What’s in a belt?

Belts and colors

It’s pretty much a given that for certain among you, the concept of a Green Belt was something new. And if it did seem strange in some way, you won’t be surprised to know that I have received many ‘questions’ about this notion of belts in relation to aikido. Here would be a typical exchange:

“Green belt in aikido? Nonsense – we don’t use colored belts in aikido!”
[…] I’ve also heard that – it’s an interesting concept.”
“It’s true!”
“[…] I can see that you believe it.”
[***] Well why on earth do you talk about a green belt then?”
“[…] Would you really like to know?”
“[***] Go on then…”
“[…] “Well, among other things, it gives me many opportunities to understand people’s varying points of view about the concept of belts… Why don’t you tell me more about what your belt means for you?”
[- – -] “Hmm, let me think…”

You may well be smiling if you recognize this technique as the Meaning Prod, but truly this question – “What does your belt mean for you?” – is an extremely beneficial starting point when discussing any such abstract or symbolic concept as belts, degrees, titles, and so on. When you listen to how each individual expresses the meaning they put behind these ideas, you’ll find such a wide variety of answers that may make you wonder if they’re even talking about the same things at all!

You might even go so far as to start seeing the merits of doing away with the use of belts entirely.  One could even ask: why differentiate between green and orange, or even white and black? No matter what your answer to this question is, it’s rooted (deeply or not) in your belief system. However common or rare you think your answer is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in understanding what your belt actually means to you.

If you currently have a belt in any discipline, take a second to ask yourself if:

  • it implies that you’re better or worse than someone who has a different color belt than you,
  • it means you’ve got the same capacities as someone with the same color belt,
  • it gives you a sense of pride, doubt, or is linked to your self-esteem in any way.

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above statements, then I’m delighted to share with you the contrasting philosophy behind the concept of belts in Verbal Aikido. You may already know that the non-competitive philosophy of aikido greatly emphasizes self-victory rather than comparison with external references. Consequently, the significance of the belts can only concern the path that each individual has chosen to take. In the approach envisaged in Verbal it is seen as follows:

  • The path towards Green Belt: the intention to discover and use effectively the basic steps in the art.
  • The path towards Blue Belt:  the intention to include emotional recognition in the practice of the basic steps.
  • The path towards Orange Belt: the intention to develop and deepen an understanding of the dynamics in verbal conflict and reconciliation, both internal and external, and to appropriate the art (i.e. make it one’s own).
  • The path towards Red Belt: the intention to overcome one’s “dragon” and deepen one’s practice in situations with strong sentimental attachment.
  • The path towards White Belt: the intention to increase facilitation, guidance and accompaniment skills, by transmitting to and learning from learners.

Even though most learners prefer an external validation at some stage (i.e. a more experienced person who can corroborate their capacities), one can indeed be a self-proclaimed green, blue, orange, red or white belt if it seems appropriate! Why not? After all, your belt has the significance that you give to it, and your understanding of each aspect will be evolving constantly throughout the learning experiences that your life presents to you.

That said, in order to facilitate the path of those learners who see the benefit in external validation, the following conditions have been outlined relative to the attainment of these belts:

Verbal Aikido Levels & Belts 2016

I remember being told that as soon as you’ve had one class of aikido, you should start to teach someone else what you’ve learned. Indeed this is also true of Verbal Aikido, and the very act of sharing any newly acquired knowledge has the benefit of reinforcing your own understanding of what you have learned, or at the very least, helping you see what is missing from your understanding. The specificity of following a path to White Belt is that there is a clear intention to accompany an individual, or group of individuals long-term to their goals.

It may even be helpful to consider that if you intend to:

  • use the basic steps effectively,
  • deepen your internal and external understanding of the dynamics,
  • continue to share, accompany and learn through the people you have the privilege of encountering in your life,

… you might just be on all five paths simultaneously, or a motorway, if you prefer. So whatever your path, however wide or winding it may be, it’s now time to tighten that knot and get practicing!

More resources:
◀ Verbal immunity check up | InPOD ▶

Delve deeper into Verbal Aikido:
Literature | Training

What’s in a belt?