How I Failed My Yellow & Black Belt Test
I failed my second belt test in the martial arts.
That was back in the mid-1960s. I was a teenager. I trained harder and more diligently than most every other member of the class. I was good, maybe very good.
To qualify for my second belt (what would be Yellow & Black Belt in what I teach now), I had learned a set of 3 sequences of power punching and kicking techniques. I had drilled those sets over and over. I knew 1-2-3 so well I did not even have to think about them.
I stepped in front of the belt testing board of judges. They called out, “Set One” in an Asian language. I performed what had to be a perfect Yellow & Black Belt Set One. The audience exploded in applause and cheers.
I repositioned in front of the belt testing board of judges. They called out, “Set Three” in an Asian language. I performed what had to be a perfect Yellow & Black Belt Set Two. The audience froze in pained silence.
“Sit down,” said the judges. “Try again at the next testing.”
Huh? I was good, maybe very good. What had happened?
“You did Set Two. They asked for Set Three,” said a friend sympathetically.
That’s how I failed my second belt test. I was not paying attention. I went from habit. 1-2-3. As skilled as any of my techniques may have been, it did not matter because I had failed to be in touch with the situation and what was called for.
I did not like failing a belt test when I was a teenager. I was embarrassed, a little angry, and maybe I felt a little cheated. But I had nonetheless failed because I was not – it turns out – good enough. My habitual mind and perhaps ego defeated me. I did it myself.
What an important lesson to learn. Good thing my teachers cared for me enough to be blunt and uncompromising. My becoming stronger was more important to them than my feeling happy at that moment.
Forty-five years later, I am pledged to helping others learn. My latest lesson offering deals directly with that tendency for the mind to be in the wrong place at a crucial time. I call it the “Here and Now Focus Meditation”. Try it out at “How to Meditate”.
I want to see you pass all your belt tests right on time. Don’t do it the way I did.