Surviving Purple Belt: The Black Hole of Progression
Some of you may know that different karate schools have their own variations on belt colors, and belt order. At Ultimate Martial Arts, we have a 13 beltsystem. Purple belt being fourth belt on the journey to black. The first belt, white, has its challenges simply because it’s the beginning of something new. Gold belt comes next. All of those new things are becoming easier and the classroom becomes more comfortable. After that, you get to green belt. Green belt is exciting because you get to try out some more “advanced” techniques, like your first spinning kick, and a traditional weapon called a bo staff. Then you get to purple belt.
Just so everyone understands, it takes on average about 6 months of consistent training to get to purple belt. That’s a long time to do one activity. Not many sports have a season that lasts for half a year. What that means as a student is that the “honeymoon” phase is over. Many students, not all, but many start to get quite comfortable in the classroom. A little too comfortable if you ask me. They become overly confident. That overly confident attitude often comes with a severe lack of effort. The lack of effort results in a slowing, or even at times a decline of quality in their karate itself, which I refer to as their plateau (which I will write a separate blog on that topic on a later date). If a student isn’t showing improvement, they don’t progress, and if they don’t progress through the system, then they lose interest. It has a snowball effect.
It’s very difficult as an Instructor to see a student lose interest. There is only so much I can do while staying in the moralities of my job to keep things fair for everyone. There is a minimum standard that each student must achieve if they want to advance to the next belt level, and when they simply aren’t putting in the effort to improve themselves, the blame falls on them. I tell my students that I can’t do their karate for them. I can demonstrate the techniques, give them the knowledge, encourage them, and quite simply help them as much as I can, but at the end of the day, it’s on them to have to show their skill.
Most students are able to learn and improve enough in the first few belts by only doing karate at the school when they come to class. The “minimum requirement” for a white belt is pretty low, for obvious reasons. They are a white belt. I don’t expect anybody to be great at anything when they first start. A half hour class, two to three times a week, is often enough for students to get things figured out at that level, but by purple belt, the skills they need to be able to demonstrate are a lot harder, and class time by itself isn’t enough anymore. Now you need to be practicing more at home. Your instructor can’t do your karate for you, and they certainly can’t come home after classes and practice for you as well.
Now some of you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this blog post is really depressing. Where is the happy motivational part?” It’s right here.
If you are reading this, and have made it past purple belt, so you are a testament to the fact that purple belt isn’t the end. If you have just started your journey in the Martial Arts, let this be a warning to you that you will face some big challenges along the way. But if you are currently a purple belt, and are experiencing all of the problems that I mentioned above, I say this to you. Don’t give up. If you want to climb to the top of a mountain, but stop because it started to get challenging, you will never reach the top. But if you utilize all of your tools, and seek out help from those who can give it, you will be able to move forward.
I could find a way to fit that quote into every conversation about the journey to black belt, but I think it’s particularly fitting for this topic. If earning a belt was easy, everyone would be a black belt, but that is not the case. I referred to purple belt as “The black hole of progression” in the title of this blog because the truth is that many students get stuck at purple belt, and never get out. But those that do often continue on to join one of the coolest clubs I’ve ever been a part of,
The “Black Belt Club”