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.