This is an email from Programming Is a Nightmare.
Anyone Can Get a Black Belt
I’ve always thought that if you were practicing martial arts, getting a black belt was the pinnacle of your career. As it turned out, I was wrong. And while I was reading about different ranking systems I realized how much we, computer programmers, could learn from traditional martial arts.
The systematic use of belt color to denote the rank was first used by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo, back in the 1880s. At the time, there weren’t any intermediate colors. White, a color of purity and simplicity, was representing the beginner. Black, being the opposite color, was representing a student who was filled with knowledge. In the early 1900s the belt system expanded to include more colors and, since then, other martial arts adopted the system or a variation of it. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for example, adopted a system with three additional ranks between white and black belts: blue, purple, and brown.
After the student has spent at least a year ranked as a brown belt, they become eligible for a first-degree black belt. This is a significant achievement, denoting an expert level of technical and practical skill. But it’s only the beginning of their journey towards becoming a master; the black belt itself has six different degrees. (In Japanese martial arts, the first-degree black belt is called shodan, which means literally the first step.) Only when a black belt reaches the seventh degree, the practitioner becomes eligible for a coral belt and the title master.
Masters are very experienced practitioners who have made a large positive impact on their community and the art itself. They don’t just have a skill set, they have a certain ethos. People look up to them. People learn from them.
In our industry, we often mistake black belts for masters. We fail to realize that the impact you’re having on people, on your team, on your community is as important, and sometimes even more important, than your individual skill set. Anyone can get a black belt. Not everyone can become a master.