The Blackbelt Mentality

Posted on: January 14th, 2011 by Jeff Ritter 1 Comment

The Blackbelt Mentality

I have always been a fan of Martial Arts as a source of understanding and wisdom on the journey one takes from novice to expert.

There is a tremendous book called “Zen Guitar” by Philip Toshio Sudo, I highly recommend, even if you are not a music enthusiast.  In the book, Sudo tells the story of the young man who enters the Dojo and asks his master, “How long until I will be a black belt?” To his dismay, his master replies, “You will never be a black belt, for anyone who is so impatient to ask this question does not have the discipline required to be a black belt.”

The lesson is, many people lack the patience required to be great at something.  I truly believe in golf, with the proper blueprint, any golfer can improve and improve immediately.  With that being said, it takes patience, will and discipline to be deserving of the black belt in the game of golf.  I often get this same type of question as it relates to someone’s golf game. “When will I be able to break 100? 90? 80?”  My answer: “When you deserve to.”  Not what most people want to hear, but it’s the only honest answer I can give.

For those who struggle with the idea of a challenge, I try to instill in them what is known as the “Black Belt Mentality.”  It’s adapted from the story above and is a useful way of getting golfers to set the stage for their aims and ambitions. In martial arts, every student begins their journey at the white belt level.  This is something most people are aware of.  Mostly unknown, is the term black belt was born from the fact the white belt over time became black from the hours, months and years of continual training. The “Black Belt Mentality” is to understand the training never ends, and the practice never ends. There will never be a day when you say “I have it” and you can stop practicing and learning.

Many assume the black belt is the highest level of martial arts, when, in fact, the true black belt continues his training eventually turning his belt back to white. How does it become white? The fibers tear and fray and the white inner cloth is once again exposed.  The white belt returns the black belt to the beginner’s mind which is always fresh and open to learn, embracing the journey and the opportunity to get better.

Tiger Woods is a perfect example of the black belt mentality in golf. After all of his success, he continues to do everything in his power to become even better in his pursuit of perfection. Tiger wakes each morning with the beginner’s mind saying, “Show me something new to learn, show me a way I can achieve greater understanding and success.” Let this be your mantra too.

Jeff Ritter is a coach, author and speaker specializing in peak performance and life inspiration. He teaches at the Raven Golf Club – Phoenix. Excerpt is from his book, “Your Kid Ate a Divot! Eighteen Life Lessons From the Links.” For more information visit

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One Response

  1. I read this article and I thought about it all night. I find the analogy, especially turning the black belt back to white, to be particularly appropriate. In relation to some comments that I made to a piece by Bob Fagan about mental toughness, it seems to me that that path of the martial arts student is the lifelong desire to achieve mental toughness that is in sync with the development of the physical capabilities. The two can only be achieved in golf through what we call ‘finding it in the dirt’ it seems to me.

    Thanks for writing this. It made me think for several hours.

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