What Kind of Black Belt Do You Want to Be?

Today’s post is authored by guest writer Justin Dohrmann of Impact Martial Arts in Virginia Beach.  His instructor, Guro Ervin Quintin is a good friend and brother, and his influence is evident in Justin’s words.

“What kind of black belt do you want to be?”

This is something that Guro Ervin asks us often, both during class at Impact Martial Arts Academy, and even in one-on-one conversations. I am almost certain this question– or at the very least, the driving philosophy behind it– comes from Guro Dan Inosanto. There’s no real answer. The question is open-ended and more important than the answer. Rather than answer the question outright, consider the possibilities: are you more of a fighter or a technician? Are you highly-skilled in a handful of techniques or broadly familiar with every technique. Even if you have beautiful flawless technique, could you last several rounds of intense sparring?  Are you training to be the next MMA superstar or are you more involved with the “demo-team” aspects of martial arts?

Again, the questions are more important than the answers.

 At 32, when I began training, I had a very solid idea in my head of who I was and what my limits were and the proposition of earning a black belt was such a far-off ridiculous notion that I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Guro Ervin would launch into these pontifications about what kind of black belt I wanted to be. “I’m a 30-something couch potato with a music degree, I am not black belt material,” I’d say to myself, “I’m just doing this for fun. I don’t care about rank.” That way of thinking lasted right up until I was awarded my first rank in Filipino Martial Arts. That yellow belt was a subtle tectonic change to the earth beneath me. Like someone had thrown a pebble in a pond but instead of the ripples gradually losing speed, they pick up speed and intensity with every wavelength. .

 “What kind of black belt do I want to be?”

The other day I was at a family gathering with my daughter and some of my wife’s family we don’t see so much. In the process of placing my daughter over my shoulders and I accidentally knocked my glasses off. One of our cousins asked me if I wanted him to grab them and before he could get out of his seat I had squatted down while holding both my daughter’s feet, picked up and put my glasses back on my face and raised myself back up. Our cousin, who runs a fitness gym in Richmond, VA cheered for me. “Kali is good for the legs!” I said.

Just the other day in class Guro Ervin made a very succinct point about Kali as a mindset. Kali is about confidence. Well, all martial arts is about confidence, but when you walk into some of the situations a blade art presents there’s another level of confidence at play there. Being able to point at a target and say “I am going to hit that target.” That’s what makes martial arts different from cavemen swinging clubs or butchers chunking around meat cleavers. Thats the greatest way in which Kali has changed my life off of the mats. I look at problems the way I look at my training: I find out what my target is and change what needs to be changed if something is preventing me from hitting it.

This is easier on the mats when your opponent is standing right in front of you.

I am currently becoming more and more fixated on my level of fitness and wanting to get it to a level I am more confident with. I have always struggled with my weight and it is a constant sore spot for me. It’s very close to being a frozen lake situation for me, because I have no reasonable judgement for myself on my progress. In my mind I am always too fat no matter how much progress I make. It takes other people to tell me or, like in the anecdote above, cheer me on, to remind me that I have made some serious progress and even then, sometimes I don’t believe them. It’s a hard mental barrier for me to work through. I do things to trick myself. Even though I don’t train Muay Thai, I have started showing up on our Saturday Muay Thai conditioning class to get the extra cardio in. Also, because so many of the other guys are real Thai boxers when we spar a little I get a little extra inoculation in that feeling of being outclassed in a fight. It’s a terrible feeling but a good feeling to work through.

Earlier this year I was tapped by a training partner this last Spring to go with him this next year to compete in a stick boxing tournament. The thought of it exhilarates and terrifies me in the best possible way and I see myself changed by my experiences in training. 3 years ago this would have been a definite “no.” Two years ago, a “maybe” and now, I just have to do it. I have to ask the question to myself in a different context. I’m not worried about losing. I’m not worried about getting hurt. My Kali is what it is. I have really good teachers and training partners and I don’t miss a lot of class. I think my training is pretty good. If I lose because my Kali isn’t as good as the next guy’s then that’s fine with me, I can live with that. If I lose because I am out of shape and can’t move the way I want to for as long as I want to then I will feel like a loser even if I win the gold. I don’t want to lose to myself.

And that’s what kind of black belt I want to be.

Justin Dohrmann


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