White Belt Month and White Belt Challenges

January is always white belt month at World Martial Arts Center, when we return to the basics. We wear our white uniforms and focus on the martial arts fundamentals for an entire month. It’s always my favorite training month of the year.

Each year’s white belt month seems to have its own unique theme. This year we delved deeply into a seemingly simple hand technique to discover its complexity and subtlety, and we took a high-energy form and learned how to break it down into its simple components.

But in addition to the month-long themes within white belt month, what I look forward to most is my personal white belt challenge. I learned this approach a few years ago from one of the WMAC senior instructors. Each day during January I would see him practicing rolls and falls on the mat. I thought his mat work was already pretty amazing, and one day I asked him about what he was practicing. He told me that every January he chose one things that he wanted to improve in his own personal practice, and that year it was mat work on his left side; he’s right-handed, and like most of us can perform rolls much more easily on one side than the other.

From this I began to think about my own white belt challenges, and I keep a list of things I want to focus on during January. This year, I decided that my personal challenge would be to take at least one thing I learned in each class and write it down in a notebook after class. I figured that if I walked off the mat after an hour-long class and couldn’t recall at least one important correction, insight, or new material, I should be paying closer attention.

How did I do this year in my personal white belt challenge? Not perfectly, but pretty well nonetheless; reviewing my notebook, there are entries for almost every class I took. And while even I have trouble reading my own handwriting, the act of stopping to contemplate and record one takeaway from each class has been a valuable exercise and one that I plan to bring into the other 11 months of the year.

What would you chose for your own white belt challenge? You don’t even need to wait until next January to start.