Mastery and the White Belt Mindset
Posted February 24, 2022 by Matthew Romans
I am skeptical of anyone that refers to themselves as an expert, regardless of what field they are in. In my opinion, if someone considers themselves an expert they are sending a message that they know all there is to know about a certain subject; they have reached their capacity to gain any further insight and are content where they are. This is faulty thinking and smacks of arrogance. I believe that the only subject in which one can truly consider themselves an expert is knowledge of self, and even that should be an ongoing process. While no one truly knows you better than you know yourself, it is my belief that self-analysis and discovery should be a lifelong process, and it is a sign of personal growth.
The same can be said about the concept of mastery. Mastery of anything, whether it's a musical instrument or complex mathematics, is something that requires patience, practice, desire, and humility. It means never being content with one's knowledge; in order to succeed one must strive to learn more and to get better. Patience is required because the true nature of learning entails making mistakes. Practice is necessary to hone one's skills and improve technique. An individual must have the drive and the burning desire to improve in order to achieve mastery. This is what makes the time and effort worth it. Finally, a humble attitude helps to remind you that no matter how much you think you know, there is always someone out there that knows more. Knowledge can come from a variety of sources, and experience is the best teacher. He who knows will always work for he who knows why.
In martial arts, there is what is known as the "White Belt Mindset." A white belt is given to beginner students of the discipline, and it signifies that they are the least knowledgeable practitioners of the art in the dojo. As students progress they earn belts of different colors to indicate their change in skill level, and in most disciplines a black belt is considered the highest honor, although there are different degrees of black belt. Many martial arts instructors espouse (and they themselves practice) the "White Belt Mindset," which means that no matter what proficiency level they achieve, they still continue to learn and grow, both mentally and physically. They are not content with their current level of knowledge and skill, and have the beginner's mentality that dictates there is still much more to learn. Practitioners of the "White Belt Mindset" know that learning is a lifelong journey, and they believe that this is an important lesson to demonstrate to people of all experience levels.
Over 90 percent of Total Results clients have never used our exercise methodology before they walk into our studio. They are truly beginners, and we metaphorically give them a "white belt" when they go through an initial consultation and a sample workout. In many cases, working with someone who has never exercised before is easier than trying to teach someone who has a preconceived notion of what they think exercise is. A new client is often a blank canvas and is someone more receptive to teaching, as opposed to someone who needs to unlearn bad habits. We start new clients with a basic, generic routine which consists of compound exercises that are the easiest to learn. This enables the client to develop a proper feel for speed of movement, turnarounds, pace and correct breathing, while it helps the instructor to effectively gauge strength and skill levels, get proper machine settings, and help the client to gradually reach a more meaningful level of resistance and effort. This process also helps the instructor to troubleshoot or make adjustments or substitute exercises in the case of joint problems. In many cases, the concept of Occam's Razor applies; the simplest solution/explanation is often the correct one. Once the client reaches an appropriate level of proficiency, we will often introduce some new exercises that are commensurate with their ability to process and execute instructions that they are given. Many twice-per-week clients will perform two completely separate exercise routines each week, an A routine and a B routine. No matter how advanced a client becomes or how intensely they exercise, we always return to fundamentals: proper breathing, trunk and neck stabilization, and smoothness of movement. There are several Total Results clients that have been with us for over fifteen years, and they continue to make progress toward their goals while still being extremely receptive to instructions. These long-tenured clients are excellent examples of the "White Belt Mindset."
I have worked as an exercise instructor for over twenty years, and I could (and likely will) spend a lifetime attempting to master the nuances of my art and never feel satisfied with my level of knowledge. I see mastery as most people visualize the concept of perfection; it is something to constantly shoot for but is always just outside of my grasp. This is what gets me up in the morning at a ridiculously early hour. It is the pursuit of mastery that matters, not the achievement of it. I constantly review my performance, critique myself, question what I know, and look to see if there is truly a better way. In the end, I find myself going back to fundamentals of instruction such as where I stand during a session, voice volume and inflection, word/phrase choices, and being able to see the complete picture. It never hurts to have a refresher now and again, and periodic reflection is a healthy habit.
Think of this as a journey rather than a destination. People are individuals, and everyone has different goals they want to accomplish. When one goal has been reached, set another goal. Even though exercise is a means to an end for many of you, striving for mastery and maintaining a "White Belt Mindset" will keep you mentally and physically sharp and help you to achieve excellence along the way.