A martial artist spends a considerable amount of time at each level of training. We all begin as White Belts, novices, beginners, or newbies. Different disciplines and schools establish different durations for each of these levels, and the better schools provide specific requirements to signify readiness to progress. At our school a beginner can be a white belt for three months before testing for Yellow Belt. For some, these three months can seem like an eternity; for others it is barely enough time to learn the basics of the basics.
In Tang Soo Do, the title for Black Belt is Cho Dan. "Cho Dan Bo" is the rank which occurs just before Black Belt and it is signified by a royal blue belt. It is a time when practitioners demonstrate the depth of their desire to reach a new level. Because the next promotion is so noteworthy, because it has been so long in coming, and because it is so close, students are naturally driven to work harder, concentrate deeper, and practice with more dedication than ever before. Not again until an artist is approaching his or her test for Master will they become so focused on their training.
I loved my days as a Cho Dan Bo as it gave me time to work on my forms, sparring techniques, self defense extractions, and knowledge. I accepted comments from others above and below my rank with ease because I didn't care about anything but improving. I remember at one point hearing so many compliments on my improvement that I readily concluded I must have really sucked before.
It is always interesting to look at student attendance records. Even without the advantage of having a student's name or rank it is not difficult to pick out those that will soon be testing for Black Belt. I've seen attendance jump from two times a week to five or even six sessions a week, and in some cases multiple classes per day in the months leading up to a Black Belt test. Cho Dan candidates want to ensure they are ready.
Imagine if students approached all of their training, from their first days as a White Belt to the end of Cho Dan Bo with the same vigor, intense dedication, and passion as they do in the final months of preparation for their Black Belt test. I sometimes wonder if this level of intensity wasn't expected when the martial arts were practiced hundreds of years ago, or maybe still today in different cultures.
If you are a student of martial arts, and your Black Belt is still a ways away - or if you already have your Black Belt; ask yourself if you are coasting through your training or if you are pushing, reaching, and demanding more of yourself every class. How many times a week do you practice (notice, the question wasn't how many time you attend class)? Is your punch, kick, block, sweep, jump, roll, or grab better today than it was last year? How about your knowledge; have you forgotten earlier forms / hyung / kata?
No matter what your rank, approach your martial arts training as if your Black Belt test is only six months away. Attend extra classes, push yourself, demand improvement, concentrate, sweat, and accept criticism as if you don't have the time or inclination to argue. You may not see the improvement any more than you felt yourself getting taller - but you will improve, and others will see your growth.