Green Belt Syndrome
by Kirk Lawson
I recently participated in an immersive two-day weekend pistol seminar. As expected, I met and trained with some fantastic people, some who had more firearms skills than I and some who did not. One fine gentleman I met was, like me, from the "traditional" martial arts world. Turns out that, while a highly trained and skilled martial artist, he was just beginning his training in firearms skills. After class he related a story to me of a trip to a Local Gun Store and how he felt as if he was being insulted and talked down to. He was in the shop, looking at a pistol and gripping it, when a few guys, apparently friends of the counter dude, came in and began giving him unasked and unwanted critique on his grip technique and justified their supposed expertise because they "had taken classes."
I told then gentleman that, like the martial arts world (and every other), the firearms world has its share of jerks. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that that these critics were simply suffering from "green belt syndrome."
In the Martial Arts world there is something often referred to as "green belt syndrome." Green belt syndrome is a state of mind, an attitude most often represented by martial artists who have passed from raw and complete inexperience ("white belt") to the beginning of understanding of the basics of their chosen system. Generally this is about half way between beginner and "black belt," represented in most systems typically as "green belt." While "black belt" is sometimes regarded as some level of expertise, though not necessarily mastery or perfection, “green belt” is the dawn of understanding. It is this point in the martial artist's journey that they start making conceptual connections and, unfortunately, some seem to come to believe that they are gaining insights which no one else before them have found, acquiring skills which no one else before them holds, and have special knowledge and expertise which it is their holy responsibility to share with the world, enlightening those poor souls who don't have their special expertise.
Those suffering from "green belt syndrome" become insufferable know-it-alls who are incapable of not "gifting" everyone around them with their opinions and knowledge whether or not it is desired, or even accurate. One urban dictionary likens it to the sufferer as believing they are the love child of Bruce Lee and Miyamoto Musashi. Luckily, most of those who catch "green belt syndrome" eventually grow out of it. By the time they achieve “black belt” they usually know how much they don't know.
In the martial arts world, experienced practitioners know and recognize those unfortunates who have caught "green belt syndrome." Like parents of a teenager, we usually smile and ignore them or offer gentle corrections. Sometimes we will steer them away from giving advice to the less experienced. However, sometimes we have to actively intervene. We have to do this to keep them from giving wrong information or bad advice to someone who doesn't yet know better. Sometimes we have to do this to keep them from driving away a new person through unintentional insult or creating an unfriendly or intimidating atmosphere.
Experienced shooters need to do this in the firearms training world as well. Perhaps it is the formalized nature of the martial arts world compared to the much more informal nature of training in the firearms world, but I observe experienced firearms practitioners to be less willing to intervene on the behalf of new entrants, blocking off "green belts,” or even just later reassuring the newcomer that most are not like the insufferable know-it-all. Sure there are some who do so, hopefully you. But there needs to be more. There have been countless electrons spilled guessing at ways to make the shooting sports and the firearms for self defense world more friendly and inviting to new comers, all while fighting against a bias and deliberate misinformation campaign waged by gun-haters. We need to get better about it. I am challenging you, and myself as well, to be more proactive about stepping between newbies and "green belts." Be polite and friendly about it, but don't stand back and let a new person be run off by someone who wants to give unasked for and unwanted advice. Even it if is right. Yes, I wrote that. Unless it is a safety issue, even "right" advice can be wrong if it is given at the wrong time or in a way which denigrates and drives off the neophyte. There is a right way to offer advice on everything which isn't a safety issue, and often times even when it is a safety issue. One instructor related a story of a new shooter on the same range as him repeatedly "flagging" everyone else on the range with his gun ("flagging" is when the muzzle end of the gun is allowed to point at a person, often sweeping by - it is a safety issue). The instructor asked if the gentleman would show him his gun. When he had the gentleman alone and off to the side, sort of private, he quietly and humbly explained to him the danger and the proper way to keep the gun in a safe direction. Instead of embarrassing the man, the instructor was able to correct the behavior and the gentleman was apologetic and eager to be safe.
"Green belt syndrome" is something that exists in the firearms world too and it is our responsibility to help those "green belts" along to be more but also, in the mean time, to protect the new shooters from them.