What Does It Mean to Have a Black Belt Attitude?

When I took karate as a kid, my instructor would tell us in every class: “have a black belt attitude.”

“Train martial arts with a black belt attitude. Go to school with a black belt attitude. Have a black belt attitude at home.”

Now, 30 years later, I teach my students the same thing, and I asked myself recently, “What does it mean to me NOW to have a black belt attitude?” 

Here are my thoughts.

Having a black belt attitude is first and foremost having a POSITIVE attitude. “Everything works for me.” “Life is happening for me, not to me.” I have the belief in myself that I can accomplish my goals, and I am supported by people around me…my family, my fellow students, and my instructors. Every time our students walk through the door, we teach them to bow and shout, “YES I CAN!” This is the essence of having a black belt attitude.

Having a black belt attitude means having a NEVER GIVE UP attitude. We persevere. We don’t quit. It’s an attitude that says I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve. A student turned in one of his monthly chore chart sheets the other day, and on the top of it, he wrote in: “Quitting is NOT an option!” YES! THAT is a black belt attitude.

YOU BECOME AN AVID GOAL SETTER. If you are going to have a black belt attitude, you set goals. You achieve goals. You set new goals. You achieve those goals. You are happy, but not satisfied. You are willing to look into the future and dare to do great things, and you go after them. Black belts are achievers. It typically takes 3-4 years to earn a black belt, and the only way to stick to the path is to have a goal, driving you forward. 

FAILING IS PART OF THE GAME attitude. If you’re going to have a black belt attitude, it’s helpful to remember that setting goals is just a game. No one makes you set goals. No one makes you choose to excel at something. You set the goal, decide on the rules, and you achieve it and win, or don’t achieve it and lose. That’s a game. Sometimes you draw a card in a board game and you have to move your token 3 spaces backwards. Do you quit? Do you give up? No. You keep playing. Sure, it feels frustrating sometimes, but your goals are just that: YOUR goals. As my instructor has told me more than once: “don’t let your goals beat you up.” Have fun…and just keep playing the game.

I GIVE MY BEST. “Give your best and it will always be good enough.” Not true. Sometimes your best is good enough, and sometimes it’s not. But having a black belt attitude means that you honor yourself, honor your goal, and honor the people and support team around you by always giving your best. Sometimes your best just doesn’t cut it. But you can remind yourself that you had a black belt attitude, you gave your all, and THAT is worth celebrating. That’s the attitude of a winner.

 attitude of a winner

YOU ARE DISCIPLINED. Think you have a black belt attitude? Part of that means you are disciplined. Okay, well, what does THAT mean? It means you purposefully make space for the goal. In essence, it goes on your schedule. You might have to wake up earlier in the morning. You may have to move friend time around. You may need to stop watching YouTube or Netflix for an hour. No worries. Make space in your schedule for the goal, and go after it. 

RESPECTFUL AND KIND. Have you ever watched a group of black belts together? I attend formal banquets for martial arts instructors, and there is so much bowing, hand shaking, “sir”ing, “ma’am”ing, and kindness. The world needs more of that. Everywhere, always. Want to demonstrate a black belt attitude? Be kind, be thoughtful, and be respectful. And, the people whom you disagree with the most? Yeah…treat them respectfully, too.

CONTRIBUTION. Having a black belt attitude means you’re also willing and eager to give back, and serve other students and humans around you. It feels good to give–of yourself, your money, your talents, and your core. At the end of each night, a wonderful question to ask of yourself and those around you, is: “How did I contribute today?” Maybe you demonstrated kindness to a stranger. Maybe you took a little more time to help someone at work or school or in your community. Maybe you did something HUGE and participated in a fundraiser. Contribution doesn’t have to be grand, big gestures. It can be small and meaningful to one person. Want to demonstrate a black belt belt attitude? Start looking for ways to contribute to those around you. 

30 years later, that’s my list. What did I miss? What does having a black belt attitude mean to you? Which of these is the most meaningful to you?

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