My Journey to Black Belt: A Personal Narrative

Foreword: Here follows part of a talk I wrote regarding my personal journey to my MMA Black Belt specialising in Krav Maga. I wanted to share a personal narrative, and I thought this was a good way to do so.

This is a part of my story. We all have a part in a grand story, and each of us in a way tells a story with our lives: Our successes, failures, wounds, scars, and struggles all form this story. My journey to Black Belt isn’t a single chapter of my story—rather it has been part of several chapters of my life thus far. So I need to give you a bit of context. 

Three months before my first class—which was mistakenly the June belt test four years ago—I had just moved back to Lawrence from Anchorage, Alaska. I moved to Alaska in large part because I was at the lowest part of a years-long depressive and suicidal time in my life. The Summer after I moved back, the Summer I started Krav, I once took a wrong turn while driving and burst into tears out of anxiety and fear—so you can see how much I’d improved since before Alaska. I was no longer suicidal, but mostly because I distracted myself by staying busy, which increased my anxiety. I started therapy that same Summer that I started Krav, but—while I had an amazing therapist and that experience was invaluable—I couldn’t tell you if that was more beneficial to me or if Krav was. 

My school and training didn’t provide me with one single benefit, nor does it appeal to a single need of the soul or body, like a gym membership might. True health and wellbeing, and the greatest achievements in life, are holistic: They do not incorporate just the body, or just the mind, or just the soul. This is why Aristotle wrote that the virtuous path—which is the path to happiness—is the middle path between extremes. That is what I’ve found at this school. Here I’ve learned and continue to learn not only physical discipline and technique, but virtue, which leads to true happiness. I learned humility, which is to know oneself in light of the truth—to be able to acknowledge one’s limits, weaknesses, mistakes, strengths, and successes with neither pride nor false modesty. I learned prudence, like taking a break or pacing yourself to avoid unnecessary injury. I’ve learned justice in becoming more respectful of others. I’ve learned courage to push myself further than I thought was possible or desirable. And I learned meekness—one of the most misunderstood virtues. There’s an old phrase, ‘to meek a river’, which means to direct its power in a specific direction, neither damming it up nor letting it rage and overflow. Meekness is part of temperance, and it allows one to direct anger properly as power to accomplish a difficult task. Meekness is one of the most important virtues, I think, for Krav—the virtue of standing tall amidst of the storm, of using anger to fight furiously without letting it dominate you and turn into recklessness. I learned a lot of these by my failures in these areas. But we learn nothing from our successes. We learn only from our mistakes and from others’ successes. And that has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned here. 

All this I’ve learned from the instructors and other role models we have at this school. The instructors here have encouraged me, admonished me, trained me and trained with me; they have taken an interest in me as an individual, and have pushed me to excel. They have done so not, I believe, because it’s their job, but rather out of a genuine desire that I learn and grow and prevail because they believe I can. The host of black belts and other senior belts here have also been role models; motivators and encouragers; and, many of them, friends. It may sound cliché to call my school a family; but when you see these people more often than you do a lot of your own family, when you fight against one another and with one another, when your intimacy with them might be directly proportional to the amount of accidental injuries you’ve given one another—when you laugh, sweat, maybe bleed, and train together in something like what I’ve described here—you become a sort of a family—strange, but good. 

I have said nothing here about fitness or self-defence, how I’ve come to be able to walk in peace wherever I go. That’s because I had a 1000-word limit on this talk. That is important to me. But it remains that I may never need to use self-defence. And all of us shall grow old and diminish in health and fitness. So, invaluable as Krav Maga is, I have emphasized here what has been of greatest value on my journey to Black Belt: The people I’ve come to know, and the lessons of virtue and true strength that they have shared. 

As an exhortation to myself and you, I’ll close with one of my favourite quotes, from a speech given at Westminster University in October of 1941 by Sir Winston Churchill: ‘never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.’ 

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