Steps to Sewing Stripes Securely

In Cuong Nhu, ranks are represented by colored belts and stripes.  When you earn a new stripe, you should sew it onto your belt by your next class.  A well secured stripe will last for years, ensuring that it doesn’t fray, come loose, or fall off.  Show respect for your rank and the work that went into earning it by treating your stripe and belt properly.

If you are new to sewing, no problem!  Click on the video below to watch a step by step tutorial created specifically for sewing a Cuong Nhu stripe onto your belt.


If you still have questions, feel free to post them here or ask your instructor after class.  At Redwood Dojo, we also have sewing needles and thread available.  Don’t leave your new stripe clipped onto your belt!

The Secret to Becoming a Black Belt

When we first commit to a new endeavor, motivation surges through us, propelling us forward.  We are inspired by our new undertaking, filled with visions of success and the excitement of the journey ahead.  However, this initial high eventually wanes, and so too does our intense fervor when it becomes clear that our vision will not be so easily obtained.  There will be challenges that we did not anticipate, and our initially hazy image of what it meant to dedicate ourselves to this goal is replaced by firsthand knowledge of the day to day reality of what the hard work looks and feels like.

It is at this point that we are faced with a choice: we can either surrender to the challenges or we can persevere through them.  If we chose to continue, what motivates us must evolve.  A simple desire to achieve our ultimate goal will no longer be enough to drive us forward.  Instead, we become motivated by the process, not the end product.  We find joy in the work.  We live in the now.

In martial arts, rank progression is the initial motivation for many would-be students.  Achieving a Black Belt is a tangible and seemingly “ultimate” goal of joining a martial arts program.  But, as it turns out, there is a lot of work required to get to Black Belt!  There is even a lot of work required to earn your first rank.  A martial arts student is not able to live off of a desire for Black Belt alone.  Those who are able to adjust their expectations and embrace the practice and work itself are not daunted by this new reality.  They are able to find motivation to come to class and to practice, not just to “become a Black Belt.”  They are fueled by an internal motivation.  For those who are solely focused on the external motivation of rank advancement, there are many obstacles.  They will not feel they are advancing fast enough, will worry about the pace that others are moving, or will feel bored with practicing the same things repeatedly and, sooner or later, this goal-centric motivation will not be enough to keep them in class.

That’s the secret to becoming a Black Belt.  First, join a martial arts program.  Second, don’t quit.  But the only way to accomplish this seemingly simple task is to find ways to let your motivation grow and change with the new challenges you face along the way.  The desire to become a Black Belt alone is not enough.  What you need is a desire to do the work of showing up to class each day.  And then one day, you will realize that you reached that “ultimate” goal of Black Belt.  But now you understand that you are just beginning a much larger journey.

What Really Matters When it Comes to Training, Testing, and Tournaments


Training is the fundamental basis of studying martial arts.  At Redwood Dojo, we train in Cuong Nhu.  We train every day we are in class.  Training is the core of our art.  But what does good training look like?

You show up consistently.  You have a training schedule and you don’t let it get interrupted.  You don’t decide if you want to go to class each day, you just go.  It’s on your calendar as a non-negotiable.  It becomes part of your routine, just as eating breakfast and brushing your teeth are.  Now, this doesn’t mean you have to train every day.  You decide how much time you can commit to your training, but the key is being consistent.  And if something comes up that keeps you from getting to class, this should be the rare exception, not a common occurrence.  Don’t let excuses get in your way.  Don’t let yourself off the hook.  Show up to class.  Training happens for those who are present.

When you are there physically, you are also there mentally.  Martial arts training is about learning to be in the moment.  Your body and your mind are only focused on what is happening right now.  You don’t think about what happened that day at work or worry about what you will have for dinner after class.  You don’t even think about what you were doing in class 5 minutes ago.  The trick to being present mentally is not letting your mind get in the way of your training.  Your mind wants to think, to problem solve, to worry, to anticipate, to ask questions, and to talk to you.  But part of training is conditioning your mind to be present without thinking.  Your brain needs to take in what is happening in the moment, not try to guess what will happen next.  You show up mentally so that you can train your mind to get out of your way.

You push yourself to do your best.  You don’t just go through the motions, even if it’s something you have done a hundred times before.  You give it your all.  You push to make it better.  The secret is, it can always be better.  Everyone can always improve.  Those who embrace this idea are the people who actually do improve.

The training itself is the goal.  It is not a means to an end, it is the essence of what you get when you study martial arts.  You may have other things you want to get out of it, but ultimately the reward is in the training.  As side benefits, you gain confidence, get into better shape, grow stronger, learn to defend yourself, and work with those who share your interests.  But these are not what martial arts training is really about.  These are the surface aspects that you can identify and point to and tell others about.  The real reward is in the pursuit of perfection, in focusing on being in the moment, in learning what your body can do when your mind gets out of the way.  The real reward is the training.


How does testing fit in?  In Cuong Nhu we have ranks, signified with different colored belts and stripes.  You have to pass a test to go from one rank to the next.  If training itself is the goal, how does testing fit in?

You test when you are ready.  Tests aren’t scheduled based on how many days have passed or how many hours you came to class.  It’s not even based on the body of techniques that your have memorized.  Rather it’s based on your ability to consistently perform at a certain level of proficiency.  You shouldn’t try to rush to your next test.  The only way you get there is by training (with all that high-quality training entails – see above!).

As a student, you don’t need to worry about testing.  That’s your instructor’s job.  Trust your instructor.  Trust that they know what you have and have not done, know the rank requirements, know when you last tested, know what you haven’t worked on in a while, and know if you are ready to test.  They plan your classes accordingly.  You will get there if you consistently keep coming to class, working to improve, and stay focused on your training.

Testing should not be your goal.  The belt or stripe in and of itself has no meaning.  Its value comes from what you did and who you became to earn it.  If you are overly focused on testing, you miss the real benefit of training.  Inevitably, those who strive for the rank take longer to test then those who don’t.  Don’t stand in the way of your training by always looking towards your next test.

That said, when it is time for you to test, step up to the challenge.  Ranks are not given, they are earned.  A test is an opportunity to show what you are capable of.  Your instructor tells you when you are ready to test, and then it is up to you to make it happen.  The higher the rank, the more that is expected of you.  By the time you get to black belt, you are responsible for preparing a comprehensive dynamic self-defense demonstration on your own.  Your instructor makes sure you get the building blocks you need, but it is up to you to put them all together.  It’s your rank.  Your instructor will help you get there, but it’s up to you to do the work.


How are tournaments different than tests?  As with testing, if you are overly focused on gaining status through tournaments, you limit yourself.  However, tournaments can be an excellent tool to enhance your training.

Tournaments embody the “be in the moment” aspect of training.  You get one shot to do your best.  And you have the added pressure of people watching, along with the knowledge that you only get one chance.  You have to stay in the moment and not let your stage fright, nervousness, or anxiety choke you.  You strive to do your best despite the pressure.  Learning to persevere under pressure is vital in martial arts training as well as the rest of life.  Tournaments give you the chance to do this without real risk.  All you risk is not living up to your own standards, not doing what you know you are capable of.  This is a real pressure, but does not have devastating results if you fall short.

By putting yourself on the spot, ready to stand up and do your best in a single shot, you push your limits and can find out what you are capable of.  No matter what, you learn something from the experience.  It’s not about the trophies, it’s about being in the moment.  It’s about pushing your limits.  It’s about learning to compete against yourself.  Against your fear, against your complacency, against your ego, against your pre-conceptions, and against your own personal best.

At redwood dojo, we have a few opportunities each year to participate in tournaments.  When these opportunities come up, you should seize them.  Use these friendly competitions to enhance your training.  If it is out of your comfort zone, good; this is when you should push yourself.  Don’t let excuses stop you from growing.

Come to class for the training.  Don’t worry about testing and ranks.  Use every opportunity to become better.  Participate in tournaments to enhance your training.  When given the chance, step up.