Martial Arts and Your Health: How Black Belt Testing Builds Nerve in Kids

Last weekend, nearly 150 Ripple Effect Martial Arts students from across the Longmont, Fort Collins and Johnstown schools participated in the annual Black Belt Immersion, one of two 3-day black belt tests held each spring and fall.

These tests come at the culmination of 3, 4, or 5 years (or more) of martial arts training. They are intense. They’re exhausting. But ask anyone who’s been through the experience, and they’ll tell you: They’re also vitally rejuvenating.

One reason is that these tests build nerve. They teach kids that they can always strive for more. Kids (and parents) will sleep for a full day after a black belt test, but they’ll wake up with a newfound enthusiasm for life, for work, for friends, for family. Being tested to the verge of your limits makes you realize: I haven’t reached my limits. I’m capable of doing so much more.

What we hear time and again is that the black belt test weekend makes kids feel like they can accomplish anything. That they can withstand any barrage of challenge, or frankly of boredom. The black belt test is essentially 72 straight hours of karate action balanced against inaction—some of the toughest bits are keeping your eyelids open in the middle of the night while listening to a talk from a karate peer or master instructor, only to jump back to your feet again and spar.

The tradition of the black belt test at Ripple Effect Martial Arts comes from the practice of shugyo in Chinese, Japanese and Korean martial arts. Shugyo means, in essence, “deep mind and body training.” It’s a period of intense, non-stop stress on the mental, physical and emotional toll of a maturing martial artist.

This stress has a purpose. Forrest E. Morgan, black belt, U.S. Air Force Major and author of the book Living the Martial Way, says of shugyo: “Tomorrow’s battle is won during today’s practice. Condition yourself thoroughly, determine the limits of your capabilities, then exceed them.”

Watch a kid break a board in front of hundreds of people after virtually no sleep or rest for two days, and you’ll believe. With guidance, with support, moral and emotional, you’ll build on your skills and get tougher. This is part of why karate is such a great pursuit for kids and families. It’s also why we train on a daily and weekly schedule for years to earn a black belt, and why you can’t accomplish it in one weekend, no matter how rigorous.

Still, these black belt test weekends are crucial to black belt development. Congratulations to all testers during this last round, and warmest regards to kids and families looking forward to their first Black Belt Immersion. You won’t forget it.

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