Diligent training and perseverance brings us ever closer to that elusive goal, the Black Sash. It is the icon that has come to symbolize mastery of a martial arts discipline. Mastery that is, to all but those who have attained it.
As students progress slowly and sometimes painfully towards this goal it, at times, seems almost out of grasp. One moment it can be seen clear as glass but like glass it can quickly become cloudy and distorted. The Black Sash, for many, becomes an obsession in itself. It is seen as the pinnacle of martial arts training. “Wow! That person has a Black Sash; they must be really good.” is a common thought amongst those of lower ranks and beginning students. A better thought would be, “Wow! That person has a Black Sash. They must be really dedicated and committed to Kung Fu.” Even though the newer student may view a Black Sash as an end, the more advanced student begins to view it as a beginning.
Even though you can look back and see the vast improvement you have made over the years of your Kung Fu training, those same feelings of inadequacy are still there just as they were in the beginning, for now you face a new beginning.
Kung Fu training at advanced levels highlights the “pane of glass” analogy. By this time, students begin to realize that training is a non-linear activity and it sometimes appears that the closer you come to the goal the cloudier it appears. Many never pass this often impenetrable barrier. If placed on a piece of graph paper a student’s progression would more closely resemble the deeply cut blade of a bush saw than that of a straight line. It is the deep cut periods of regression or stagnation that are the most frustrating to students of all levels.
Mental attitude, injuries, and social factors can all have a profound impact on the speed and intensity of your progression. Constant and dedicated training can in itself take a toll on your motivation. Instructors must constantly be on the lookout for signs of burnout so they can help students over these hurdles.
Kung Fu training is one of the most intense individual activities you will ever encounter. Your level of expertise or competence has no bearing on who may suffer from burnout, or who will ultimately complete the journey. We all need a change of pace and a change of scenery from time to time. As I have heard many times from many of my own Kung Fu instructors, “I’ll believe a person has the dedication, knowledge, and commitment to reach the rank of black sash when I see it around their waist.”