I once heard that whatever can be taken from you is not truly yours. This includes, your looks, your money, your job and your family. The theory is that your true essence is eternal and beyond the confines and laws of the physical plane.

When I was a young man and had just begun my jiu jitsu training, my first coach gave me a piece of advice which echoed this and left a deep impression. He said, ‘In your training, the most important thing you can do is to work on things that you can take with you when you die.’

At the time I never understood what it meant, but I do now, because of people like my friend Chris.

Chris is 40 years old. He’s had a hard life and you can see it in his face. He was raised by a single mother – a prostitute with a crack addiction who died in prison of throat cancer.

Chris is not a big man, maybe 140 pounds. He’s had lower back issues for years and a couple of injuries bad enough that they required surgery. He’s been training for almost 20 years but never won a major tournament.

He doesn’t know all of the latest, flashy techniques and nobody on the mats would refer to him as a ‘beast’ or a ‘monster’. But five days per week, he wakes up at 4.30am and heads down to the academy to clean it and prepare for the 6.30am morning jiu jitsu class that he also teaches.

Chris is also one of the kindest people I know. He’s the type of guy who will stop to pick up homeless guys from his neighborhood and give them a ride into town.

And he works relentlessly at improving his jiu jitsu. He reads about the art, watches videos and most importantly, nearly every day of his life, he practices.

Yesterday he was awarded his black belt. As he received it, I saw, as I always do, how much it meant to him. Not because it suddenly gave him super powers or would make him more respected by other jiu jitsu players, but because it symbolized the struggles of his life and his triumph over them.

The black belt is not about the piece of cloth you tie around your waste or the certificate you put up on your wall. It’s about the person you become to earn it. And nobody can ever take that away from you.