developing myself in
a positive manner. And
avoiding anything that would
reduce my mental growth or
developing self-discipline in order
to bring out the best in
myself and others.
using what I learn in class
constructively and defensively.
To help myself and others.
To never be abusive or offensive.
We are a Blackbelt School.
We are motivated.
We are dedicated.
We’re on a quest. To be the best.
This is the student creed of Westwind Kenpo Karate school, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I first started, sometime back in 1996 or 1997, to get the first stripes on my white belt, I had to recite this creed from memory.
It took me nine years to get my blackbelt—a fraction less than the average at the time—and every subsequent belt I was required to build and expand upon this creed in some way, shape, or form. The higher belts, particularly, demanded advanced mental and emotional study, martial art creation, and community service, on top of displaying the core elements of this creed.
There have been men and women who advanced just to the point below blackbelt, and as they were preparing for that blackbelt, they allowed adverse elements (mostly pride) to undermine all their years of work as they walked out on what could have been a top tier moment in their life.
To put it simply, we don’t recite our creed for kicks and giggles or positive attention on social media, or to appear different than how we actually perform in the dojo. Instead, we are taught to self-define these words, and then to share in other’s discovery and grow together.
A Westwind Student demonstrates more than just physical ability. And a Westwind Blackbelt isn’t given or received: it is something you earn, and someone you become. A Westwind Blackbelt is someone you choose to be over, years of sacrifice, and application.
Getting my blackbelt is in the top three slots for the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the really satisfying part comes in the time I’ve spent studying after earning that rank. My first nine years were incredible, but the eleven years since (a medium-sized break included, but I was still practicing) have added immense color, contrast, depth, enjoyment, understanding, and personal growth to it.
I am not a student of other martial art styles, though I am briefly familiar with a few. What I can say in confidence is that every studio is run uniquely. Every style has its own rank and advancement system. And every instructor has their own vision for excellence.
I carry strong opinions for how most karate classes these days seem to demonstrate quantity or quality, but I am not in a position to judge, nor do I wish to. Knowing how hard it was for me to attain my blackbelt, and every rank since, I have a deep respect for anyone with the commitment and integrity to achieve that level, no matter the school.
I don’t know what it took for them to earn it, but I can relate, sympathize, and empathize with their journey.
This is one aspect of Westwind’s Creed that I work hard to maintain in myself: recognizing that someone else’s path to excellence demanded what is required from that specific person. And demanded in full. No half measures.
For me, I needed to overcome myself may times. Right at white belt, I had to learn humility. When I started becoming somewhat competent around blue, I needed to learn humility again. Once I reached brown belt, I needed to demonstrate confidence and respect in my abilities, and show some love to, and appreciate myself. When I was red and red-black (these are belts Westwind has placed between the brown and black belts), I learned to allow the moves and discipline to act instead of thinking about making them act.
And finally, for the black belt, I had to accept critique, refocus what I’d misaligned, and stand by who I was up to that point. I also had to prove that the creed was more than words or a requirement. By this time, either the essence of the creed would be seen in my character and actions, or it would not. My masters are too sound to have someone pull the wool over their eyes.
As you read through the creed, your eyes may be pulled to and stuck on that last word, “Ahsai.” For us, this is a power word. It epitomizes energy, enthusiasm, sacrifice, history, exhaustion, effort, camaraderie, respect, and discipline.
Before we begin the creed, we demonstrate basic poses and stances for our style, almost like a ceremony. Once the first stages of the ceremony are complete, the whole class in unison recites the creed, word for word, with an indomitable spirit. When we reach “Ahsai,” everyone shoots their right arm into the sky, punching up and away as we shout together. Then we come back to our pose and finish the ceremony with a few more stances, followed by a courtesy bow for respect.
Respect for our school. Respect for our instructors. Respect for our peers. Respect for our discipline. Respect for ourselves.
Guys, I have so much to share because of this creed. I hope as I do so, I don’t get too jumpy or divergent, and I can keep each individual blog concise and contained to the “topic at hand.”
I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try.
For now, I challenge you to review this creed and carry out your own self-evaluation. I don’t say this lightly or condescendingly, but saying these words outlaid and with confidence is not easy for most people. The first time I did, I felt incredibly foolish, and I wondered what others would think.
But as I became familiar with the words, and I learned and grew with those who were experiencing it at the same level I was, I began to understand that these words empowered me.
Even if someone were to care enough to call me out for it, what are they going to say? “Hey, you friggin’ idiot! What are you chanting? Some bull**** about helping people and being a good person? You’re worthless and are going nowhere!”
Well played, figurative bully person. Well played.
If you are looking for the opportunity to take martial art classes, here are my points to pay attention to.
First, make sure you can audit a class or two for free, and be able to participate in at least one class. Nothing beats first-hand experience.
And as a side note here: if you took the class and decided you’re going to quit forever because you think you failed and looked foolish, do yourself a favor and don’t beat yourself up for having no experience in something you knew you had no experience in. Remove yourself from that equation, and please think objectively.
Second, spend time talking with and pay attention to the teaching style of the instructor(s). Trust me on this, just because someone is a high-level belt or accomplished martial artist, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good teacher. When you audit the class, pay attention to how they talk to and engage with their students. The student age shouldn’t matter here.
Another side note: being critical or picky does not make an instructor bad. I’d say that means the proper acquisition of the content is top on their priority list. No, what I’m talking about is if they empower and endow their students through their teaching or not.
One of my favorite instructors, and a personal, dear friend, comes off as gruff and insensitive when he teaches because of his style. But a little review shows that his students come away with their heads held higher, because he truly loves and cares for them, and won’t accept anything less than the best.
Personally, I look for an instructor that won’t let me slack or get away with things. That means he/she has to push some buttons. If your instructor lets you walk all over them, then I think you should just walk on out because you’re going nowhere.
Third, be ready to commit to excellence. However far you choose to go is your prerogative. But if I may say, any system that has you going from white to black in six months to a year might not provide you a lasting effect. A martial art can be a hobby, or it can be a life-long pursuit. Either way, I’d hope that whatever you choose to invest in, you will provide it the opportunity to change you and expand your life.
My style has the creed, which I’ve shared, six principles, which are forthcoming, but then we have consistent application and demonstration of self-analysis, self-discipline, and integrity. In my opinion, those are hard principles to practice and attain after anything less than a year.
As I said, it took me nine years to earn my first black belt, and every degree since then has taken at least two. For me, it’s gotten to the point where I require no less than that because I look forward to the time in between.
So, there you have it. An intro to one of my favorite areas, and some tips if you’re looking for one yourself.
Look for ways to improve and be a better you. You don’t always know what that looks like, so be prepared for anything. Follow your heart, follow your reason, and follow the evidence. You’ll know if what you’re doing is worthwhile or not.
Have a great day, everyone.