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The Black Belt

Visuals designed by AKïN

There is a story of a martial arts student who kneeled before the master sensei to receive his black belt. It was after many years of hard training.

“Before giving you the belt, you must pass one more test,” the sensei said.

“I am ready,” the student said, thinking it would be just one final lesson.

What is the true meaning of the black belt?” the sensei asked.

“The end of my journey,” the student said. “A good reward for all my hard work”.

The sensei waited for more. Clearly, he was not satisfied. Finally, the sensei spoke. “You are not ready for the black belt. Return in one year.”

A year later, the student knelt again in front of the sensei. “What is the true meaning of the black belt?” the sensei asked.

“A symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art,” the student replied.

The sensei said nothing for many minutes. Clearly, he was not satisfied. Finally he spoke. “You are still not ready for the black belt. Return in one year.”

A year later, the student knelt once again in front of the sensei. And again the sensei asked: “What is the true meaning of the black belt?”

“The black belt represents the beginning- the start of a never ending journey of discipline, hard work, and the pursuit of an ever higher standard,” the student said.

“Yes. You are now ready to receive the black belt and begin your work.”

As we can see, the black belt is not the highest point. The black belt is what allows us to go on to the next point.

What is your black belt? The O-levels? Or was that only to move you to the A-levels? Or is your black belt the ITE certificate? Or the polytechnic diploma? The university degree? Or the first job? Or your present job? Or is your present job only the start of working towards your future job?

What is your organisation’s black belt? Is it the ISO 9000 certificate? Or the People Developer Standard? The Balanced Scorecard? The Learning Organisation? Six Sigma? The School Excellence Award? The Singapore Quality Class? The Singapore Quality Award?

You may say, “This is terrible. It never ends. We have to think and try and do and think and try and do, and it goes on and on…”

My answer: “This is why we need to believe in what we do. We need to believe it is worth doing.

We need to believe we are doing something useful. We need to find the work interesting and challenging. We need to have fun along the way.

We need to be unhappy with ourselves if we have not done our best. We need to be learning new things.

We need to find we are getting better day by day.

Otherwise life will be a big burden and work will be deadly.”

I have used a lot of words. All I mean is, “Believe in yourself. Be the best you can be. Do the best you can.”

Excellence is a never-ending journey. Supervisors must help make it interesting and worthwhile. But it is our attitude that will make the journey either fun or boring.


ECDA Fellows and PDP(L) Appointment Ceremony 2018

This story was shared at the ECDA Fellows and Professional Development Programme for Leaders-PDP(L) Appointment Ceremony 2018 held on 5 April 2018. During this ceremony, ECDA appointed the ECDA Fellows and inaugural batch of PDP(L) participants. Each leader at the ceremony received a ‘black belt’ to encourage them to continue striving towards achieving excellence in our early childhood sector.

Find out more about ECDA Fellows at here and PDP(L) here.

Click here to view photos from the Ceremony!


The PDP supports the development of early childhood educators with the potential to take on larger job roles in their organisations. Find out more about PDP here!

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