of a black belt. You think martial arts, you think Karate Kid, you think Bruce Lee, able to defeat anyone with his bad-ass skills! Someone finds out you hold a black belt in a martial art and the usual response is either “Oh better not mess with you then”! or “Waaaaaayaaaaaaa show me some moves karate kid”! I like to think a very small minority of people sign up to the martial arts purely for training in self defence, as martial arts can offer so much more than this and to join for this reason is a very one dimensional view. I like to think an even smaller amount believe that once they achieve that somewhat illustrious rank of black belt, they are now able to handle themselves effectively in any given situation! Teachers or academies that promote this view are in my opinion dangerous, giving people false ideas that if you learn the techniques and achieve the grades, it will then make you effective in a real world situation.

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I hope the view above really is the tiny, minuscule, teeny weeny proportion of people who study martial arts, but it still begs the question as to why people seem to leave after achieving the rank of black belt? I was always told that achieving black belt means you have a solid understanding of the basics – that’s it! Now it’s time to really start getting into the technical detail and that for me was the driving force behind my training. I wanted to get more in depth information and try (and mostly fail) to understand the trickier concepts associated with the martial arts and this was due to my instructors. I wanted to do what they did, to throw with that amount of power, to be that quick and to have that knowledge. The fact that they had a black belt around their waist wasn’t nearly as important to me as the knowledge they transmitted. I’m fortunate, I’ve had good instructors, but I wonder if some schools or academies simply wish to get people to black belt as quickly as possible so that they can say they have “progressed 100 or more people to black belt status”. I’m all for martial arts becoming more recognised within the business community, the same as personal training or yoga has become, but quality still needs to be assured. On-line courses to achieve black belt, or quicker promotions to black belt done internally in order to set up more satellite schools are in my opinion a waste of time. The belt means nothing, the knowledge acquired on the road to the belt is what matters. Those rushed through a course, or promoted quicker than usual to become an instructor can easily miss the details needed to teach, leading to a dilution of the martial art, and frankly, people making it up as they go along. Have you ever trained with someone who had an instructor level status, but could barely perform basic movements and was unwilling to answer questions as to why we do the movements and the reasoning behind them? I know I have and it makes you question how these people became instructors. Maybe some people are rushed through these belt progressions, ultimately to gain a black belt, then when that belt is achieved, the realisation sets in that they are not a rarity as they have a black belt, and that their knowledge is not what they first thought it was. Some people may either rise to this challenge and want to achieve more, whereas others may simply go “well I’ve got my black belt, that’s the main thing, let’s start working on something else now”

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People may quit a martial art once they’ve reached black belt for a variety of reasons, but it’s interesting to analyse possible reasons so that instructors can set up safeguards to this happening. Black belt is the start of the fun in my opinion, where you get into the more technical aspects and start looking at the art in more depth. Instructors should acknowledge this from the get go, saying that black belt is only the first rung on a very large ladder! Courses that promise a black belt in 6 weeks, or 6 months are one-dimensional and will lead to more dilution of the martial arts! Try doing a 6 week on-line business course then going out and teaching it. I’m sure it would be exceptionally difficult as the underlying understanding and deeper knowledge simply isn’t there. Good instructors can draw from experience and knowledge to provide insight and effective transmission of learning. Poor instructors simply teach the syllabus as it was taught to them then make the rest up as they go along. Martial artists need to realise that black belt is only the first stage and that so much more learning is required. The image of a black belt is engrained within society through media, yet the reality is a very different image.

The Man Behind The Fence – Geoff Thompson Interview Part 3

gthome 157x300 The Man Behind The Fence   Geoff Thompson Interview Part 3

The Man Behind The Fence – Geoff Thompson Interview Part 3

In the third and final part of an interview with Geoff Thompson, Geoff discusses his current projects, as well as his thoughts on personal development and plans for the future. Part 1 and 2 of the interview can be found here and here.

So what would you say is your main focus now? Is it the martial arts, the writing, the screen plays, the self help? Or is it all the same in the end?

It’s all the same really; everything I do is just about personal development. All the writing and screen plays are storytelling, that’s what I do, I go out and tell stories and help to heal people through telling stories and then it heals me too. It’s all martial arts at a high level; it’s all budo, being of service to the world and being of service to yourself. I’m trying to fine tune the story-telling so it focusses on this kind of thing – interviews, keynote speaking, writing, screenplays and a bit of martial arts teaching too which is just purely movement and `misogi`. All the elements fall back into the same theme of storytelling. If you see someone down and out sleeping on the street, it’s due to the fact that they heard the wrong story and are unconsciously acting and surrendering to that story. Equally you could go to Mayfair and see someone turning over half a billion a year and running a philanthropic enterprise he’s there due to another story, a better story. Our stories are powerful it’s who we are, so our duty is to tell stories of truth and as you grow, your stories change. My story as a doorman was one of violence, it’s not the same now, and I keep evolving. As Ghandi said, our job is not to be consistent with the past, it is to be consistent with the truth, and the truth keeps changing as we evolve. It all comes back to personal development but at a higher and finer level.

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Ok, let’s talk about the pure function course; is this a development of the 100 hour master class course you have previously run?

It’s come from the master class and black belt course; it’s a combination of them and my self-sovereignty course, it’s a combination of philosophy, movement and internal exercises. This is course which has grown organically through all the other courses I have run, some martial arts, some esoteric and some storytelling such as keynote speaking. This one brings it all together because we need all of them to make pure exchanges of energy in life. If I can teach someone to throw the perfect right cross and make a pure exchange of energy when I throw that technique, that perfection can become the template for everything, the template for a better life, a better body, a better relationship or business. If we master one thing we master all things. Once we understand that all human endeavour is about the exchange of energy – money/health/relationships – we can concentrate on making those exchange as pure as possible Everywhere you go you can exchange pure energy with people, sometimes money exchanges, sometimes knowledge or information exchanges. So the course has evolved over a number of years.

There’s a dynamic formed in group work where people ask questions, things come up and things are drawn out of people that seem peripheral to the course, but they’re due to the course as it is designed to encourage and nurture the highest potential. It’s a 6 month course and people have to attend all 6 sessions.

Ok! Finally, what’s on the cards for the next year, 2 years, 10 years etc?

I’ve been working a lot in Theatres recently, again telling stories to a high level. I’ve just recently been doing some work at the National Theatre developing a stage play. We’ve just finished a film called `The Pyramid Texts` which is a discourse on fear. `Fragile` – another stage play I’ve written – has just finished an acclaimed run in Edinburgh and is coming to London next year. That’s a great example of internal enquiry, misogi (cleaning) or budo, it is basically me writing about the trauma and abuse I experienced as a child and the aftermath. It is a very visceral play, it has a weird effect on people and is very powerful. Reviewers give it 5 stars, but then say we don’t recommend you go and see it, this should have a health warning (laughs). It’s basically me, getting an actor in a room and acting out my demons through a story and then allowing 50-100 audience members each night help me to clean it. Abuse is a possession and when we forgive and when we write honestly about our trauma, it cleans it, it’s an exorcism of old cognitions and beliefs.

 

We’ve just finished a film beautiful film called `The 20 Minute Film Pitch` and I am now working on a film called `Romans` with Ray Winstone, which is  feature version of my short film Romans 12;20. All the projects are storytelling, using honest narratives to help other people to change their story. Films and theatre are very important and need to ensure they stay funded as storytelling is such an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup and can really change people’s perceptions.

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