“Living well does not mean avoiding suffering; it means suffering for the right reasons. Because if we are going to be forced to suffer, we might as well learn how to suffer well.” ~Mark Manson
Badassery (n): behavior, characteristics, or actions regarded as formidably impressive.
There’s a sense of audaciousness to being a badass, a kind of unapologetic insouciance and ruthless fierceness without concern for offending anyone. But badassery also has a prestige about it, a sharpness honed on the whetstone of life, a diamond forged under the crucible of pressure, a pearl polished by the rub of a hostile universe.
Your journey toward a blackbelt in badassery begins when you’ve been pulled kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone. It gets tested beyond the threshold of all the things you’ve taken for granted. Out in the wild places, away from your mollycoddled cultural conditioning and scapegoat placations. Beyond your notions of rightness and wrongness, the life of a true badass is only ever discovered in the Dojo of Death.
White Belt (discomfort and fragility):
“Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.” ~Damian Lillard
Overcoming hitting rock bottom is the path that leads to obtaining the white belt of badassery. Discomfort is the path. A badass understands this.
For it is in the trenches where the beast is born. It is in the throes of having everything stripped away where the individual learns how to adapt and overcome. It is in the abyss, in the lowest of the low, in the fiery underdark of the human condition, where the roots of fortitude must be discovered and cultivated to grow a tree formidable enough to reach the summit.
To be unconquerable by anything, you must be willing to lose everything. Thus, rock bottom is where the road to badassery begins. The potential badass straps on his/her white belt in the pits of hell. Amidst the fire and brimstone of first principles, the white belt straps up.
It’s in the Dojo of Death where the soul comes to life.
But badass beware, pain will be prominent. Discomfort will be all encompassing. Fragility must be shattered on the unforgiving stone of truth and pieced back together again with an aching heart. The mind, body, and spirit must be burned to ashes so that the Phoenix of the soul may rise.
The Dojo of Death plants a minefield in your mind field. It dangles a noose over your certainty and self-seriousness. It hangs a question mark over all your Sméagol-precious answers. It crucifies your dogmatism.
Knowledge is not meant to be memorized and regurgitated. It’s meant to be assimilated, reimagined, and transcended. It’s meant to be taken into deep consideration and then discarded on the funeral pyre of muscle memory.
The knowledge which does not die inside you can never truly come to life. If not surrendered to intellect, it will live only to kill your progress, stagnate your creativity, and close your mind in a prison of “truth.”
Earning your white belt is letting your “knowledge” die so that it may be reborn into higher learning. Before you can begin the climb out of the abyss, you must let all your expectations die. You must lose all hope for a better past to gain the flexibility necessary to forge a healthier future.
Orange Belt (discipline and resilience):
“There is advantage in the wisdom won from pain.” ~Aeschylus
Pain is the master that guides you toward claiming the orange belt of badassery. Pain is a whetstone that you must sharpen yourself against. After discomfort, pain is the path to badassery.
Pain is the pressure that compounds the coal of your fragility into the diamond of your antifragility. It’s the rub that polishes the pebble of your weakness into the pearl of your strength. It’s the stropping that sharpens the dullness of your cowardice into the sword of your courage.
As Rumi said, “The cure for the pain is in the pain.”
There are no shortcuts to badassery. Badassery is proportional to one’s fearlessness and readiness to negotiate pain. When pain is glossed over or repressed, it festers and grows dark. It turns into resentment and creates disdain and unreasonable cynicism. But when it is engaged with honestly and embraced as a part of you, wholeness manifests.
If you’re willing to learn from it, pain can be a steppingstone into providence. Pain is the ultimate teacher. Especially the pain that Death teaches. Learn from it. Let it shape you. Let it sharpen you into an instrument worthy of magnificence.
Transform pain into self-discipline. Channel it through daily practice. Reroute it into routine. Let the routine tear you down and build you back up, again and again. Manifest resilience despite resistance.
Pain is merely kindling for a greater fire. Gather the kindling. Become your own crucible, your own dojo, your own whetstone. Practice death in favor of life. Practice life despite the inevitability of death. As Kenshin said, “Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live.”
Red Belt (mastery and robustness):
“If courage is the ability to effectively move through fear, challenge, and discomfort, then perseverance is the ability to keep doing it over and over again.” ~Rich Diviney
Perseverance is the master that will guide you toward achieving the red belt of badassery. Through perseverance you will gain mastery and robustness despite past naivete and fragility. After discomfort and pain, perseverance is the path to badassery.
Perseverance is the ability to embrace “the suck” of discomfort and pain. The ladder to mastery is built on the rungs of discomfort and pain. Each step is a herculean hurdle. The climb into higher air is accepting discomfort and pain as oxygen. It’s fuel for heroes, ambrosia for would-be gods.
The red belt of badassery is strapped on during the climb into such rarified air. It’s stained red by the blood, sweat, and tears of your passionate striving. Cut by the lashings of a thousand-and-one lessons, you bleed and scar, bleed and scar. You become a climbing wound made sacred through perseverance.
Red becomes a symbol of your power. “The reddening,” also called rubedo, is the “final” stage of self-overcoming. It’s where the unity of opposites—shadow and light, anima and animus, beast and sage—becomes transcendent, provident, and mercurial. It’s where the disintegrated Self becomes self-integrated.
The higher you climb, the farther the disconnected world becomes and an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things manifests. Self-against-world/world-against-self melts into self-as-world/world-as-self. Your badassery launches you beyond arbitrary notions of right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark.
You climb to where the Phoenix lives. Forever burning, forever rising, and forever guiding you into a life-death-rebirth process that transcends time and space.
This reddening is a bleeding into blackening.
Black Belt (recycled mastery and antifragility):
“Everything that happens to you is your teacher. The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it.” ~Polly B. Berends
Rebirth is the master that guides you toward achieving the black belt of badassery. Through recycled mastery you will gain antifragility. After discomfort, pain, and perseverance, rebirth is the path to badassery.
Upon reaching the summit, you look down into the snarling abyss and smile with gratitude. You are grateful for the sharpening stone of the abyss. You realize that it made you the master you are now. Without it you would only be ignorance and dullness. You would be all attitude and no fortitude. You would not be carrying diamonds.
You would not be here amidst the highest heights standing next to the Phoenix egg, red belt glimmering in the setting sun. You would not be prepared for the blackening of death.
You would not be ready to transform mastery into mystery. To complete the sacred cycle. To allow the life-death-rebirth process to come alive inside you. To allow the master’s mind to die to the mystery of beginner’s mind.
For mystery is the binding force, primal and vital, curious and dynamic, ambiguous and animated. It’s the life-death-rebirth process lived through in real time, in each moment, with each new breath. It’s both a rising out of falling and a falling into rising, both a chaos creating order and an order creating chaos.
Thus, the only way the red belt becomes black is from a burning away of mastery. The master must jump back into the maelstrom, back into Beginner’s Mind, back into the abyss.
Because for a true badass there is no settled state, there is no final stage. The magnum opus eats itself, or it doesn’t sing. The journey is always the thing, or it is nothing. The sword is always sharpened dullness. The diamond is always pressurized coal. As James Hillman said, “the pearl is also always grit, an irritation as well as a luster.”
Mastery must be discarded on the funeral pyre of muscle memory. Feel it, love it, relish being in awe and overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Then let it go. Practice detachment. Surrender “mastery” to Cosmos. When you’re attached to nothing, you’re connected to everything.
As the Rosarium Philosophorum states, “When you see your matter going black, rejoice, for this is the beginning of the work.”
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Become a Blackbelt in Badassery) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.