| White Belt Mindset

Author / Harry Shaw

5-7 minute read

Talking to my 15 year old the other day made me realize how often people will miss a big opportunity of growth by avoiding situations and challenges outside of our comfort zone. As I sat there telling her the value of failing, she asked: Dad did you fail before getting your black belt? My answer: yes and yes and then yes!  When it comes to the realm of failing, I am a master of it. On my path to achieve my 3rd Degree Black Belt, I learned that becoming comfortable will lead to slowed growth and killing progress. The grace in the journey to mastery is that opportunities to fail, and the stress of the path, come with lessons of humbleness, humility and constant self assessment.

Whether you are a seasoned coach, a well rounded athlete, a student of the art or the master of your own domain, the sooner you embrace the concept of a “ white belt mindset”, the sooner your black belt skills will flourish to new horizons.  

The Proverbial White Belt

When someone uses words like rookie, newbie, or freshman to describe us, more often than not we pair it with a big sigh. Why? Because we understand that being called a noob or rookie has the association with lack of experience or knowledge. We’ve all been there, no one likes being the most inexperienced person in the room. You feel like you’re slowing everyone and everything down, and people are judging you for making simple mistakes. 

However, being a white belt gives you an advantage over seasoned belts – the freedom to make mistakes! You are able to dive into the newness of the process. You’re free to ask how, why, where, and what for.

You see everything like a child sees the world: big, bright, alluring and with curiosity. This is THE white belt mindset – if you’re willing to lean in and embrace it.

No Pressure, No Diamonds: Stress to Progress

When new levels of skills are introduced in the process of learning, the heat starts to rise.

Stress comes bubbling up, and the stakes get bigger. Hans Seyle devised a comprehensive model to describe the response of living systems to stressors in the environment, termed “General Adaptation Syndrome”. In his model, Seyle identified two forms of stress every organism faces: Eustress and Distress

Eustress is the beneficial stress that produces growth and flourishing. Conversely, Distress is the detrimental stress that causes decay, damage, death or disease. Stressors manifest themselves from different sources: physical, psychological,  environmental, emotional and even social.  The question you want to ask yourself is in the quality of the stressors…Am I living my life in a way that challenges and leads me to growth and mastery?  Am I promoting positive adaptations for a better life?

So don’t be shy and dive into discomfort. No pressure, no diamonds! (insert Master Yoda’s voice) In discomfort, growth is…

Competency-Proficiency Model:

Martin M. Broadwell is credited with the creation of the Conscious Competence Learning model.  This can be applied to anything and everything in the process of  learning: from being a new parent, to starting a new job, a new language, etc. 

The model outlines four stages of competency, listed below:

Unconscious incompetence: (white belt): Simply put,  you have zero experience and knowledge. You’re a blank slate.

Conscious incompetence: (green belt): You know what you need to do but you are still lost in applying it to the process efficiently.

Conscious competence: (brown belt): You know what’s up! You’re applying knowledge and skill purposefully into the process and making it happen, but it still takes some brain power.

Unconscious competence: (black belt): You have mastered the skill and now it pours out of you with familiarity and ease. It is second nature and you can advance it to higher processes. 

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Blackbelt Attitude: What Makes You a Black Belt?

We’ve touched on the white belt mentality, but what about the black belt one? Everyone WANTS to be a black belt – I mean, it sounds cool right? So why not – but what does it mean? Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and while we could spend hours talking about the traits of the “Blackbelt attitude”, I’m going to dive into just 5 that I have found to be universal in my career as a coach, and martial artist.

Grit: Fall down 8 times, get up 9 times. Yeah we have all heard this before, but there’s a reason for that – because it’s true. Grittier people endure more and continue to feed the fire to achieve their goals.  Getting your Black belt means you didn’t quit.  The attraction of Krav Maga for me was the small number of Black belts in the system. I realized early on this meant no one was going to make it easy for me. This shares a common thread with Power Athlete, and the larger Strength and Conditioning community.  Nothing is given, everything must be earned! You have to walk through the fire.

Pliability: Letting go of preconceived notions or ego is a hard thing to master, but in order to continue in your realm, it is essential. Continually test the value and service of acquired knowledge, bend it and make it pliable, keep it relevant to your pursuit of mastery. Be adaptable. Bruce Lee said it best: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend ”.

Be Open: Socrates said: “The only thing I know is that I know nothing”. This is an extension of the previous point: emptying your cup. One must gain an understanding of the process to avoid getting in your own way. Keeping an open mind is like a net set out for new concepts and information to seep into your consciousness. Focused intent is the throne of seasoned black belts; they relate what they know into what they don’t know. They can apply the basics to complex equations. By mastering this you are able to be unconsciously competent with your environment. 

Dominate: True mastery requires the knowledge of principles inside and out. Along with this firm foundation we can be confident in the principles that we stand on. Mastery at this level allows you to dominate your space, your consciousness, your environment and your opponent.

The BlackBelt Mindset Flow: 

 Learn > Absorb > Apply > Trash > Refine > Apply > Learn…

Patience:  Trusting the process, being in the moment and surrendering to the experience is a valuable asset. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Black Bet Skills, White Belt Mindset

In certain martial arts practices, it’s taboo to wash your belt. As the tradition is told, when these practices were in their infancy in the past, everyone began with a white belt (just like today). But as you progressed, your belt got dirtier and dirtier. When it was completely covered in dirt, it had lost all its original color…it went from white to black. Wash it and you start back at square one.

In other words, A blackbelt is just a really, really, dirty white belt.  Staying in the white belt mentality with humbleness will lead you to a higher path of understanding and knowledge. It will take you from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence with the understanding that there is always something new to learn. Master the basics and embrace the principles. The perk is that you are building a solid foundation along the way for your new skills to build upon. A blackbelt knows that everything needs to be earned and nothing is given. This path will require you to continue to be a grittier, wiser, dominant and a humble eternal white belt.

Bedrock: The Road to a Black Belt with Power Athlete

Bedrock is our foundational program – everyone starting on their journey with Power Athlete is highly (re: HIGHLY) encouraged to start here, especially if you have never done a traditional linear progression before.

In your best Dilios voice:  (HOLD UP! If you don’t know who Dilios is you best stop reading and go watch 300!) The goal is to build a base level of strength within the novice window.  Yes you novice, rookie, freshman noob.  A blank slate for new skills and strengths. You have been positioned in a fertile place for growth to occur. Bedrock is tried and tested to build you up, taking you from an Arcadian to a competent Spartan…I mean Power Athlete!!  

Looking to start your own white belt journey? Head on over to powerathletehq.com and jump on Bedrock to start laying a foundation of strength, performance and resilience today.

Once you’ve forged your foundation, ascend to the realm of Dragon Slayer to push your limits and elevate your strength, skill, and conditioning.

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Harry Shaw

Power Athlete Certified Coach, Harry Shaw, has a unique and caring coaching style with over two decade’s worth of experience and a list of accreditations as long as his arm. With a background in basketball, TaeKwonDo, Shotokan, and as one of 10 active Krav Maga 3rd Degree Black Belts globally, he also trains local law enforcement in defensive tactics.

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