What if our belts changed color according to how well we’re performing at the moment?
I am not qualified to judge my best techniques, but I will judge a role I play and say with confidence that when I’m teaching a group at College Dojo, my belt would be brown (higher ranked than I am now). Circumstances have landed me in the role of senior student and assistant teacher a little early in my Karate career.
When I’m not at my best, definitely the belt would be blue (a low rank in our system). And yeah, there are times when my belt would be white (students buy white belts when they buy their uniforms – white belts aren’t earned by passing a test).
How long would my belt actually stay green (my current rank as of this writing)? Hopefully it would be most of the time. My Sensei would not have told me to test if he didn’t think I couldn’t live up to the color and work towards my next belt rank. That said, public and home school teachers and my own home school experiences have taught me that most students excel in some areas, are average in some areas, and struggle with the rest. If my belt color could reflect my performance in the moment, it would definitely change color sometimes.
In those moments where I know I nailed something, I am elated. There might be a flash of black when that happens. But what about when I am not understanding something? How would I feel if the belt color shimmered purple, then blue, orange, and finally stayed white while I struggled with a detail of a basic movement? What would I say or do?
Last Saturday, I was totally “there,” feeling like a white belt. Punching an opponent – how hard can that be? Sensei was teaching a new way of moving (well, new to me anyway) and I just wasn’t “getting it.” I must confess that my training partner and Sensei were more patient with me than I was with myself. I had to let myself be carried by their encouragement.
I think the most helpful thing said to me was, “It’s OK. We’re here to learn. Take your time and go slowly.”
I wasn’t making much progress so I was next paired off with a twelve year old blue belt boy. This actually was very beneficial for both him and I, so my belt color would’ve probably changed to blue. Better.
Eventually the class moved on to other things. Maybe my belt color would’ve changed a few times, but I think it would’ve stayed mostly green. I will say this, though. The moment I decided to write down what I’d struggled with and practice it at home my belt would most definitely have either been green or a higher color.
Taking this a step further, what if there were some sort of tiny computer with an LCD screen on the belt that would display a chart of overall growth? I don’t think there’s a computer capable of doing that. As Jackie Bradbury explains, martial arts growth is not linear. One could chart the color changes of the make-believe belt, but that wouldn’t mean anything. I might perform like a white belt because of an injury. Or maybe I’ve learned far more from a prolonged period of blue than from a flash of black. A computer couldn’t chart that. I’m finding out that a journey from white to black is far more organic, far more human than that.