Out of the Dojo
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

Some months ago, one of our listeners pointed me to The Ultimate Black Belt Test, a surprising, rigorous training regimen for martial arts teachers that combines intense physical training with transformative ethical practice. Members of the UBBT program have to fulfill such varied requirements as walking for 1,000 miles and undertaking an environmental clean-up project.

I was so intrigued by the idea, what with my own practice of martial arts during my teens, that I decided to speak to the founder of the UBBT, Tom Callos. He’s written and spoken about his reverence for Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn and architect Samuel Mockbee, two model people who have brought social engagement into their respective practices.

In this narrated video, featuring an interview with Tom Callos playing over the beautiful photographs of Bill Whitworth, we explore this rigorous program and see some of its own engagement in the world.

Share Your Reflection



I was a participant in UBBT 4 and I can truly say that this program changed our lives dramatically. It influenced the way we teach, and the way that we live. We have been able to pass many of the ethical and spiritual lessons on to our students through the Acts of Kindness, Project Based Leadership, and environmental initiatives. I think what Master Callos has done is hold all teachers and people in positions of leadership to a higher standard and empowered us to make a real difference in the global perspective of our students.

I was impressed by the idea of initiating 1,000 acts of kindness. Then, I was even more amazed that each participant in the UBBT, themselves masters, have to generate another 50,000 acts of kindness through their students and community. Is there something your own students did that really blew you away, or that made you say, "Wow, this whole UBBT thing is taking on a life of its own"?

I'm currently a participant on Team 5 of the UBBT. This "test" is amazing. I fall short of the requirements time and again, and yet find myself transformed and envigorated by the process. "Why don't we actually really become and then act like martial arts masters -- as we define it?" What a concept! This test/journey has introduced me to new ideas, and brought a sharpness and clarity to my goals and personal sense of mission.

-- Jason Gould
Emerald Necklace Martial Arts

I totally understand the falling short aspect. I never could quite commit to karate the way I needed to at the later stages (toward the black belt). I think I was just a moody teenager at that point, but that gets to the heart of this program, to my mind. It's all about integrating the physical, the emotional, spiritual. At 17 or 18, I just wasn't able to do that kind of mature integration yet. And now, at 30, I'm, well, soft... Maybe my life priorities have shifted, as well.

Oh, I'd like to do the interview again, so that I could be even clearer and more concise about the point of all of this work...which is in making everyday a "black belt test day" ---sort of the way you would live if you knew everyday was THE day. It's also based on the concept that SELF DEFENSE can no longer be defined as protection from physical attack --as we really need self-defense from mediocrity, lack of vision, disconnection, and "stinking thinking." I'm really proud of the martial arts teachers in the UBBT for stepping up to the plate and trying to walk the talk. And come to think of it, we're still working on "what is the walk?" !

I'm Debby Young, also a member of Team 5. I can listen to Tom Callos everyday, and I do, and come away with an even greater understanding of how we all fit together and make things happen. This process of being a participant in the UBBT has permeated all of the areas of my life: Work, fitness, diet, spirituality, relationships, communication, rest, meditation, humor, community and global responsibility. The UBBT and it's members have so greatly widened my awareness and scope of possibilities. Master Tom is an inspiring, powerful leader and teacher. I am very grateful to be one of his students and a member of the UBBT.

I really enjoyed your SOF presentation on the UBBT.
I am a member of Team 5 and it's been a wonderful Transformation and it continues.

The mindset of growing on the Spiritual, Emotional, Mental and Physical levels is tremendously worhwhile. It has been a gift in my life to be a part of the connectivity with the Acts of Kindness and Alabama Project.
There are so many good folks in this world, both martial artists and non martial artists with so much to contribute. We are all connected. Being a UBBT member has strengthened my resolve to move forward and be a part of that compassionate process. Thank You.

I am UBBT, was on team 1 back in 2004 - it changed everything forever