A Black Belt’s Journey.

Black Belts, Fear & Preparation.

As we approach the yearly Black Belt grading at Fight Fortress my mind is wandering back to my own journey and in particular, my own Black Belt tests. There is absolutely no excuse for not working hard if you want to get though when the going really gets tough. Sacrifices have to be made, heartache endured and pain tolerated. My own ‘menu’ and the rewards gained looked something like this;

I don’t like early mornings, especially cold ones. Further, I dislike running even more. Knowing this would expose me to hardship and knowing a Black Belt would be probably the biggest hardship I have ever faced, my alarm was set for 6am and I took to the streets, two to three times a week deliberately setting four miles with sprints. The distance for endurance, the sprints for speed and anaerobic training.

My run would come to a close along a cold, harsh sea front with the wind forcing me back and the spray from a freezing sea washing over me. The run would finish with two sets of circuits (body resistance) before a welcome breakfast and a hot, hot shower.

The evening session (six times a week) would consist of hard sparring, pad work, weights and unarmed combat training. Did I need to be so committed? You tell me. Come grading day and as we entered the last round of kickboxing, I felt my energy sap. What was even worse was with about a minute to go I got caught with an absolute perfect spinning back kick to my solar plexus.

Gasping for air I thought that was it, game over but very quickly I reminded myself of the hardship I had forced myself through and mentally I recovered very quickly. As my second wind flooded through me, my opponent’s disappeared and I took the closing minute to him, ending much much stronger, making a mental note to thank the beach afterward.

Two years passed and I was invited to Coventry for full contact fighting to gain my second dan. Again I needed to find ‘shugyo’, something to take me past my limits and it came in the form of a friend of mine, a professional heavyweight boxer who weighed in twice as heavy as me.

He agreed to spar full contact with me twice a week for an hour and so, six months before my trip to the Midlands, I arrived at his gym promptly, ready for battle. The build up, knowing I was going to face thunderous punches caused massive adrenalin release, exposing me to fear. This was a deliberate tactic as I knew my fights for my belt were going to push me way, way past fear and so I needed to feel it. I did so in abundance so come grading day, as unpleasant as the feeling was, I knew I had been here before, fear and I had come to know each other well.

Some months later, as I made the three hour drive to the grading venue, my adrenalin was massive but I kept telling myself it was only an extension of the short drive to my boxer friend’s gym and that the fighting was just the same; another extension, another date with pain and fear.

For another ‘event’ I was to fight in I realised I had reached a level where I was ‘coasting’ against my sparring partners. Each night training would be ten rounds fighting against the same opponent. I knew on some level that this was no good, I needed an opponent who was fresher than me, fresh against my tired limbs and aching head (from the punches and kicks I was taking.)

The solution was simple in it’s answer; bring in five fighters who all take it in turns to fight one round and then repeat. It meant I was fighting ten, three minute rounds back to back against fighters who would do one, three minute round and then rest for twelve minutes. It worked well for me as I knew to really go to town on these guys to counter act their freshness with my aggressive fighting. The subsequent event was a successful one, the sacrilege, commitment and expose to pain and fear paying dividends.

Small wars were also won. In an open class, usually attended by four or five f us, I found myself disappointed by the poor turnout; just me. It turned up I was up against the Champions League final and my fellow fighters had taken the easy route home; beer and football.

I sat and waited for about twenty minutes before pulling on my tracksuit and making for the exit but as I did I stoped in my tracks. I had the hall booked for two hours, I wasn’t interested in the match and I had combinations to practice. Why go home?

Stripping my tracksuit off and into my gi ai started with spinets to warm up and learnt every combination (there were 30 off them) off by heart.This too paid off at my first Black Belt test as I completed every technique asked of me.


A two week paid for, holiday in Florida would tempt anyone but when you have alighting in a big tournament back in the U.K. at the same time and you know you need exposure to test for Black Belt then if you are a fighter, it’s a ‘no brainier.’ Holiday postponed, training complete I took to the mats for yet another successful day out.

So if you really want to be a Black Belt, a fighter, someone who doesn’t fold at challenges then listen to my advice. Sacrifice, hardship, heartache and exposure to fear; they should all be on your very own menus.