Getting Your Black Belt

Drill Bits

By Erik Paulson

(From Gladiator magazine, November 1, 2006)

I would be the first to say that there is not necessarily a connection between having a black belt and being a good MMA fighter; there can be, but there isn’t always. There are many fighting styles and some of them are more geared towards self-defense, weapons, multiple attackers, pure sport, or simply fitness and exercise. So to have your black belt, black sash, or instructor’s certificate in a style such as karate, kung-fu, silat, escrima, tae kwon do, judo, or a similar martial art that isn’t geared toward one-on-one combat in a cage can certainly be admirable and is a worthy achievement, but that by itself isn’t going to make you successful in the cage. The type of black belt you have is more a measure of potential MMA success than just having “any” black belt.

If you take, for example, an average black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, and pair them up with a gi, there is a substantial difference in their skill levels. Now if you take a purple belt and a black belt and take the gi off, the levels become much closer. Now add striking, clinch work, and takedowns to the repertoire of that purple belt, and put him against that same pure jiu-jitsu black belt without a gi, then that would be a very exciting and well-matched fight.

So my point is that when you get your first black belt in any style that should just be the beginning of your training and not the end. It is definitely not time for you to quit learning from your teacher, open your own school, and stop training. I see a lot of people do that, and they lose sight of why they really started martial arts in the first place.

I’ve been training since 1974, long before some of you guys were a twinkle in your dad’s eye “know what I’m sayin’”? My first black was in judo and then tae kwon do and I really liked both sports. But I didn’t stop training and open Paulson’s Fu-Lin-Yu Academy of Throwing, Kicking and Screaming. I kept on learning and training and growing. I have had over 40 instructors, mentors, coaches, and trainers over the years whom I have trained with and who have greatly influenced my combat methodology.

Due to this desire to learn, I have ended up with black belt or instructor rankings in judo, tae kwon do, Jun Fan Gung Fu, Kali/ Silat, and Shooto. I’ve taken something valuable away from each martial art. Learning is learning, no matter what level of success or failure. Knowledge is potential power. That is why it is so gratifying when high-level professional fighters such as Ken Shamrock, Josh Barnett, Guy Metzger, Vernon White, Sean Sherk, and Vladimir Matyushenko have asked me to help train them for their fights.

Even with all of that experience, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu first came to the U.S. with the Gracies and the Machados in the 80’s, I recognized the value of that training and started learning the jiu-jitsu way. Basically, I got bitten by the grappling bug! Just this past month I was awarded my black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu by the great Rigan Machado. Rigan Machado and Royce and Rorian Gracie were actually my first teachers and I trained in their Redondo Beach garage, before there was any “real” academy in the U.S. and having a blue belt then was like having a black belt today.

The black belt was not my goal unto itself, and I was actually somewhat surprised when Rigan awarded it to me. What is significant about the black belt to me is that it reflects a continuing search for knowledge and self-improvement, which will not end now that I have it, but rather accelerate it. Using this knowledge along with everything else I have learned will enable me to help my fighters and students in my gym and all over the world to achieve world-class skills and the positive mindset and respect to back it up.

9 thoughts on “Getting Your Black Belt”

  1. hi eric hope all is well.what you say in the artical makes total sence.two many people are looking two get a black belt in 2 to 3 years then quit due to thinking thats all there is two it.the path is long and hard but well worth the effort.take care

  2. Hi, it’s erik here, your belt is an award to your achievement, dedication and progress in your training. Focus your energy on your daily training activity and look forward to your daily ass kickings, pushing yourself to your fullest thresholds, and passionate path of self-discovery. Remember you are only as good as the room of opponants you deal with daily. Make your life better by being positive and surrounding yourself with those with the same goals. You will not be dissapointed. Ego means ‘edging God out.’ Check it in at the door and roll daily, smile, laugh, cry, and mind your mouth. What comes out of your mouth comes from your heart. Keep your heart pure and focus on your daily betterment. Always strive to do your best, and you cant ask for more! Your belt or certification is, like I said, an achievement award,focus your energy on experience, now one can ever take that away from you. Like attracts like, so focus on ‘ the process of’,not the final product. Be happy.
    Lifes lessons are learned by living…so live!!!

  3. i wish i could train with you erik and become your student, but unfortunately i live in chicago and you live in cali. but one can hope! all i think about is martial arts and i have an eye for quality and in my humble opinion, you are one of, if not the best martial artist out there!!!! and that’s just keepin it real. i hope to train with you one day…until then peace.

  4. Hey Erik the one thing I’ve always dig about your gym was the passion I see in you. Just the way you display your thoughts out on the mat brings chills to my bones. No matter how far, physically, mentally I am away your teachings brings out the MMA inside of me. My day will come soon, until we meet again……much respect Erik!

  5. HI Andy-

    Although i am the coach for many fighters, I still train myself everyday before practice just as hard, if not harder than each of my guys. I lift, run,
    and do all bagwork and core conditioning that all the fighters are supposed to do daily, 4-5 days a week. I took coaching upon myself, to develop a top team, and, not to forget why I did…to have good guys to train with. I must always be BATTLE TESTED and COMBAT READY no matter what! A

  6. Erik,

    Everyone I know has a great deal of respect for you and your training curriculum. I’m just into the jiu-jitsu so I roll down the way at another excellent studio but wanted to let you know that you are very respected out here and we always enjoy viewing your excellent materials. God bless.

  7. Thank You very much for that statement. I fought on the same show with ralph many years ago when cage fighting was still fresh. Ceasar and I trained at same time at Ricksons. Look at his great team now. Ralph has trained some guys who are great today. Ive known Brad Jackson since he was a blue belt under Rorian. Brad has gotten very good and the proof is in the guys that he is creating. I got to train with Bruno and he is very good and a great guy too. Positive attitude is a suretale sign that the arts are going in the right direction. I remember the days when everybody used to bash everyone due to ego and smallmindedness. Today people are more likely to praise others which proves that humanity is truely evolving.
    thanks for the compliment
    ERIK P

  8. The strife to achieve a belt or rank certificate is great, but, the quest for experience and ground game mgmnt is of the utmost importance. Drill compete… condition, drill, roll, is the key to sucess! Rank will come as you are rolling and drilling diligently with total passion, your coach or trainer can tell,see, and notice!

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