I agree with your thoughts about the belt system. It would be nice, however, if students would train with the goal of learning an art, not with the goal of owning a belt. A friend in my school once said to me at a belt ceremony “you realize that you are really not a better martial artist today than you were yesterday, right?”. Of course, his comment was meant as a joke, but there is a lot of real truth in that statement. Progress is slow and steady and takes years, and isn’t defined by large, sudden jumps in ability as the belt system might imply to some. Sometimes, I think that other students think, for example, that once they pass their green belt tests and attempt to pivot their base leg correctly that they have learned the sidekick and that it’s time to move on to other, bigger things! I am currently a green belt (and need to work on my sidekick for the next 10 years) and hope that I will always keep my rank in perspective. I hope I can always evaluate my technique honestly to measure my progress and not just look down at my belt.
Thank you for your kind comments about my web site. I am glad it has been of service to you.
You are right! We have become a society that expects instantaneous gratification. People want the glory, but they either do not want to do want it takes to earn it, or they do not have the patience to wait for it. One recent reader was lamenting that, after 9 months in Taekwondo, he still cannot do full spits or trick kicks as some masters are able to do.
Ranks are steps that indicate progression along a stairway toward the top; they are not destinations in themselves. Basically, rank only indicates how long you have been on the journey; they just indicate how many steps you have taken on your climb toward the stop. After a certain amount of time climbing, you are expected to have reached a certain step in the climb, but reaching that step is nothing special other than it indicates you are still climbing.
Similar to ranks, birthdays are steps in one’s lifetime. I turned 61 recently. Suddenly I was a year older, even though I was only a day older than the day before. Reaching another birthday is not an accomplishment in itself; what is important is what you have done with your life while reaching that step. If life is a journey, then the end of that journey is—death. So the end of the journey is not something you want to reach, it is just something that you are forced to near as you climb. If you quit climbing, your journey will end, and, just as if you were on an escalator, the stairs themselves will carry you very quickly toward the final destination but the arrival will not be pleasant one. However, if you keep climbing, as you reach the end, you will have the joy having completed a meaningful climb.
Some think that taking a step is some great achievement. They stand on the step, look down on all those on the steps below them, and feel superior. Instead, they need to turn around see the long climb that still remains ahead of them, and keep climbing. Sometimes, people on the lower steps will grab you and try to hold you back, but thankfully, there are those on the higher steps who will reach down and help pull you up to the next step.
For the ones who see the light at the top of the stairs, they know that reaching the top is not the ultimate goal; it is the climb that is most important. As one nears the perceived top of the stairs, the top is no longer important; the last step is just another step. For the great ones, there is never a top of the stairs. As they look up the stairway, they see an endless string of steps leading into a bright light. As they draw their last breath, they are still struggling for the next step.
As I mentioned before, I turned 61 recently, and my best birthday present was sparring in class last night. First of all, it was great to be able to spar, then it was great being able to effectively spar students 20, 30, and 40 years younger than I am. I can do it not because of great athletic ability, but because of technique. I train everyday on the heavy bag perfecting technique and control. This allows me to be able to jump all over an opponent with quick strikes that come too fast to block and are so powerful they cannot be knocked away, and yet they are so controlled that they never do harm.
If you concentrate on perfecting techniques, you will not get instant gratification while sparring. In fact, you will probably get beat a lot because, even though your opponent’s attacks may be sloppy, they still score. However, the problem with sloppy techniques is that they stay sloppy. If you improve a sloppy technique, it only means that it will get sloppier. However, when a good technique improves, it becomes closer to perfection. If you persist at trying to perform perfect techniques, at some point your techniques will start to overwhelm sloppy techniques and you win every fight.
Watching an artisan at work is inspiring; seeing perfection at work brings tears to your eyes. I have watched my instructor spar many times so I know he is good, but one time I went with him to a rank testing in another city. Two 20-something black belts were testing, and they were good; they were whipping up on all the other testing students. The head instructor of the testing asked my instructor to spar them. It was a beautiful thing to behold. As he sparred each of them, he picked them apart with powerful, clean, perfectly focused techniques as a vulture would pick apart road kill. He did not hurt them, but they were completely demoralized; they knew they had a lot more to learn.
You have the right attitude. Keep climbing toward the light, and hopefully, you will—never reach the top.