“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
– Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Learning martial arts can be very challenging. It is a lifelong process that encompasses not only internalizing an abundance of fighting techniques, but also learning proper body alignment, breathing, and movement. It is both a physical and mental process. Diligent practice builds the physical strength, endurance, and flexibility necessary to become a black belt. Physical training is arduous yet certainly doable when you dedicate yourself to it. For many practitioners, mental conditioning is an even more challenging endeavor. Tough as mental conditioning may be, however, almost anyone is capable of achieving it if he or she approaches training from the right perspective.

Most people never know the limits of what they can do until or unless they are faced with a seemingly impossible challenge and decide to step up and meet it. Even significant challenges, like earning a black belt, are relatively mild when put in the proper perspective. Which is harder, learning to punch, kick, throw, and grapple effectively or learning to adjust to life as a paraplegic or quadriplegic after a sudden catastrophic accident? Clearly, the latter, yet many individuals in that condition lead long, productive lives. It is all a matter of attitude. Strong, positive thoughts facilitate your ability to overcome most any obstacle while negativity and doubt can impede your progress. Here are a few famous examples:

  • Due to a rare birth defect, Kyle Maynard was born a congenital amputee, missing his limbs below the elbows and knees. Despite having neither hands nor feet, he refused to let his condition interfere with his goals in life. He learned how to eat, write, and even type (50 words per minute) all without relying on the hands he did not have. By the age of nineteen he played middle school football as a defensive lineman, become a state high school wrestling champion, and established a new world weightlifting record. Mr. Maynard exemplifies the indomitable spirit of someone who refuses to be limited by his disabilities.
  • Cycling legend Lance Armstrong discovered he had advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain in 1996. Like many cancer survivors, he refused to let his struggles through surgery, chemotherapy, and rehabilitation place limits on his competitive spirit. Unlike anyone else in the world, however, he not only came back to win the Tour de France in 1999, but eventually won that illustrious bicycle race a historic seven times. The field of racers he competed against included world-class athletes who pedaled far enough in training each year to encircle the globe. The daily metabolic rate of a Tour de France cyclist exceeds that of most Mount Everest climbers, closely matching the highest rates found in any other animal species, yet he demonstrated the mental discipline and physical prowess necessary to outdistance all competitors and win.
  • Passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93 found themselves in an unexpected and horrific challenge when terrorists hijacked the airplane, stormed the cockpit, and began killing people. Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Sandra Bradshaw, Tom Burnett, Andrew Garcia, Jeremy Glick, Richard Guadagno, Cee Cee Lyles, along with other passengers and crew, armed themselves with a variety of makeshift weapons and stormed the flight deck. While they managed to overcome many of the terrorists, they were tragically unable to regain control of the aircraft before it crashed. Regardless, their heroics thwarted the terrorists’ aims, saved countless lives on the ground, and proved that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary valor even in the face of certain death.
  • Susan Butcher was one of Alaska’s most famous athletes. Competing in a traditionally male-dominated sport, she won the world’s longest sled dog race, the Iditarod, a historic four times. Braving grueling conditions such as subzero temperatures, blinding snowstorms, treacherous ice, dangerous wildlife, and sleep deprivation to mush 1,152 miles from Anchorage to Nome Alaska, she made this trek 17 times during her racing career. In 1985 she was forced to defend herself and her dog team from an attacking bull moose, an approximately 1,200 pound beast, using only her ice ax and parka. The crazed moose stomped two of her dogs to death and injured 13 more before another musher came along and shot it. Butcher, who withdrew after the loss of her dog team, was leading the race at the time. Had that incident not occurred she very well may have won five Iditarod races over her illustrious career, tying an all-time record. While she ultimately lost her struggle with leukemia in 2006, she demonstrated the same bravery and grit in battling her illness as she did when struggling against both nature and the other dog teams during the Iditarod races.
  • During a routine hike in 2003, Aaron Ralston suddenly found himself in dire straights when an 800-pound boulder shifted unexpectedly and pinned his wrist to a canyon wall in a remote area of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. After six days of captivity, he realized that desperate measures were needed for survival. Using a cheap, dull pocketknife, he managed to amputate his own arm, rappel one-handed down a hill, and then hike six miles through the wilderness before someone found and rescued him. This extraordinary tale of survival shows what a sufficiently motivated person is capable of doing.

Set Goals to Earn a Black Belt

Earning a black belt pales in comparison to these aforementioned challenges. It is by no means an easy task, however. To succeed you need a positive attitude, one in which you can visualize success. You need to clearly articulate why you are embarking on your martial journey, set specific long- and short-term goals forgetting there, and follow through to ensure progress. It also helps (a lot) to hang around supportive people who can help energize you along the way.

It is a good idea to begin by making a list of the significant achievements you have already made, athletic or academic endeavors, personal or professional accomplishments, anything that helps you see that you can set and attain goals. It is easier to visualize yourself succeeding in martial arts when you know that you have excelled and/or persevered in other areas of your life as well. Knowing that you have met and overcome other challenges makes martial arts seem a bit less intimidating.

It is also important to realize that while earning a black belt is a truly monumental milestone along the martial path, it is but one of many stopping points. Until you quit, the learning never ends. First things first, however. To begin your journey you must articulate why you want to start and where you want to go. Once you know that, you will already be one step closer to achieving your goal.