One little known fact about the Ninjas is that a few of us actually are Ninjas.
We were not hockey players growing up. We didn’t play on Football or Basketball teams. We were Martial Artists, through and through. That was an enormous aspect of our lives. Martial Arts helped mould and shape our future, and our ‘Black Belt Mentality’ remains a major contributing factor to the way we run RealtyNinja and our personal lives on a day to day basis.
Ramin, Casimir and I (Sepy) grew up together training at Champions Martial Arts Academy in North Vancouver, BC. We literally shed blood, sweat and tears together on Lower Lonsdale over the course of about 15 or 16 years. All in the name of achieving our long term goal: Black Belt.
But being a Black Belt isn’t all about kicking high and fast or doing 100 push ups. Nor is it the end of one’s journey in Martial Arts. One of the most important and most gratifying aspects of true martial arts and the Black Belt is consistent mental growth. Champions was always really good at re-enforcing values such as goal setting, self confidence, discipline, dedication, respect, humility, hard work, and gratitude.
For this reason, they required us to write a personal essay before we could be eligible to test for our Black Belt. The test itself was a physical show of your skills and techniques in front of your Senseis and hundreds of students and supporters. But before the physical component, there was this written component that required us to describe in our own words,
“What it means to be a Black Belt“
Today, I want to share both RealtyNinja Co-Founders’ Black Belt essays with our Dojo readers. These were written by Ramin & Cas when they were in their early twenties (roughly a decade ago, years before RealtyNinja existed), and were for our Sensei’s eyes only. These have not been edited or altered in any way – I hope they give you some insight into the mentality and values that are intrinsically embedded into the RealtyNinja brand.
Scroll down to read each of the essays below. Please enjoy, and leave any remarks or questions for Casimir or Ramin in the comments at the end.
Casimir's Black Belt Testing Essay What it means to be a Black Belt
In my opinion, there is a huge difference between being a black belt and having a black belt. A black belt is after all a black piece of cloth that is tied around ones waist. On the other hand, being a black belt it something profound that represents who you are to the core. With enough effort almost anyone off the street can work out enough to accomplish the physical feats associated with having a black belt, but it takes someone truly special to embody what being a black belt represents. A black belt represents the never ending quest to perfect your mind, body and soul; to treat others and the world with respect and to hold yourself to the highest standards possible.
I have been training at Champions since I was 7 and even though I took a number of years off to ground myself, that means I have been working towards this for 16 years. I still remember the day clearly when I figured out what I now know to be the essence of a black belt. It was actually when Champions first black belt ever (Joel) was testing for his black belt and I was testing for my orange belt. It was the first time students had to know the creed to get their belt and at the time, the 7 words. My mom spent hours helping me memorize these things and when Joel went up, he couldn’t remember them and none of us had to say them. I remembered them and still do remember them and it is these 7 words that we don’t have to know any more, that represent in my mind what it means to be a black belt: sincerity, self control, confidence, character, effort, respect and discipline.
Like I mentioned above, martial arts are not solely about fighting and being physically strong, they are about honing every aspect of your life. Realizing this has lead me to not only get into the best shape of my life, but to eat better, sleep better, work better, love better, act better, see better, etc. The black belt spirit overflows into all facets of your life and this is the importance of being a black belt. No one is perfect and you are definitely not perfect when you get a black belt, but it shows that you are on the path to perfection. Even though this is an unattainable goal, it shows ones true character, to strive for something they know that they will never reach; constantly improving and moving forward.
When I pass my black belt test it is not as if a switch is flicked and I become something new, something different. It is only a formal recognition of what I have become during my journey to reaching my black belt. And also, it is not the end because the journey never stops and the lessons and values you learn throughout the journey will be with you forever because they have been ingrained into your entire being. On another note, it does not make me better then anyone, in fact it signifies that I have recognized I am not better then anyone else, that no one is better then any other one; that I am humble. The only one I can be better then is my current self and this is what I strive for.
I have to be honest, I am afraid of the test for my black belt and of having a black belt. This is the true test, not if I can do 100 jump spinning hook kicks or not. It is overcoming your fears, standing strong in the face of fear and overcoming your daemons. All you can ever do in life is be true and try your hardest and this is what I am doing and will do for the rest of my life. Do I deserve a black belt if I am afraid of having one, of course I do. Without fear there is no respect and without respect for something, there is room for abuse.
There is such a misconception of what a black belt represents and what it means to wear one. TV, Movies, UFC, etc, they all distort the true meaning. There seems to be this social pressure that if you have a black belt you must be a hardcore who can kick anyone’s ass. Some people see it as a threat and it can lead to conflict. I guess this is part of the responsibilities of having a black belt, having to properly deal with this.
Another major responsibility inside and outside of the dojo is leading by example. Having attained the level of black belt, you naturally have others that look to you for example and direction; especially children. You have to set a good example and carry on the tradition. My brother is 10 years younger then me and even though I see him as much older then his age, he is really only 13. As his bigger brother it is my job to set an example for him. The fact that a human being I love follows and learns by my actions is a big burden, but one that I gladly carry and cherish.
Having trained at Champions, I now represent Champions, especially after I get my black belt. If I abuse the knowledge and skill that has been passed down to me, I put a black mark on Champions Academy. Champions has put a level of trust in me and they will not regret it. As I have done before, students come and they will go. But what I have learned from my instructors and champions academy, I will never forget. Champions has benefited my entire life and has forged who I am. Every decision I make has been influenced by my study and training. I am forever grateful for this and will carry on the tradition.
The entire point of this essay was to show you the importance of being a black belt and to prove that I can handle the responsibility of what being a black belt means. I understand without a doubt the importance of a black belt and the responsibilities that come with being a black belt. I also understand that the essence of a black belt does not come off when I take the black belt off or even if I don’t get a black belt. It is deeper then that, embedded into the fibre of my entire life, forever.
Ramin's Black Belt Testing Essay What it means to be a Black Belt
The meaning and importance of being a black belt in martial arts has been a subject I’ve contemplated constantly throughout my journey, and the answer to that question has been and remains an evolutionary one. At the age of 11, my brother first introduced me to martial arts at Champions Academy and at that time my motivation mostly came from Ninja Turtles and Bruce Lee movies. I simply wanted to learn how to kick butt and look cool doing it. Little did I know the venture I was taking on would become such a defining aspect of my life and identity. My martial arts training has been one of the main factors in my growth as an individual; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. A black belt is a physical representation of the pursuit of greatness, in both martial arts and life in general. Obtaining a black belt, through the pursuit of greatness, comes with equally great responsibility.
My personal motivation in martial arts started off as extrinsic, coming from an external source, seeking the reward of the next belt or stripe. I constantly compared my progress to other students or instructors. This led me all the way to becoming a low-black belt with 3 stripes. I was literally one measurable step away from black belt… and I quit. I became de-motivated and discouraged, asking myself why it was taking so long, and questioning my technique. “Was it my kicks?” “Was I not fast enough?” I didn’t know, all I knew was it just didn’t feel right. This to me was a clear indication that I was not ready to accept or understand the non-physical aspects of being a black belt. I took over two years off to define other areas of my life; social, educational, personal, my business, etc. I had always felt as though there was a missing element in my life that could not be replaced. That element was the pursuit of excellence in martial arts. I was not a black belt; I was a “low-black belt”. I never considered any other aspects of my life and being to be prefixed with “low”. I knew I would never accept being a “low-father, friend, brother, husband, business-man, etc.”… So why on earth would I be content with being “almost” a black belt. That to me says “I’m almost ready”… or that I almost finish what I start.
The burning aspiration to master this piece of my life could not be ignored any further. After witnessing my great friend and business partner Casimir get his black belt, I knew I needed to go back and continue to pursue martial arts. This time my motivation was purely intrinsic; feeding off the satisfaction and pleasure from the art itself, and the mindful experience it provides me. When I work on my technique, recite the creed or even stretch I remind myself why I’m there and I focus on immersing myself in the experience of that moment. This allows me to become fully entrenched in what I’m doing and is not only more satisfying it yields far better results.
As an impressionable child I was making choices I wasn’t even aware of. Choices that would help define the very person I am today. I remember being a little white belt in the old Champions standing in line next to my brother and seeing Master Farid bring out a ruler… that day he taught us all a lesson I will never forget. No, he didn’t beat us with it, he put it on the ground… and kneeled down at one end of it, he then told us “Imagine this long ruler represents your life, at this end (points to the side closest to himself) is this very point in time… now, imagine every decision you make today moves this ruler slightly, changing its direction.” He rotated the ruler slightly, and then pointed at the other end. “Did you see what happened when I moved this side only a little?” This simple demonstration really stuck with me as a child. For years, any time I was facing a potentially large decision I would stop myself and think about how magnified the resulting angle on the other end of the ruler changed depending on my actions in the present moment. It was experiences like these that sculpted my childhood; my first demo-team show, board break, testing, tournament… all these events were opportunities where I learned and further refined myself as a martial artist and as a person. At the time I thought I was working on my technique, but it was teaching me the importance of mastery and all the benefits that come with the pursuit of mastery.
The pursuit of mastery in martial arts is represented by a black belt that one wears around their waist. It is a physical symbol of that pursuit. It does not fully define the individual wearing it, but it does characterize that the individual is committed, with purpose, to mastering the martial art they are in. I will never be fully satisfied with the level that I am at, in any aspect of my life. It has taken me almost 15 years to realize this, and has become the cornerstone of my mentality on any subject I am truly interested and committed to. The joy I receive from this pursuit is my fuel, and the closer I get to mastering martial arts, the more I realize there is to discover. This is a winning, self-perpetuating, combination that will lead me through black belt and beyond. Improvement of the mind, body and spirit are simply the direct results of the effort put into the pursuit.
The knowledge I’ve gained throughout my journey can be shared, my technique can be demonstrated and taught to likeminded individuals, but anyone who holds such ability and knowledge must understand the degree of their responsibility and not be careless. There is a relative relationship between ability and responsibility, and this must be fully understood by any black belt. It has to be the underlying factor in any decision you make, whether in self defense or in other areas of life. A black belt must also be pursuing mastery in self control, courtesy, integrity and respect… a master of diffusion, illusion, and compassion. Love for one’s self and for others must be a default position the starts from in any decision making process… this is especially true when that decision can potentially change another person’s life or your own.
A black belt’s dark color represents, to me, the combined mixture of all other belts from the previous milestones along the way. Black is a color that does not emit or reflect light in any part of the visible spectrum; it therefore represents a blank canvas. A higher level of learning and growth is then applied on top. The base layer represents ones readiness to learn, at that higher state, comparable to a white belt starting their new path.
This journey has given me some of the greatest experiences of my life; it has given me purpose and fulfillment… it has led me to this very moment and because of that I believe I am ready to accept the black belt in martial arts from Champions Martial Arts Academy.
Thanks for reading, and have an awesome weekend!