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BY URVIL JAMES VILLARUEL
Like grasping at smoke in the mind, what comes after black belt is both illusory and imaginary. The true question isn’t just “what comes after black belt”, but “what did I want my black belt for in the first place?” As creatures of incentive, we are all motivated to achieve the goals we set out for ourselves. We all aspire to do, create, and believe, that we, in some way, can do better for ourselves. We find comfort in knowing that we are capable, and that we can succeed.
Enlightened by hindsight, we each come to realize that our initial desire changes over time. What we once thought we wanted, becomes something we didn’t really want at all, or something, even, that we didn’t realize was not far enough for us to pursue; so we push further. The goal after black belt isn’t just to become a better fighter, a better spiritualist, or even a better martial artist, it’s to become a better person. Up to this point, the journey to black belt has, hopefully, provided each of its practitioners with the tools necessary in realizing that we can achieve anything we put our minds to.
In the end, the answer to “what comes after black belt” is entirely up to you. You have been provided with the tools to achieve, now it’s a matter of whether you will realize and utilize them or not. Some may find that they gain great satisfaction from sharing their knowledge. For them, the journey after black belt is to get more involved, to give back to what has given them so much. For others, the achievement of black belt is simply a stepping stone in their laundry list of lofty life-goals that they must complete before they die. For others still, the journey may have awakened something deeper, something in the art or in themselves. Whatever it is, each of us ultimately chooses what it is that we wish to pursue next, and each of us places our own meaning on that two-inch-thick strand, saddled across our waist. In its most basic form, the journey after black belt isn’t just about a journey of what comes after, but a question of what do I want to do after. All dreams are achievable, and the choice is completely up to you.
Even the most seasoned martial artist is frequently asked “why continue, what more is there to gain?” the truth is, there is so much more; but the route to the top of the mountain has many paths — and the right path is entirely up to you.
(Photo by: Urvil James Villaruel)