The Black Belt is yours to win. Its achievement cannot be a gift, and is not a mystery. One of the lessons we teach to our kids (and a comfort we offer to our adults) is the straightforward simplicity of its earning. If you do this, you will get that. Earning rank at our studio is not a matter of popularity or preference, it is not even a competition. Nobody stands in your way, when you help your friends and neighbors it helps you. Your rank is a challenge for you alone, but you have people who will help you do more than you thought you could do, to succeed.
You also have tools. For the adults, the technique cards are a fairly simple tool. The requirements are spelled out and you figure out what you do to fulfill them. It's essentially the same for the kids, but as with so many things faced in childhood's hour, they are handled differently. We want our kids to realize that their destiny is theirs to achieve, and that the technique cards, besides being simply exactly the beautifully designed useful cool things they are, stand also as a metaphor for that process of personal achievement.
We aim to use the cards to make the students understand that their progress is in their control. That getting to the next belt is something they can plan for and make happen. The cards are a tool to chart their progress; using the cards makes the students take control of their own achievements. We urge all the kids to use them, along with a calendar, to map their way to their next belt. Make a plan.
If you want to test in three months, plan to be test-ready in two months, so that your final month is devoted to that endless practice that leaves you with Kenpo dribbling out of your ears, so that when you test, you test know you could have done nothing more to get ready. That knowledge is always the best guard against stage fright, and it is the one single thing in your control. If your student has to learn eight techniques, make sure to get two marked off each week. Ask a teacher for help. Ask a friend to practice with you. Ask a teacher to sign off on the techniques. Use your voice. Look at the card. Where are you? How close are you? How many techniques are signed off? Do you know your kata? Asking questions, of yourself and others, is the only way you'll get any answers, and the best way you have to get your next belt.
Everything at the studio is for the learning process. We have a lovely and breakable chess set. So that students can learn chess, and perhaps more significantly (for most), learn that if you drop and break a piece, it is not only no big deal when you 'fess up and carry the broken pieces to me- you will be thanked for your honesty and responsibility. A student accidentally broke a framed picture. For payment he had to memorize some of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If," that hangs on the wall. Responsibility is required of all students. Students must keep track of their own technique cards, nobody is here to pick up after them. If they are left forgotten on the mat after class, I own them. And the student can buy them back with pushups. Pushups are a standard currency here, used to pay for many things, and as with all things we do, our aim is that every month at our studio leaves the student stronger, and more proud of the real accomplishments that were made in those full weeks.
Earning a belt is about earning respect. For most of us, the most difficult respect to earn is self-respect. We know our own faults and failings very well and can be relentless and unkind critics of them. But when you tie on your next belt here at this studio, you know that you earned it. You had help, you had friends, but you earned it. You made it happen.
And the technique cards can help you do that.