By Paul A. Walker
The primary goal of any beginner or intermediate student of karate is usually to attain the coveted black belt. The black belt represents technical excellence, high ethical standards and the ability of a student to endure a strict and rigorous training regimen. To those "in the know," people with black belts are seen as being more than just average practitioners. They are rightfully seen as being highly disciplined and skillful proponents of the art.
So what are the steps that any beginner can take now to ensure a successful path to black belt? This article lays out the top ten planning and training tips for becoming a black belt. If you read and follow these tips, you will significantly increase your chances of success in getting to the destination of "Black Belt" as a serious karate practitioner.
Tip #1: Define what the black belt means to you personally
There is an expression that goes "if you don't know where you're going, you will probably end up somewhere else..." By defining what the black belt means, you now have specific reasons to become one. You must take full ownership of your chosen goal if you are to achieve it. Your instructor and fellow students will be more than happy to encourage you along the way but the responsibility of reaching your goal lies squarely on your shoulders.
Tip #2: Set a realistic period in which to reach your goal
It typically takes three to four years of regular training to attain the level of 1st degree black belt. If you say you are going to do it in one year then you are probably being overly ambitious. Likewise, if you set a timetable of eight years to reach the goal, then you are probably not stretching yourself enough. Find out what the minimum time is and what the average time is, and set your goal somewhere in between the two.
Tip #3: Break your overall goal down into smaller content chunks
"A mile is a trial, but an inch is a cinch." You cannot possibly learn everything that you need in order to become a black belt at once, so it is very important that you break down the overall syllabus and content into smaller bite-sized chunks. Fortunately, this has been done for you already, as each belt level has specific required content. Get a copy of the grading syllabus and focus on what you need now instead of what you will need six months down the road.
Tip #4: Understand exactly what content you need to learn
You need to know exactly what is required of you at each level. Again, you should refer to the grading syllabus and any student resources that are available. Take note of what is taught in class, focus primarily on what is needed for your next belt, and not just on what is fun.
Knowing your required content is like having a detailed roadmap to your destination. If you know where you are going and you have the directions of how to get there, then you are more likely to arrive at your chosen destination on schedule.
Tip #5: Get to know the black belts in your club and ask them how they were successful.
"Hang around with the winners" is excellent advice. A black belt is somebody who has already achieved the goal that you are striving to reach. They obviously know what it takes to get to the destination otherwise; they would not be wearing the black belt. Do not be afraid to approach the black belts in your club and find out what it was like for them during their journey to black belt. They will more than likely have lots of great advice that will be very helpful and will be more than happy to share their own personal success stories as well as the challenges they faced on the journey.
Tip #6: Go to class on a regular basis
"90% of success comes from 'showing up.'" There are no short cuts. Consistent and persistent practice will lead to positive progress and growth. You must make your weekly karate classes a priority and a necessary discipline in your ultimate journey to becoming a black belt. Books and training videos can be great tools, but you cannot learn everything you need from a book or a DVD. You need a qualified instructor who can guide you along the way and who will give you appropriate feedback.
Tip #7: Practice at home
Repetition and practice are keys to success in anything you do, especially in karate. Going to class on a regular basis is essential, but practice at home is also highly recommended if you are to make it to black belt within your desired timeframe. Practicing at home allows you to work on the things that you know you need to practice more and gives you a chance to digest the content that is given to you each week in class.
Tip #8: Read books on karate and your style and do some research on the Internet
There is nothing wrong with going out and buying a good book on your chosen art or style or buying DVDs that detail different training methods. Research on the Internet is also a good idea. Your instructor should not be your only resource when it comes to your karate. You need to take full responsibility for your success and nowadays there are so many great resources out there that do not cost much and that offer very valuable tips and advice to improve your training. Take advantage of them as much as possible.
Tip #9: Find a training partner who shares the same goal and push each other to the next level
There is nothing more motivating than a bit of friendly competition. Try to find someone in your club who is at a similar level and ability and team up with them through your common goal of becoming black belts. Together you will be able to push each other through the tough times, celebrate with each other on each successful step forward, and keep each other focused on the result of your efforts.
Tip #10: Never give up on becoming a black belt
Karate success can be summed up in three words... "Begin and Continue." If you are vigorously implementing the previous nine tips then tip #10 should be a no-brainer. However when the inevitable doubts as to whether or not you will be successful in reaching your goal rear their ugly heads, just remind yourself of one immutable truth. Giving up on your goal guarantees failure. Persistence, on the other hand, will lead you to your desired result. If you are steadfast in the value of reaching your goal then giving up will never be a viable option.
These then, are the top ten tips for becoming a black belt. If you follow this advice and train hard then it is inevitable that you will attain the coveted black belt. There are no hidden secrets or special training methods just clear goals, consistent practice and hard work. In addition, one more thing - enjoy your journey on your way to success and the black belt, because if it is not fun and enjoyable to you, then none of the rest of this advice will fall into place.
Paul A. Walker, is a 5th degree black belt karate instructor with over 25 years experience in the martial arts. He trained at Master Hirokazu Kanazawa’s Headquarters Dojo in Tokyo for three years from August 1996 to July 1999. In 2008 he was awarded his 5th degree black belt by Master Hirokazu Kanazawa.