John Danaher: “No One Cares If You Got A Black Belt”

John Danaher: “No One Cares If You Got A Black Belt”

What does it take to earn a black belt Brazilian in Jiu-Jitsu? Well, it takes a lot of effort, focus, and a lot of overcoming of failure… But, the truth is, that you’ll probably get your black belt sooner or later – if you just keep training. So, if you look at it from that perspective, getting a black belt isn’t that important at all.
What is important, however, are your skills. How good you actually are in BJJ, not the color of the belt around your waist. For, the end goal should be to become a really good BJJ athlete, right? Not a black belt who doesn’t have much to show for.

The True Essence of the Black Belt

While achieving a black belt is a significant milestone, it’s critical to shift the focus from the belt itself to what it represents: a high level of skill and understanding of BJJ. The color of the belt is not an end goal but a byproduct of the journey of continuous learning and improvement.

What It Takes to Earn a Black Belt

  1. Consistent Training: Regular, dedicated practice is fundamental. This doesn’t just mean showing up but actively engaging in learning, drilling, sparring, and reflecting on your practice sessions.
  2. Technical Proficiency: A black belt is expected to have a thorough understanding of a wide range of techniques and the ability to execute them effectively against resisting opponents of various skill levels.
  3. Tactical Knowledge: Beyond individual moves, a black belt should have a strategic understanding of how to control a match, including pacing, energy management, and reading opponents.
  4. Overcoming Challenges: The path to a black belt is filled with obstacles, from plateaus in learning to physical injuries and psychological barriers like doubt and frustration. Overcoming these challenges is part of what tests and ultimately shapes a true black belt.
  5. Teaching and Leadership: Often, black belts are also leaders in their training communities, capable of teaching and guiding less experienced practitioners. This aspect of a black belt’s journey is crucial as it reinforces their own knowledge and commitment to the sport.

John Danaher further built up on this view in a Lex Fridman podcast episode, emphasizing that your goals should be much higher than becoming a black belt:

[To earn a black belt it takes] very little. Just show up, pay your fees. Don’t set your goals low, okay? No one cares if you got a black belt.

The only thing that counts is the skills you have. I know plenty of black belts that suck. There’s a lot of them out there. Don’t lower your standards by saying: “I want to get a black belt.”
Ask yourself something much more important: “How good do I want to be?” [And the answer is] you want to be damn good, right? You want to be the best that you can… Wearing a belt around your waist doesn’t guarantee that. Build skills, focus on that.


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