Do you have your black belt in martial arts, but feel like you have a white belt in the rest of your life? Do you put the same level of effort as your training into your relationships, your marriage, your home life, your work?
If after some soul-searching you realize you’re not, that’s great. You can now think of some ways you can apply those martial arts skills and behaviours to your other relationships and situations, in order to improve them.
But what if after some soul-searching you realize that you are, in fact, putting in that effort? But for whatever reason you still feel like a white belt in your life?
Maybe you feel like your efforts are for nothing. Everything still feels like a struggle and a series of frustrations. Maybe you feel like other people in your life see you and treat you as a white belt.
Here’s a quote from arguably the best book on the planet, “Go the F*ck to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach:
The cubs and the lions are snoring,
Wrapped in a big snuggly heap.
How come you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?
Making this relevant to martial arts: How come you can do all this great shit in martial arts, but you keep fucking up in the rest of your life?
Is this how you feel? That you’ve made all this progress in martial arts, but the rest of your life feels unsatisfactory in comparison?
Well, here’s what I’m gonna say to you: Unlike martial arts, life is messy.
In comparison to the rest of our lives, martial arts are pretty simple. And I’m not saying that progressing in martial arts is easy. The training is definitely difficult, and it needs to be in order to be worthwhile. But the path itself is very clear and simple. Someone else is in charge. They give you a curriculum to follow. And the main decision you need to make on any particular day is: Will I show up today?
Time, effort, and patience. These are the three things you need to get your black belt—and beyond—in martial arts. In life, however, despite ALL the time, effort, and patience, we don’t get black belts. We can put in a ton of work, and still feel like we’re no farther along. The results aren’t nearly as easy to quantify.
There is no clearly structured black belt test in life. There is no black belt ceremony to honour your achievements. In life, you don’t necessarily have a leader or mentor to guide you. You don’t necessarily have a group of likeminded people who have your back. You don’t necessarily have anyone honouring your achievements. In life, you don’t have a clear curriculum to follow.
If you’re a black belt in martial arts, but feel like a white belt in the rest of your life—despite all your efforts—it could be because you are. We all are.
I’d argue that many of us—me included—are drawn to martial arts precisely BECAUSE of the simplicity. Because of the structure and clear path. Because we don’t need to make a shitload of complicated, messy, stressful decisions in martial arts on a never-ending, daily basis. We just need to show up.
In the rest of our lives, we can show up—with all the best intentions—and still get it wrong. We can bust our asses at work, in our relationships, at home, but not a single person will award us a black belt for our efforts.
You might not ever advance beyond that white belt in life, but the blood, sweat, and tears you put into that figurative white belt are likely far greater than those you put into that literal black belt you got at the dojo.
You have your black belt. Congratulations. Good for you. But perhaps that white belt you have in life is worth a hell of a lot more.
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