The Ultimate Black Belt Test is a Very Difficult Work of Brilliance
Being the creator / founder of The Ultimate Black Belt Test makes me, you know...opinionated about just how smart, if not brilliant, the program is.
The UBBT is a goal setting program for advanced martial artists --where the participant gets to decide, for the most part, what his or her test is going to be made up of. I think that's surprisingly difficult for most people, but personally I also consider it brilliant.
On a side-note, here's a recent journal entry from Paul Castagno, a member of the UBBT 2018.
This is, overall, a very foreign concept to most martial artists --as most of us have spent a good deal of our lives following the guidelines of our own instructors. They told us what we were to do, which foot to move, what we had to accomplish, and if we were to be awarded our rank, be it planned or by surprise, it was our teacher(s) who made the ultimate decisions about curriculum.
But in the Ultimate Black Belt Test, it is the participant that gets to play with and tweak what they're going to do for the year-long training program. Yes, I set some basic guidelines, like being in great shape, journaling once-a -week, and so on, but for the bulk of the test, it's the tester who dictates what the training is going to be about.
Another blog entry by first time UBBT member Mathew McBride (who started training with me when he was about 5 years old).
Through my INFLUENCE with those testing, I seek to encourage members to embrace non-traditional testing goals. Instead of test stunts like breaking boards, bricks, or ice, instead of marathon sparring sessions, 10 mile runs, and embracing tests that are just this far from a hazing, I guide members to think about things like community engagement, peace education, developing substantive education-based programs around issues of health and wellness, avoiding diseases, environmental self-defense, dietary self-defense, kindness, compassion, empathy, bully prevention, and/or ANY SUBJECT that the tester feels impassioned about.
We already have a martial arts world fat-full of tough men and women, full of people who know all the techniques and forms, and tournament champions --what we don't have much of is educational tools designed by experienced black belts who see the big-picture of self-defense. If one of my colleagues, generally, spends time fleshing out some sort of innovative or substantive curriculum, then the rush is on to sell it, to monetize it --and again, in general, the programs are often poorly thought out and executed.
I see the work of advanced, life-long martial arts teachers, as something more than just the technical aspects of the arts. I'm looking to cultivate THINKERS, change-makers, creators, and people who go above and beyond the work of kicking, punching, and choking --and/or teaching others how to do the same. I'm not encouraging Ultimate Black Belt Test members to make products for sale --no, I'm interested in what happens to people who practice the art of doing what others haven't yet done. There's a benefit to participants who embrace the perplexing, who look at their work from very different perspectives.
The Ultimate Black Belt Test is VERY difficult to participate in, as the expectations I put upon members are high. The work is brilliant because it lets martial arts teachers create experiences that mean something TO THEM. It invites instructors to join a like-minded peer group that encourages aspects of teaching mastery that very few, if any, organization embrace or promote.
The UBBT isn't about the martial arts as much as it is about being a great, creative, innovative, and compelling teacher, a role model, for others --while using the journey to "sharpen your own saw."