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Black Belt Approach

Black Belt Approach

The older of my two sons, Chris, is a karate black belt, Wado Ryu style. He’s not only a black belt, he’s a 3rd dan black belt. He’s also an instructor.

I once asked him the following question: “Out of every 100 students who enrol in karate classes, how many eventually achieve back belt status?” His answer astonished me: “ At least 3 but not more than 5.” From the instructor’s point of view, that’s a failure rate of 95-97%! Are karate instructors really as bad as that? What is going on? You’re not going to  enrols with the ambition of becoming a green or a blue belt are you? You dream of wearing that coveted black belt, of becoming the sort of person other people don’t mess with, a person others don’t pick a fight with. What’s more, people don’t normally enrol for karate classes if they’re seriously disabled. What goes wrong for so many of them?

Chris’s answer surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. “Hardly anyone decides to quit,” he told me. “What happens is that they just drift away. It’s winter and they don’t feel liking turning up for training in a freezing cold gym. It’s summer, far too hot for a training session. There’s a Champions’ League match on tonight. I’ll give training a miss…just this once. They pick up an injury which prevents them training for 3 or 4 weeks. They never intend to drop out. They miss a session or two, or three and they never come back. You can always tell the ones who are going to make it. They’re the ones who never miss. They turn up even if they’re injured and unable to train. They want to be around students whose commitment is as strong as theirs. They might not be the fittest, the strongest students but their commitment will see them all the way to 1st dan and beyond. What’s more, they know when they enrol, that achieving black belt is a 3-6-year process. The instructor’s success rate may appear to be dreadful, but he gets 100% of his students to black belt who are committed to getting there, and he’s committed to that sort of student however long that may take.

I don’t even keep a record of my own success rate. I can’t put a figure on it. I can tell you that it’s dismally low. I’ve lost count of the number of schools where I’ve been asked to give one 15-minute assembly talk, a one lesson workshop or take part in a “mock interview session” with no follow-up in the expectation that such activities, with no measurable outcome, are going to make a difference to the career prospects of their students. I’ve met parents who seriously believe that spending half an hour with a son or daughter is going to transform their career prospects.

I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. I’m good but I’m not that good.  Nothing worthwhile can be delivered microwaved!

Career guidance is best delivered in drip-feed fashion, over a sustained period  and with regular follow-up to ensure that what’s been shared is making sense to the student and that tips they can put into practice are actually working for them. Anything you never attempted before is unlikely to work the first time you try it. That’s why you crashed the first time you got on a bike; and it was no reflection on the competence of the person who was trying to teach you or your own level of motivation. But that’s how you learn anything new. Anything you’re good at today was something you were once very bad at!

So, this week’s tip is simply this: If you want to get good at developing an effective career strategy make sure you do the following:

  1. Commit to a long- term approach.
  2. Find a coach who encourages you and who’s going to stick with you until you make it.