Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP

White Belt Expectations

August 4, 2022

I was looking through some files this morning and ran across this in an essay I wrote about expectations. I think it's a good thing to keep in mind, the lessons that were important, the things that we were supposed to learn to do as a white belt continue to be important in the dojo and in our lives.

White Belt: Your goal as a white belt is to show up. That’s a pretty easy goal on paper but the complexities of life don’t show up on paper and so that’s why your goal is to show up. You want to learn good habits of consistency and perseverance as a white belt. If you show up, you’ll start to learn basic techniques and movement and you’ll learn how to learn, how to be a student again, you’ll learn how to be a white belt.

There’s a lot of talk about Beginner’s Mind in the martial arts, which references an age of innocence, an excitement and willingness to learn, a lack of preconception, a lack of ego. It goes back to a quote from Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Those are all wonderful characteristics that we hope we have as a beginner, but there’s another whole side of being a beginner. We don’t know anything about anything. We don’t know the questions to ask, we don’t know if we’re getting better or worse, we don’t even know our bodies that well and how different movements should feel in the most rudimentary sense. I think this is the baseline for a white belt—don’t get upset when you don’t learn something the first time, don’t be troubled when you’re told that you’re doing something wrong, try to accept that where you are right now is the place you’re supposed to be, and embrace the fact that learning involves a whole lot of repetition. Repetition is the key, whether you’re talking about physical techniques or the mental and emotional techniques of accepting and learning.

What we want to do as white belts is build a foundation of the fundamental movements and mental habits that create strong martial artists. Every complicated piece of curriculum that you learn down the road will work or not work based on the strength of your fundamental techniques. Your ability to learn and struggle through all the advanced lessons of karate is built upon the mental habits you learn as a beginning student. As a white belt, if you begin to learn to be patient with yourself and your body, to focus on the thing that you are doing at the moment, to listen and receive constructive criticism and praise with equanimity, and to learn to give to others as readily as you take from them, if you start to learn all these lessons then you have begun to build a constructive relationship with your teachers, your peers, your body, your mind, and with your martial art. If you’re starting to do some of that, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do as a white belt.