After a student achieves a black belt there are a number of paths to follow. Each of the paths will ultimately end up at the same place but the trip there may be quite different.
One of the ways chosen is tournament competition. This allows you to stay in good shape and have a nice time meeting new and interesting people. Whether you win or lose you are a winner. Just showing up and competing is more than most of the populace even considers. This shows a unique freedom in the art.
Another direction taken by a good number of people is experimenting and experiencing with other martial arts. If this is the way chosen a vast amount of knowledge can be gained to later pass on or use personally. Each new art one experiences will provide an additional element of that “balance” between mind and body we all are trying to achieve.
It seems that one the paths often taken is a new and completely different path. With the confidence gained by achieving a Black Belt some students branch out into different endeavors. The curious thing about this path is that these students always ultimately return to Martial Arts.
An example of this is a student in the Mountain Academy that worked hard and earned his Black Belt then decided that if he could do that he could go back to school and succeed as well. This student was 35 years old when he returned to college and ended up receiving his Bachelors degree and then went on to gain his Masters degree. This improved his lifestyle and his self esteem. After this three year absence from Martial Arts he found that he was missing something and started to work out again. He now is a 2nd degree Black Belt and feels his life has come full circle.
Another path one can take is becoming a teacher and instructor. This requires stamina and is probably where we see the most cases of “burnout”. Being an instructor is very fulling and loaded with responsibility. In my case it is worth every minute of the time I get to spend with students.
The last path and the hardest to understand is the Black Belt that just drops out. Some of these students are never heard of again, so they may have gone into something else, but some I guess feel that a goal was reached and there is nowhere else to go. These students trouble me the most. As a instructor you labor over the quality and quantity of instruction you may have given to that particular student and try to establish where or what you did to convey the wrong image of Martial Arts.
I have always said that becoming a Black Belt is when you become a serious student. Martial Arts is a lifetime endeavor and the rewards are great. Each path has its own obstacles to overcome as well as its rewards. It is my hope that whoever and whenever you achieve your Black Belt you chose a path that pleases you and that Martial Arts plays a large part of the rest of your life.
by Master John Rankin