Being a Black Belt in The Age of Entitlement

(A repost from Tuesday, January 10, 2017)

With three of my 1st Dan Black Belts testing for their 2nd Dans in a month, I started to reflect on what it means to me to be a Black Belt (BB), and how being a BB fits into today’s society, and here’s what I concluded. Honestly, it’s quite the contrast.

These are strange times. And sometimes I just sit here and shake my head.

How many of you remember being able to merge onto a freeway and having people move over into the other lane to give you room?

….Or remember driving up a steep grade behind a rig only to have the driver move over onto the berm in order to let you pass?

….Or remember when people greeted you?

….Or said “You’re welcome”? (Now if you get a response at all it’s normally “No problem”. We’ll get back to this one later).

….Or when the male version of our species would remove their hats when they would sit down to eat a meal.

….Or when the PA announcer didn’t have to remind those same males to remove their hats during the National Anthem?

….Or when people would wear real clothes and not PJ’s to go shopping?

….Or when people actually considered a telephone conversation to be something private?

If you can remember any of these examples, then welcome to The Age of Entitlement. It’s the idea that I am entitled to do not only the things that I want to do but also how I want to do them. Period, end of story. Everything else, including your needs, is secondary.

Now I’m not going to get into the hows or whys regarding how we got to this point. That stuff is better left to the Sociologists and therefore way out of my pay rate. Instead I’m going to look at what it means to be a BB and how we fit in today’s society.

So let’s start by establishing a baseline. What does it mean to be a BB??

Does it mean that as a BB I can kick anyone’s ass who isn’t a BB??.…No. I know lots of folks that can more than hold their own against anyone and never stepped foot in a DoJang.

Does it mean that I’ve learned so much that my art is now really easy??.…OMG, no, in fact that’s so wrong that I don’t even want to address it.

Does it mean that all those colored belts have to kiss my ass now??…Umm, no, not even close. In fact, you should be bending over backwards to help them along.

Does it mean that everyone who never practiced an art or isn’t a fellow BB should be afraid of me??…Again, no. No one should even consider acting in such a manner.

So what does being a BB mean??

To me, being a BB is more a matter of behavior than a matter of skill. Let’s be honest, by the time one earns their 1st Dan, we should have at least an advanced knowledge of not only the mechanics of their techniques but also the theory behind them. If not, then that is a reflection of the school and its head instructor, NOT a reflection of the student. After all, one can only aspire to achieve a standard that has already been set at the DoJang.

Now this doesn’t dismiss your ability to perform your curriculum. If you are the highest rank on the floor, or one of the highest ranks, then you should be able to perform better than everyone else, and if you can’t then that is an area where you really have to focus on and improve.

But when I discuss behavior I am not only talking about being inside the DoJang, I am also addressing OUTSIDE of the DoJang.

The first thing that you have to remember is that you are special. No, that’s not bragging, blowing smoke, or patting ourselves on the back. It’s a fact.

Of everyone on the planet, all 7 billion of them, only 3% will even step foot in a DoJang. That’s approx. 210 million people, of those folks, again, only 3% will earn their 1st Dan. That’s 0.9% of the entire human population of the world.

…Less than 1% of the population will achieve their 1st Dan and achieving 2nd Dan is even more rare.. Think about that for a minute. Again, to put things in perspective (worldwide):

10% of the population is gay

10% of the population is left handed

2% of the population is redheaded

20% of the population is black

31% of the population is Muslim

So when I say that a BB is special, well, it’s the truth. But this also means that a BB is different. We’re even more different than all of the examples above.

We fought through the pain

We sacrificed

We showed up every single day, even when we had to sit in our cars in the parking lot and told ourselves “Just walk through the front doors”

We drove in the snow and bad weather

We have been humbled and we’ve given all of ourselves to our arts

So now that you can see just how special a BB is. Let’s talk about what it means to actually BE a Black Belt.

You have the ability (and in my opinion, the responsibility) to positively affect people’s lives.

You also have the ability (and again, in my opinion, the responsibility) to enable others to achieve. You should be doing this in your DoJang anyway, so why wouldn’t you be doing this in all facets of your life?

You have the responsibility to put other’s needs ahead of your own. In other words, you help the old man walk across the street instead of ignoring him, or you help the person shorter than you get the item off of the shelf over their head because they can’t reach it.

And if they thank you for your actions you respond with a polite “You’re welcome” and with a smile. Now I told you that we were going to get back to this. It’s important, so pay attention as this is going to reflect the attitude that is REQUIRED if you plan on identifying yourself as a Black Belt.

When someone feels it necessary to acknowledge your actions (by thanking you), and you respond with “No problem” what you are basically doing is placing your value above someone else’s. You are passively stating that it would have been a problem for you to do something but you’re deciding that it wasn’t a big deal. You’re basically putting yourself high on a pedestal.

And if you think that I’m wrong, then hope that you never exhibit this type of behavior when addressing someone with a mental illness.

But by saying “You’re welcome” you are acknowledging an equality between you and the other person, an action that is essential for Black Belts.

Now this may seem like I am nit-picking, but I assure you that I am not. Syntax is amazingly important to verbal communication and to ignore that is dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible. And it reflects one’s attitude and outlook on life.

You are a BB. You are responsible to set an example for the people around you. Not only for the people that you know, but for the people that you don’t know. We affect everyone around us, and that effect is not lessened simply because we don’t know them.

You know that you shouldn’t eat with a hat on (if you’re a male), so take it off.

You know that it will make it easier for someone to merge onto the freeway if you move over, so move over.

You know that others not only don’t care about your phone conversation but also don’t really want to hear it, so don’t talk in the phone in the checkout line…( and if you do have to talk to someone in public, for God’s sake, don’t use the freaking speaker phone option).

Think of others. Think of those around you first. That is the duty and responsibility of being a Black Belt.

And that is something that as a Black Belt, you should aspire to do each and every day.

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