by Darrin Schenck

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by Darrin Schenck

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Depending on how you look at things, the answer to this question may not be as obvious as you first thought.
Earning a black belt in any martial arts system is a major endeavor, it takes years of diligent practice to learn everything to meet this criteria. There may be more than one other black belt you study under that is the judge and jury on whether or not you have earned that status. Some systems never let you achieve this status on your first try, no matter how well you performed. There are reasons for everything in these ancient traditions, and barring any personal bias from your particular instructor, each of these core tenets has merit in the long run. Everything you do to earn a black belt is stacked on top of all that you learned before. Each belt has a set of criteria that you must pass to move to that next level. It is a calculated building process of practice and experience.
However, when you first start, you likely know nothing about the system you just joined. If you were lucky you began as a kid; you learned early on when you are a sponge. Your learning capacity as a kid is way better in some cases than when you are older. I liken it to the idea that your head is mostly empty as a kid, literally and figuratively, and you have plenty of room for all kinds of new stuff. But, when you know absolutely nothing about your new endeavor, and begin down a path that is completely unknown, does that make your yellow belt the hardest to earn? Contemplate that for a bit….
One reason I love the comparison of martial arts to life in general is that there are so many parallels. One of the first things you must develop as someone who studies martial arts is personal discipline. You are responsible for being at class, on time, every time, so you can learn and progress. There is no way to expect advancement if you cannot have control over your time and attention. Obviously this is very true in life; if you blow off studying for a test or preparing for a big presentation, you are not going to succeed. As a white belt, you are learning gross motor skills and movement. The more you study, the better you get at these physical skills. As you progress up the ladder of belt colors, the expectations of you change. Your sloppy sidekick is not going to cut it as a blue belt, but it is just fine as a white belt. You are learning a new skill, and perfection is not expected. But working towards perfection is, and that is the beauty of the art. Constant refinement is the life goal of a martial artist. Sounds like a good plan in general to me.
If you roll this over to a business analogy, when you first start out in a new role you are given leeway to find your footing and learn your craft. In sales, many companies will give you six months to learn their product or services, and their preferred methods of selling them. Within a year, you should be generating revenue for the company that offsets your base salary or you should be updating your resume. That sloppy sidekick needs to have improved by then or your not going to make it. If you are a seasoned sales person with a track record of success, you are coming into the new company as a blue belt, and you are expected to hit the ground running on a faster timeline than a newbie. And you should; you have a baseline set of skills for success already established, and now you are just refining the process to align with your new employer.
If you are fresh out of school or changing careers, you need to have the expectations and patience of a white belt. You can’t fight in the UFC after six months of Tae Kwon Do class, and you can’t land the UPS account in your first six months either. In either case, you’re going to get your ass kicked. You have to work your way up, laying the foundation bricks of your craft as you go, and EVENTUALLY you will be prepared for the big time. The lessons through experience cannot be skipped over. You must follow the process to get to where you want to go. There are no shortcuts, so don’t pretend you are the exception to the rules. Put in your time, polish, refine and slowly walk the path, whether to the Board Room or into the Octagon.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.

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