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.

11 comments to “How I Failed My Yellow & Black Belt Test”

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  1. Very inspirational, Mr. Hayes, and a good reminder to me. I’m a pretty hard worker, too, and sometimes it’s difficult not to feel like that’s enough of an edge in and of itself.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

  2. Philip Resden says: -#1

    It makes me think…that even these many years later you still remember that lesson. I realize what point you are trying to illustrate in the recollection, but I feel that some times it’s thous miner negative experiences that can help propel us to the next level.

  3. As a new father, I can’t express how much the “Here and Now” meditation has helped get me through both of my infants most enthusiastic nightly moments.

  4. Sheryl Palmer says: -#1

    Mr. Hayes,
    Jill read your blog…her exact comment,”Wow…how amazing. He failed and he’s now a Gold belt with an awesome school!” It was a great teaching moment. Giving up when we mess up, or just because some one was not so kind not only robs you but those you may inspire in the future. I asked Jill what would life be like for her if you gave up after that failure. She was horrified at the thought of not having the Quest Center and all the positive teachers. I reminded her she too has a purpose and she cannot let set backs keep her light from shining; it needs to shine beyond the dojo walls…
    Thank you!

  5. Terry Garrett says: -#1

    Wow! What a post. This is the thing I need to keep myself in check. Just when we think we have it all down, we put our brains on automatic pilot and go by what we have done over and over again. Being mindful of the situation at hand will keep us on our toes.
    Great post!!!

  6. Eye-Opening as well as Inspiring An-Shu.
    Knowledge is half the victory, how we use that knowledge….
    while being ever mindful is true victory ~

    Reminds me of my green belt test in the barn dojo.
    Wasn’t fully ‘in the moment’ as much as should have been so asked you what should I do to improve and you helped point this so very valuable lesson out. This was / is one of many inspiring lessons, that continue to apply in daily living thanks to you.

    Stationed Overseas

  7. To be in the moment is hardest was one of the first lessons I learned after training in Japan. I’ve tried since then to keep it in all that I do. Thanks for that.

  8. I think that it is great to see you put such an example before others. It is very inspirational on many different levels. One, that you did not allow that failure stop you from achieving your own success. Two, perhaps even more important, that even after you achieved your success, you still share this story with your students so that they may benefit from the lesson as well. Most people would only highlight their achievements. The fact that you are willing to share your failures as well speaks volumes about your concern for your students and that they are learning and progressing properly.

  9. One who learns from their mistakes is a wise person, but a person who learns from their mistakes and helps others by showing it as an example is a man or woman without pride. Thank you Mr. Hayes and may your path be full of happiness

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