There is an often encountered but rarely spoken phenomenon in society. The dichotomy of competency and accreditation. Perhaps you have encountered this distinction at some point when you realised that generally certificates don’t get you hired but experience does. Yet accreditation lends prestige and well, accredits.
All my life I’ve wanted to get a black belt in a martial art. A few years ago I began Wing Chun because I liked Bruce Lee and its principled approach to fighting appealed to me. It was the thinking man’s martial art. And it only took 3 years to achieve a black sash which is very convenient for someone who likes to travel.
However, I had irreconcilable differences with the school. They were completely stuck in their habits year after a year and the whole place seemed completely numb in the head. They acted as if there was no revolution since mixed martial arts and refused to acknowledge any form of grappling or ground fighting at all. There was also a culture of misinformation, groupthink and rudeness. It was taboo to address reality. I gave up by the time I reached blue sash level – I simply couldn’t put up with it for another 18 months.
In my opinion, the premier martial art of today is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s dynamic, scientific and effective. Smaller people can use it to overcome larger people. You don’t get brain trauma from doing it. It’s spreading like wild fire while martial arts like Wing Chun and Aikido are walling themselves off and making ever more excuses. They’re becoming more niche in their value proposition. To me, a BJJ black belt represents elite warrior status in the modern day. The problem is that it takes 10 years of dedicated training to achieve it. It takes 2 whole years just to lose your white belt. As someone that wants to travel this is a difficult situation: it might be 20 years before I get a black belt.
This exorbitant time frame made me reluctantly shake my head. It was all about the black belt; that was the goal. You need to articulate a goal right? That’s what the self-help literature says. However, I’m now starting to see that there aren’t really any other graded martial arts of the same quality and it is better to learn the best art than to learn a questionable one. I have mentally decided to start learning BJJ. However in order to reach that decision I had to very much let go of the idea of getting black belt: It’s too far away to be motivating. That prestigious and accredited idea that is so easily incorporated into one’s identity is gone.
I’ve discovered that what necessarily replaces accreditation as a motivator is competency. Practising the art. Being able to kick someone’s ass if you both end up on the ground. Seems like a bit of a stupid thing to spend 10 years on, frankly.
Goals are a fact of life though. The question remains: what goal is both motivating and able to be articulated? If the basic drive is to be able to kick some ass and to achieve mastery of a high-quality art, what goal satisfactorily advocates for this? Timothy Ferriss likes phrasing goals in terms of doing rather than being. For example being able to kick the ass of someone bigger than you in ground fighting is a good goal instead of a black belt. Or knowing what to do in every situation and being able to do it. Or mastering the curricula of the program.
Phrased like this goals lack the prestigious simplicity, the cleanness, the symbolic quality which is easily relayed to others or able to be identified with. They make you think of actually grappling with people rather than having and being something for life. They make you smell sweat and feel social anxiety. They have a visceral realness to them. They focus the mind on competency rather than accreditation. They prime you to focus on your art or skill set rather than rocking up and doing just enough for long enough.
Another example of competency versus accreditation is in learning a foreign language. As someone who has studied Mandarin and likes to have goals; one of my goals over the years has been to achieve HSK6. This is the highest level of the Chinese government administered Chinese language proficiency accreditation. If you have HSK6 you know about 5,000 words and have the macro skills to effectively engage in communication with them.
Just like a black belt HSK can be quickly whipped out mid conversation or resume. You can put it on your wall to remind yourself that other white people aren’t as dedicated or wonderful as you. However, it lures the awareness away from communication itself. The mind will get you that certificate because that is what it does with goals, but actually being able to talk with a Chinese person after getting it will be a coincidence. How many hours would you spend actually communicating in your journey to get it?
These are two examples of a broader phenomenon which is often found wherever there is a skill set and a demand for accreditation in that skill set. What others can you think of in your own life? What accreditation have you been procrastinating getting which would take you to the next level and add to your prestige? Where are you merely seeking accreditation when it would be better to focus on the skills which underpin it? Do you have a deficit in theory or practise?