The other day I saw a family friend that I only get to see once or twice a year. Each time he sees me, he asks about my training. He in genuinely interested in the martial arts and my ongoing journey and progress. He doesn't train in the martial arts but he asks thoughtful questions and has an open mind.
Around three years before I began this blog, I had decided to try to throw away ego, pride and pre-conceived ideas on the martial arts. I essentially started over. My first real Sensei, the man who inspired me and put me on my path in the martial arts, agreed to take me on as a student. He had retired from the business side of the martial arts but was willing to train me. I put aside my belts from other martial arts. I've held, and I guess I still hold, several belts of various colors in various arts. I've yet to earn a black belt in any art, in case you're curious, but I've gotten pretty close in a few.
It was liberating to don a white belt again. Just the look of it reminded me of what I was doing, and why I was starting over. For the first two years, I was lucky enough to be a private student of my Sensei. The training was intense and challenging. I was a lucky lad, indeed. For two years, I wore a white belt and never gave it another thought. We never talked about grading, and quite frankly, I don't think it really crossed my mind. It wasn't until my Sensei decided to take on a couple of select students that belt color and gradings were introduced.
I don't put a lot of weight on belt color. Some martial arts clubs will promote students to black belt in a year, some take ten. There's lots of good things about the colored belt system, but they don't tell the entire story. I've posted on the topic several times previously, you can read the posts below:
Coloured Belt System - The Good
Coloured Belt System - The Bad
The 'No-belt' test
Bad Business, Fake Black Belts and the Internet
As a lead in to the conversation, the family friend said "You're a black belt, right?" When I said no, he said I must at least be brown then. He had, as it turned out, been told by a well meaning family member that I was a black belt, that family member assuming that I must have been as I've been training for as long as they remembered, at least a couple decades. Neither knew, or could know, about my decision to start over or the specifics of my history in different arts. They just knew I train.
What hit me about this conversation was that I found myself starting to explain the reasons that I wasn't a black belt, almost feeling a need to justify why I wasn't. I realized that the issue of justifying why I was, or wasn't something, was all in my head. It was my issue. My belt color made no difference to the family friend. It was a passing assumption that didn't require any explanation by me whatsoever. It was also not any part of the subsequent martial arts conversation.
It was in that moment that I realized that I'm not completely free from all things ego and pride related. It caught me a bit off guard. My Sensei is the most talented martial artist that I've ever met. I've 'road tested' my Jiu Jitsu with success on several occasions. I know what I know and I'm confident that the instruction I receive is truly world class. So why did I feel a need to provide an answer to a question that wasn't even really asked?
Clearly I've still got a ways to go letting go of ego and pride on my journey. Has anyone else suffered from an ego 'glitch' like I did?
Thanks for reading. Back to some introspection for me...