Success as a 'White Belt' Employee

Success as a 'White Belt' Employee

09 Feb 14:00 by John Cooksey


Over the past 20 years I have worked in two quite different occupations…..selling professional services in the human resources and recruitment space, and teaching martial arts.

In one there is an over-arching culture of support, service and a cohesive drive to reach stretch goals based on a common connection….the other has often felt just like a job.

I have been thinking about the similarities between these two worlds and how each can benefit the other.

It lead me to think back to my first days as a White Belt in martial arts, and how our message to beginners is a useful one for an emerging generation of people who are coming into the workforce, or are about to shift roles into another sector as we all become ‘agile employees’.

Many Start, Few Excel

Many people start martial arts because they want to get in better physical shape, learn how to defend themselves or simply want a new challenge. Whatever the reasons, there is a hope that this will be a life changing experience.

Irrespective of our level of fitness, previous skills and experience and initial optimism our first weeks or months will make us feel uncoordinated and generally un-impressive.

You will confuse right with left, feel like you have information overload and be convinced your mind and body have never met each other before. You will get frustrated and at times a little bored with the initial repetition and lack of ‘Bruce Lee like’ outcomes.

…..exactly how I felt going into any new job.

White belt is one of the most valuable times in a martial artist’s career, as is the first few months in every new job role. With the right mindset, the time you spend as a white belt can be exciting, fun, and enlightening. It’s the time to open your mind and heart to learning, changing, and growing. It’s the time to lay the foundation of skills that will support you in your entire martial arts journey.

You’ll feel motivated in ways you may not have experienced before and to trust your intuition and your new knowledge.

There are a few things I wish I’d known as a white belt or even as a ‘white belt employee’. The following tips will help you kick start a martial arts journey and have great relevance for your new job.

5 Martial Arts Tips for Your New Role

1. It’s okay to be wrong.

It’s often been said that practicing martial arts is a marathon, not a sprint. Learning martial arts can be a slow, repetitive process. You will make many mistakes, and you may embarrass yourself. You will do things wrong before you do them right, and that is perfectly fine.

Its important to learn from your mistakes, and seek out feedback and guidance from your instructors. Embrace practicing the finer details, and treat your martial arts problems with fascination rather than frustration. You are not training to win, you are here to learn.

2. Martial arts will bring out the best in you…and once in a while, the worst.

Practicing martial arts is one of the best ways to build confidence and self-respect. It’s also very much a humbling experience. You will be tested mentally as well as physically. You may have to face some lingering bad habits or emotional demons.

A tough sparring match may trigger your temper or worse, your insecurities (as will a robust conversation with an experienced colleague who has ‘been there, done that”).

You may think you’re a failure or you’re not good enough to continue practicing. You will have good days, and you will have bad days, even when you are a are a black belt. Trust the process. Forgive yourself for your bad days, take pride in your good days, and continue the marathon.

3. Take care of your body.

Martial arts training can be exhausting and sometimes downright painful. You will push your body harder than you ever have before. You will get cuts, scrapes, bruises, and possibly longer-lasting injuries to your joints, bones, or muscles.

You will get hit, and you will fall down….and yet we also teach you how to get up, stronger and more confident than ever.

Listen to your body’s needs and when you can push yourself a little harder, go for it. Conversely, when you need rest, do it.

4. When given the opportunity to try advanced techniques, take it.

At times as a martial artist there is an opportunity to train with a more experienced student. It might be a technique or two in a regular class or to attend a full session as part of a larger group.

The first time I practiced a spinning back kick, I became increasingly dizzy and frustrated. At the time I was also embarrassed and wondered if I would get beyond my current belt level. , but I stuck it out and was grateful that I had the initial exposure with more senior belts and also had had lots of time to practice before I was expected to be truly proficient at it.

Waiting until a certain belt level to learn the “testing requirements” misses the point of training as we are building a comprehensive martial arts toolbox. It is also important we ensure we have the basics covered for our belt level or job role on our way to becoming a black belt.

5. Enjoy the journey.

It’s not all about belts, and it’s not all about tournaments and winning….as a workplace is not always about appearing to be more proficient, important and worthy of promotion than others.

Black belt is certainly an exciting and worthy motivator, but the true martial arts journey is as much of a mental and spiritual trek as it is physical.

Every step is important, as the plateaus and challenges will eventually give way to growth and a measure of success.

In a martial art ‘career’ it is important to trust the process, and enjoy the journey.

Finally, it is a great honour to practice martial arts and to wear the belt around your waist, no matter the colour….its more important to remember where we have come from, and the service of others along the way that was essential for our ongoing development and success.