A cliché metaphor, but it really feels like the names on our belts are urging us to improve and pass on what we have learned. (source)
The Legend of the UTKM Legacy Belt – The First One Retired; Audio by Jonathan Fader

The Story of the Legacy Belt

Earning your next belt/rank is always a special occasion no matter what style you practice. Normally you get your belt, rank up, keep your belt, move forward until you work hard enough to earn that coveted Black Belt.

At UTKM we do things a little bit differently, as we chose to adopt the military tradition of passing down belts, from one student to another, up until they are retired with five students having worn a given belt. The idea for this comes from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) tradition of passing on berets and pins from Commanders and Officers to deserving lower ranks when they achieve that new rank or designation.

In the IDF the coloured beret of each unit is a coveted item, as earning your unit’s coloured beret over the generic, neutral one, means you’ve passed the biggest milestones of that unit and you are in. For some it’s the completion of the units forced march, which is anywhere from 40-100km and others it’s the completion of the entire training program. When these milestones are achieved, commanders will chose a member of their squad to pass on their beret to (and they get a new one), for the most impressive soldiers sometimes even an officer will pass on their beret. On occasion berets pass through many people before they wear out.

At UTKM we modified this. When you earn your first colour belt (Yellow) it is yours and you proudly, and permanently, put your name on it (ideally in Sharpie). More accurately, it’s yours until you earn your next rank, at which point UTKM takes it back, because ultimately it belongs to the school. When someone else tests for that rank, if they have demonstrated our school values or impressed the instructors during their test, and a legacy belt is available, then they will get it and add their name to it. Once a given belt has five names it is retired and put up for display to honor all those who have worn that belt. (The “Hall” of Retired Belts) This is not an easy feat, as most students will not make it to the next rank because life, travel, relocation, or they simply stop. (In a few rare cases belts have been lost or stolen.) Which means a retired belt, like the students whose waist it adorns, is a warrior in spirit and endured to the very end. The exception to this is the Black Belt, which is yours to wear proudly as you move forward on the journey toward mastery.

So if you work hard, impress your instructor team, and keep a good attitude, then there is a good chance you may wear one or more legacy belts throughout your journey to Black Belt.

The First Retired Legacy Belt

Like all legends there can be only one first. The first retired belt was, naturally, a Yellow Belt. UTKM was officially founded in 2013 and a belt was not retired until 2022. As we have many different types of students, with differing priorities, some of the names on this belt were, in the end, “just passing through.” Fortunately, it also bears some notable names, people who during their time at UTKM made big impacts, on their fellow students, on their own lives, and the UTKM family as a whole. Those impacts came in the form of being a great training partner, helping others push themselves and improve, bolstering the school spirit in and out of class, assisting during tests or demonstrations. Though in the end what matters is that they came, they saw, they conquered this belt and become better versions of themselves. Some made minor improvements and others made major positive life improvements. Unfortunately however, we train hard and we sweat a lot, resulting in one of the names being washed out and no one remembers who it was; so if you know who it was please fill us in. Additionally, at the time of this post only one of the FIVE names still actively trains at UTKM – one moved, one is lost to blurring, and two got sidetracked somewhere along their journey – though we hope some of these individuals make their way back (even just to visit.) The next UTKM goal is to retire a belt upon which all five names are people who have chosen to make UTKM a permanent part of their life. We eagerly await this day. In the mean time, we honour those who wrote their names on the first officially retired Legacy Belt.

Dave Young, [unknown], Ben Cheung, Justin Blinkhorn, and Corey O.

A big congrats to the five who have become part of UTKM history, even if they are no longer training with us. We hope that our Wall of Retired Belts fills with colours and names, building the history and legacy of UTKM, remembering those who trained with us, past, present, and future.

From Corey (the final name): When I passed my Yellow belt test, I was surprised and honoured to be given the oldest legacy belt. Jon said something to the effect of “Corey embodies UTKM spirit; he comes out to all of the UFC events, always helps out where he can, and makes everyone feel welcome.” To me I was simply putting back in the energy I felt from the others I was training with, and the intensity with which Jon teaches. I was proud to wear the belt of Dave Y., one of the instructors who inspired me (and an excellent musician), and Justin B., whose Orange belt test I helped with and who inspired me with the radical changes in his life since starting Krav Maga. Sadly, I never met Ben C. and [unknown] (as far as I know). Now I wear an Orange belt myself, and this belt carries the names of two heavy hitters (literally and figuratively), Karis M. and Jeff D., and I already feel those names pushing me to work harder and lift everyone else up in whatever way I can.

See you in class, and keep training so that you too may learn to walk in peace.

Written By: Jonathan Fader – UTKM Lead Instructor

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com or check out our merch at www.utkmshop.com