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Shudokan Black Belt Academy

No Success Without Struggle

Posted: March 05, 2021

What does ‘Success’ mean to you? Go on, I’ll wait.

In Autumn of last year, I was privileged to run an Instructor training/refresher course for our existing and up-and-coming teaching assistants. And in our very first session, this was one of our discussion topics.

We quickly got the clichés out of the way, admitting that material goals were, in many cases, pretty satisfying. After all, as the saying goes: “Money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.” -Francoise Sagan

But none of us were happy to say that we would consider ourselves successful simply because we had a shiny toy sitting on the driveway.

The next angle the group explored was to attempt a concept of success as defined as a constant and never-ending process. Ideas such as ‘personal development’, pride in one’s achievements, the betterment of those around you, were thrown around. And the discussion continued.

In the end the debate went on far too long and we needed to cut it off and continue with our training! But ever since then, I’ve been thinking about the ideas the group raised, because something sparked in my head that day. A connection I’d never considered.

The question ‘What does Success mean to you?’ has no definitive answer. After all, we are all different creatures with very different goals and ambitions, desires and needs. No, my thinking went to:

‘What IS success?’

…a question our group hadn’t managed to nail down.

I to put it to you, that ‘Success’ is the simply the attainment of that which you have struggled for.

Once I started thinking about ‘Success’ in those term, my mental dashboard suddenly started to light up. I realised that ‘The Struggle’ is at the heart of everything that we do here. Hell, even the way we submit students for their Black Belt test is influenced by the need for struggle. We deliberately engineer it so that our Black Belt candidates cannot be over-prepared, by submitting them for their test just before they feel comfortable with the material.


Because without the struggle the achievement has no value!

We want our Black Belts, and all of our students, to look at their progress with pride. We want them to know that they gave it everything they could, that their success is down to their hard work, that when under pressure, they could pull it out of the bag and get the job done!

Even the way our Dragons, Juniors, and Cadets earn merit badges is built on this premise: that you need to work hard before you can claim the reward.

Look back on all of your own proudest achievements. I’ll wager that those most dear to you also demanded the best of you—be it in terms of resources, time, or emotion.

So if success is what you struggle for, what is The Struggle?

You see, we often think of struggling as bad. It sounds bad. To struggle… that sounds like you’re fighting against something you’re not going to beat. And we know that in the moment of struggle, that can be exactly what it feels like.

But. And most importantly…

Once the struggle is over, and there you stand, victorious and successful. And you look back on your achievement. And you realise something.

You weren’t struggling, you were learning.

In the moment, in the struggle, it felt like you were going through hell. Everything was too difficult, too fast, too demanding, just too much. But now that it’s done, you KNOW that if called upon, you could do it again. Why? Because your struggle was a lesson—and because you had to fight for it, it’s a lesson you learned well.

I don’t know about you, but right now—and for pretty much the last 12 months—I have been struggling. Big Time. Check out January’s post for more on that story! But I know that in the struggle, in trying to keep my head above the water and just fighting for one more day, and another, and another… In that fight, there is a lesson waiting for me.

With the end of both lockdown and social distancing in sight now, I know that my lesson is nearly complete. I’m not saying that I am grateful for this lesson, but I know that I intend to use it!

It’s OK for The Struggle to be difficult. Because we know it’s going to end. And—just like with those Black Belt tests and merit badges—the achievement will be so very precious. 

So, if you feel like you’re struggling too, re-frame that! Think instead: What are you learning right now? What skills are being honed in this situation? What realisations are you making? What are you re-evaluating?

And, when that process is complete…

What precious thing will you have achieved—and how proud will you be?