Monday, December 29, 2014

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts

I was promoted to Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at a seminar on 12/6/2014.  My instructor dropped some hints before the seminar, making sure I would attend, complementing my technique, only matching me up with other brown belts in sparring, and then talking with them privately after my roll.  So, I wasn't completely surprised when he called my name.

What I wasn't prepared for was the emotions that came with my promotion.  I started BJJ in Omaha, Nebraska at a time when the closest black belt was in St. Louis, Missouri.  The highest ranked student in the state was my instructor, a guy who had just promoted to Purple belt.  That Purple belt has since been promoted to Black Belt, but the lasting impression of him destroying me as a Purple belt has stayed with me all these years.
On that day I had just been promoted OVER that instructor.  It is silly and unproductive to live in the past, but I have a hard time accepting that I am worthy of the belt.
At my current school, I am not the best brown belt, but I am not the worst one either.  I am about in the middle of the group, which is where you want to be for a newly promoted belt.  It tells you that your promotion was legitimate for your school.  So, skill-wise I know I am worthy.  I teach classes, I help out the lower belts, so I know that maturity wise I am worthy.
However, deep in my soul, I am still that White Belt getting smeared all over the mat.  It makes me feel like my promotion was not deserved.  The problem is that I will never rid myself of these thoughts.  BUT...  I have found that these thoughts are not uncommon in BJJ.

Belts in all martial arts mean something.  However, they don't mean what the lay person think they mean.  A belt does not measure how quickly and effectively you can beat someone up.  Universally, they mean that the practitioner has spent the minimum required time training, and has acquired the skill that instructor deems worthy of that belt.  Essentially, the belt is the instructor announcing to the world, THIS PERSON REPRESENTS MY MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR THIS SKILL LEVEL.
Most martial arts, and even in BJJ, a time requirement is set on when you are eligible for your next belt.  In Tae Kwon Do, the time requirement was 2 months per belt, until you got to green, then you had stripes that you had to test for, but the time between stripes was 2 months.  If you test every time you are eligible, it takes about 4 years to achieve a black belt.
Most old school BJJ academies have no testing requirements.  You are promoted when your instructor thinks you are ready.  The time varies from student to student on their belts.  My progress has been slower than the mean.  I spent more time as a Purple belt than I did in all of my color belts in TKD.  I don't expect to be presented a black belt for at least another 4 years.

This long time frame makes the BJJ belt seem that much more important.  However, it is also the time frame that causes many people to leave BJJ.  I am now a Brown Belt.  There are fewer Brown Belts in BJJ than any other belt rank.  It is the rank before black belt and the one hit hardest by attrition.  Attrition starts at white belt and it whittles down practitioners until the final color.  However, the brown belt holder is also the most likely to complete the journey through the color ranks to achieve Black Belt.

Anyway...  Here I am.  People often try to attach meaning to the belts, but you really can't.  The meaning is deeply personal, but I will share what my journey so far has been.

White Belt

  • Learn positions
  • Learn submissions
  • Learn transitions
  • Learn how to act
  • Learn how to react
  • Learn how to tap

Blue Belt

  • Apply submissions
  • Learn how to pass
  • Transitions become natural
  • Gain endurance
  • Learn defense
  • Learn when to apply and when to conserve strength
  • Lean introspection so that you can improve your game

Purple Belt

  • Pass is natural
  • Submissions are natural
  • Deep introspection to learn about yourself
  • Focus shifts from learning moves to move details
  • Game is defined
  • Strength conservation is natural
  • Defense is natural
  • Learn how to attack

This is my journey.  Other journeys are different.  That is why the meaning of the belts are different for each person.   

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