College Degrees & Black Belts

Having come from an educated family and practiced traditional martial arts from a young age, the need to get good grades and train regularly in order to attain the next belt or sash (kung fu) was the norm for me. However, I just didn’t seem to fit the mold. When I was in school, my grades were a direct reflection on how the subject matter fit into my future goals. Thus, I aced some tests and failed others.

Having come from an educated family and practiced traditional martial arts from a young age, the need to get good grades and train regularly in order to attain the next belt or sash (kung fu) was the norm for me. However, I just didn’t seem to fit the mold. When I was in school, my grades were a direct reflection on how the subject matter fit into my future goals. Thus, I aced some tests and failed others.

In the martial arts, as a youth, attaining rank was definitely motivating and something I looked forward. But, that would change after I began fighting professionally.

As a professional mixed martial artist, I began to disregard rank entirely. I was “ in the trenches” so to speak and needed to be effective now; not later. There were no colored belts to be promoted to. There was only the need to learn, continuously improve, and ultimately get results in the ring. Rank went out the window.


After retiring from professional competition, in my early 30s, I decided to go back to college. I chose to go to school online because of the flexibility regarding attendance. Contrary to what most do, my goal was not to get a degree. I simply wanted to learn something new; without the pressure of having to pass a test.

About a year into it; taking classes online, I was on the road; traveling back and forth between Hawaii and Japan. I was unable to log in regularly and complete my class assignments. I had to choose between either doing the minimum and receiving a passing grade, or taking an F and failing the class. I chose the later. Passing the classes without learning the material would have done little for me. Instead, I took an F. I then, retook the class at a later date. I got an A in the class and learned a great deal in the process.

When it comes to jiu-jitsu, it’s catch 22. From a learning perspective, I understand why many feel that they need a measuring stick to judge their progress. Furthermore, without a certain rank, some of the heavily regulated events will not allow experienced competitors to enter a competition that would put them against black belts or other high level practitioners. The sad part is, the basis on which these decisions are made are often driven by ego and more importantly fear.

At the end of the day, in my opinion, education and jiu-jitsu are both learned best without the need for tests or rank. You either apply yourself and do your best, or you don’t. In competition, as we say in Japan: 結果がすべて。(Results are everything.) Meaning, in life, how one applies the skills they’ve learned, is all that matters. I for one, am able to do much better without all of the outside judgement along the way.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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