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Write Like a Black Belt: Guest Post by Lori Hoeck

First things first, I’m a senior martial arts instructor, but I don’t believe I hold a black belt in writing … yet. How will I know when I’m there?

I will have the same traits in writing that I look for in a karate black belt candidate:
Another flying sidekick by Kaibara 87 on flickr

1) Tenacity

A karate black belt takes about four years to earn, and the process isn’t easy. Black belts must develop tough-mindedness along the way. Training teaches them in a stair-step process how to dig deep and press past pain, plateaus, and personal phobias. Physically, mentally, and emotionally they must face their limitations and overcome them.

To write with a black belt’s tenacity means pushing the envelope of everything related to writing.

To call myself a black belt writer, I’d want to:

  • Face off with my Inner Critic wisely
  • Discipline myself to write frequently
  • Make creativity my best buddy, not an infrequent guest
  • Tackle and conquer anything in my way, such as bad organizational skills
  • Know when life or the need to heal must take priority

2) Drop the slop

One of the hardest things to teach a karate student is to flow with the physics and physiology that create speed, power, and balance — instead of fighting them.

Black belts need to settle in and cut wasted motion to execute powerful, balanced, and explosive techniques with finesse and precision. The only way to do this successfully is to be relaxed most of the time, knowing when to power up or stop dead at the right moment to minimize energy usage. It takes work to learn not to work!

As a writer this means judiciously attacking sloppiness and being powerfully precise with each word and sentence.

I’d be a black belt writer if I could:

  • Kick up the snappiness of dialogue
  • Cut wordiness with ninja-like deftness
  • Sound off with a strong voice to make instant impact and rapport
  • Punch up more powerful word usage to grab the reader by the throat
  • Throw down with the passive voice and finally kick its butt!

3) Take the lead

Can you imagine a senior black belt fainting when attacked? Can you see Chuck Norris bumbling his way through an emergency situation? Can you visualize Jet Li or Jackie Chan falling apart when faced with a speaking engagement?

I doubt these scenarios would make sense to most. Quality black belt training includes training for years to take control of the body and mind of an attacker. We can’t do that by being wall flowers in our lives or timid in the midst of crisis.

Any black belt candidate must prove by example they can step up when and wherever called upon, represent their rank and training honorably, and mentor lower-ranked students.

So how does this apply to writers?

How could I display black belt-level leadership as a writer?

I find these ways of taking charge of my writing and where it’s going are important:

  • Honor writing as an art, a process, and a tool for self awareness
  • Take a stand if necessary with my words as my sword
  • Pass on my most prized life lessons through my writing
  • Create community and build bridges through the power of words
  • Help other writers

And there you have it — How to Write Like a Black Belt.

Easy, yes?

What do you mean: No?

Drop and do 10 push ups now! … er … I mean 10 pages of writing.

Or better yet, just keep reading Confident Writing and learn from a real Black Belt Writer.


Lori Hoeck Let me introduce you to the author of this guest post: Lori Hoeck.  Lori might be known to some of you as Space Age Sage.  She’s certainly been a regular and generous commenter here and elsewhere on the blogosphere for many years under that name.

Lori has recently launched a compelling new site on self-defense: Think Like a Black Belt.  If you’re at all interested in self-defense, including mental preparation and psychological issues, please do check out her site.

I’m deeply grateful to Lori for writing this piece, adding a new twist to Confident Writing but capturing so well the philosophy of what I’m trying to teach and encourage here.

Although Lori might claim not to be a black belt writer, she has recently launched a new e-book called Think Like a Black Belt: Take Charge of Your Own Safety.  The style of the book definitely has black belt qualities: it’s short, punchy and easy to read.

Lori has included stories from her own experience and lessons learned by her students; practical tips and suggestions; and lots of material on the inner, mental, aspects of self-defense as well as physical competence and confidence.  The book would be particularly useful for parents who want to teach their kids some self-defense principles, helping them to be more aware of potential risks without making them fearful.  In fact, her approach is the opposite - it’s all about learning to trust yourself and your intuition to help keep yourself safe.

The book’s on sale at Lori’s site for $19.95. (No affiliate links here, just happy to promote a valuable resource to the community.)

Photo Credit: Another Flying Sidekick by kaibara87 on Flickr

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  1. Iain Broome - Write for Your Life
    Twitter: iainbroome

    HAI YA! * breaks plank *

    I don’t much about any kind of martial art but I do know that most of what you say here about writing is right on the money. To go back to your first point, I left a comment on Tumblemoose’s blog yesterday about the importance of patience, especially when you’re tackling a large project, like a novel. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and as you say, you have to be both tough-minded and very determined.

    Lovely stuff.

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Lori, These tips become much more powerful in the context of martial arts. You’ve got me thinking that effective writing is more a mindset than memorizing a litany of techniques. I’ve also not thought of writing as a physical activity, but it really is. You need good posture, the right tools, and plenty of endurance to crank out those 10 pages.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Use Twitter to Lay Groundwork for Your Business Blog =-.

  3. Karen Swim says:

    Lori, this is such a brilliant analogy. The Black Belt mentality is one that can truly be applied to writing and all other areas of life. Your piece gave me a new way of looking at my writing and provided much needed inspiration. “Cut wordiness with ninja-like deftness.” Woot! Bring it on, I love this!
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Shrink Your Waist and Increase Your Business =-.

  4. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Iain,
    (Nice board break!)
    I agree. Patience, determination, perseverance, tenacity, or my grandmother’s word “gumption” — all boil down to seeing the end in mind and tenaciously making your way in that direction.

    Hi Brad,
    A mindset — yes! Blogging taught me writing is more of a mindset where passion meets community in a powerful way. It shook me out of my journalism and “lone writer” mode into a way of writing that is more robust.

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you for the Monday morning enthusiasm!
    Black Belt or martial arts training crosses over to so many things in life. I’m glad the analogy helped you see a new perspective.
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..‘Burn Notice’ teaches ‘Think Like a Spy’ =-.

  5. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Joanna,

    Thank you for such a welcoming introduction! I discovered your blog when blogging was still very new to me, and you taught me to see writing in new ways. You even helped me think through the concept of my current blog! You’ve helped me and so many others reach for better, more confident writing. It’s an honor to guest post here today.
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..‘Burn Notice’ teaches ‘Think Like a Spy’ =-.

  6. Writer Dad says:

    Cut wordiness with ninja-like deftness. True that!

    I love your chop sockey writing tips. They’re right on the money.

    Thank you sensei.
    .-= Writer Dad´s last blog ..These Are Our Balloons =-.

  7. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Writer Dad Sean -

    No, thank you Sensei of the world of words!
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..‘Burn Notice’ teaches ‘Think Like a Spy’ =-.

  8. janice says:

    Hi Joanna,
    Our blog routes have crossed in lots of places (Amy’s, Karen’s and now through Lori…) so I thought I’d say hello. Too much synchronicity to ignore!

    Hi Lori,
    Great to see you developing the black belt/writing/blogging connections with every guest post you do. I feel your kimi growing in every one!
    .-= janice´s last blog ..Holidaying at Home: The East Neuk of Fife =-.

  9. Kathy | Virtual Impax says:


    GREAT POST!!! Written in the classic style of a true writing master! Glad to see you guest posting - bringing the ways of the black belt to the far corners of the web!
    .-= Kathy | Virtual Impax´s last blog ..Social Media: It’s a Moral Imperative =-.

  10. ‘Think Like a Black Belt’ around the web says:

    [...] ~ Joanna Young of Confident Writing in her background notes on my guest post “Write Like a Black Belt.” [...]

  11. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Janice,
    Thank you for the kind words. Connections and blogging — isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Hi Kathy,
    Aw shucks, thank you. Blogging is amazing because you really can write to the far corners of the world!
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..‘Think Like a Black Belt’ around the web =-.

  12. write a writing says:

    Cool Post here today!
    just wondering what kinda belt I am :P
    .-= write a writing´s last blog ..How and Why to Write a Book =-.

  13. Eliza says:

    @Lori - I LOVE this! This is totally a black belt post. My challenge right now is drop the slop. My new post requires researching multiple websites and books to gather my information. I still need to find an efficient, and quicker way, to consolidate the information so I can then write my post.

    Any tricks from the crowd on ways to do this?
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..Making decluttering painless =-.

  14. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi “write a writing” -
    That’s something to ask a black belt writer like Joanna!

    Hi Eliza,
    Thank you for the positive feedback, and good luck with finding the info consolidation tricks. I usually just copy and paste into a Word doc.
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..‘Think Like a Black Belt’ around the web =-.

  15. Davina says:

    Hi Joanna & Lori. What a brilliant twist to “Confident Writing”.

    This line really stood out for me: “… to flow with the physics and physiology that create speed, power, and balance — instead of fighting them.” I love how you have compared writing to martial arts. It is great to play with different perspectives to see how they empower one another.
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..Roaming with the Metaphor =-.

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @ Lori, thank you again for this post, and for hosting such a fascinating conversation here. Thank you also for your words about how our words have woven together. That means a lot

    @ Iain, interesting to read your words along with your own most recent experiment with the video - seems like that is part of instilling that mental toughness and discipline that you’re talking about, learning from how you work and finding ways to stick with it

    @ Brad, you know the more I explore this the more I think effective (powerful, confident) writing is a mindset. It was great to have Lori helping me to see that!

    @ Karen, it was a great start to the writing working week wasn’t it?!

    @ writer dad… chop sockey writing tips… brilliant :-)

    @ Janice, thanks so much for saying hello. It’s great to meet another Scottish blogger and I see we have many similiar interests… I look forward to exploring the connections

    @ amy, well I’d say… you probably know what the answer to that is. Sit quietly and ask yourself the question. Then allow your mind to tell you what you need to do to move to the next level. (And let me know if it works!)

    @ Eliza, could you imagine yourself hovering above your material, then looking down to see what stands out? Almost like a magpie, looking for pieces of silver and gold. Those are the bits you need to work into your post

    @ Davina, it’s a great twist isn’t it? I think it’s something I’ll need to explore further… no doubt with guest writing input too. As you say the different perspectives help to illuminate and expand and feed back into each other

  17. Solid Gold says:

    Hi Lori,

    Thanks for the post on writing as a black belt practice. Great metaphor, well-executed.

    Best wishes,
    Solid Gold Creativity

    .-= Solid Gold´s last blog ..Stocktake =-.

  18. Eliza says:

    @Joanna - oh, thank you. I will give that a try! Fortunately, I have travelled and know what a magpie is. We don’t them here :-)

    My process is too onerous. Print off article. Read each one and highlight all the good bits with a marker. Transfer all my highlighted bits to notepad, culling duplicate information. Organize the information into categories. THEN finally write my post. I figure, since people do this for a living, there has to be a faster process than this!
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..Making decluttering painless =-.

  19. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @ Solid Gold, hello and welcome. Sorry that your comment went into the spam folder - I think it was the extra link you put in. I’ve stripped that out as your name gets a link, and comment luv offers your last headline as a way to tempt us over too :-) I’m glad you enjoyed Lori’s post.

  20. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @ Eliza, I aim to please :-) Can’t imagine no magpies… the things we take for granted! And use as metaphors… that’s a good reminder to me to more careful in the ones I throw around here. Good luck with your project

  21. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Joanna,
    Hey, you are holding out on us. I think you have black belt in “blog comment replies.”

    Hi Davina,
    “perspectives empowering one another” - I like how that sounds!

    Hi Solid Gold,
    Thank you for your kind words.

  22. Wilson Pon says:

    Lori, I never thought that the writing and martial arts can be firmly combined together so well! You’re really a brilliant writer and I’m glad to read your article.

  23. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Wilson,
    Thank you for the supportive words.
    Non-linear (out of the box) thinking allows two seemingly different things to be compared and contrasted. Mentally it’s refreshing to see things anew, and it’s a blast to add to teaching.

  24. Catherine Franz says:

    Love the information Lori, thank you.

    I wrote a referral post on my blog for this:
    .-= ´s last blog ..Learn How to Become a Black Belt Writer =-.

  25. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @ Lori, you know I would love to be a black belt in ‘blog comment replies’. Thank you :-)

    @ Wilson, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Lori is a great teacher

    @ Catherine, thanks for picking up and passing on the post, and for letting us know :-)

  26. Jon Bard says:

    Great piece! As both a writer and a black belt in kempo, I absolutely see the connection.

    I’d add these to your superb list:

    * Confidence. Earning my black belt gave me confidence in all aspects of my life. If I could do that, I could achieve anything. Writers need to have the same attitude. Think back to an obstacle you’ve overcome or an achievement you’ve made in another part of your life and use it for evidence that you’re capable of anything.

    * Get out of your own way. When I attained black belt, I realized that I rarely had to think about what I was doing while sparring or training. Muscle memory and an inner understanding of the concepts of my art allowed me to act without thinking. Writing’s the same way: do it enough, work your craft and your flow will come. Consider writing exercises the way martial artists consider line drills — not always fun, but a needed way of internalizing your art.

    All the best,

    Jon Bard

    * Managing Editor, Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers

    * Fightin’ Bookworm in Chief, The CBI Clubhouse — The Essential Children’s Writing Resource. Visit and Come Join the Fightin’ Bookworms!

  27. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jon hello, and thanks for your comment. Sorry that it got stuck in the spam filter for a little while. As the author of Confident Writing I have to agree with the first one on your list :-) And ‘get out of your own way’ is sound advice too - going with the flow once you’ve done the mastery… Thanks again, Joanna

  28. Ami says:

    Love this idea of writing like a black belt. What a great way to kick yourself into gear and build up your discipline. I’ll be linking to this post in my weekly roundup for writers. Thanks to Lori for the article, and thanks to Joanna for sharing it with us!

  29. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for the referral and kind words!

    Hi Jon,
    Congratulations on your black belt. Never an easy thing to accomplish!

    Thank you for commenting with the additional thoughts. I originally had a page-full of qualities to play with, but had to dial it all down to blog writing brevity!

    Hi Ami,
    Thanks to you, too Ami!

  30. Joan Young says:

    I love this post as it reminds me of the important virtues of writing as well as the discipline and focus necessary to achieve excellence. Writing has always been an invaluable source of self-reflection and development in my life, and as a teacher, I work hard to convey the message that writing is an amazing gift to share with others.
    I haven’t been writing much lately and I definitely need to get back to daily practice. Thanks for the inspiration.
    .-= ´s last blog ..Brain Benefits of Exercise: Applying this Knowledge to the Classroom =-.

  31. Lori Hoeck says:

    Hi Joan,
    Happy to stir any creative fires.
    I’m with you on this: “writing is an amazing gift to share with others.”
    May your writing flourish!
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..Five traits of a narcissistic ‘crazymaker’ =-.

  32. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @ Joan, thanks so much for stopping by - I loved your feedback. I also think writing is an amazing gift and source.

  33. Jim Angel says:

    Excellent view of writing. Have you considered also placing similar tips around the dojo for others to absorb in their communications?

    I would think that schools could benefit by having these thoughts ingrained in their students’ psyche.

    Good work.

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