10 years in BJJ and 10 lessons I’ve learned (Part 2)

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(me on the far left. 2007)

“A black belt is a white belt who never quit.” – Unknown

 

“A black belt only covers two inches of your ass. You have to cover the rest.” – Royce Gracie

 

I don’t chase belts, I chase techniques – Tony Spencer (when asked about when he would receive his black belt)

 

2. Don’t worry about belts or stripesSomething I’ve never understood is the obsession people have with their belt rank and stripes. I can honestly say I never cared about the speed at which I received my promotions. From the beginning I was just concerned with getting better. I enjoyed the training and loved being in the gym with my friends, and I figured the belt would come when it came. Although there was a time once, when my first instructor told me that I was getting close to purple belt. He did this to provide motivation so that I would push myself in training, and I did. This was a huge deal for me. You may not know this but I started my training under a purple belt, and in the beginning I felt like that would be a level of skill I would never reach. The thought of closing in on something that originally seemed unattainable was quite the mental boost. When he told me this I bought a purple sweatband and before class I would slip it on my ankle. Looking down at the purple band would help keep my mind focused during hard training sessions. But even with the sweatband and the thought of snagging the level of purple belt I did not once actually care about how soon I received the promotion. I was focused on my training and my progression, not the piece of dyed cotton that is supposed to represent my abilities. I was probably more nervous about being promoted than excited. I felt like I needed to really push myself in order to be worthy of wearing the belt. I would rather be a white belt with black belt ability, instead of a black belt with white belt skill.

I guess understanding my relationship with belts is maybe different than others so I will explain. First off, I didn’t receive a single stripe until I was a purple belt and had switched to a new gym. My first gym didn’t offer them. On a side note, I think that not having stripes for so long is one of the reasons I am so sporadic with striping my students.  If you’re one of my students reading this, I’m sorry.

My outlook on belts was also altered by the fact that I started under a purple belt. I mean I suppose becoming a black belt was one of the goals but try and put yourself into my shoes for a second. My teacher was a purple belt, which means I would have to ascend to a level of skill that wasn’t visible to me. Then, you hardly ever saw black belts at tournaments. If you went to a tournament, the coordinators might be lucky enough to scrape together a brown and a black belt for a super fight. Back then seeing a black belt, for me, was like looking at some super hero or mythical creature. NOW, almost every BJJ gym around has at least 1 black belt with many schools boasting numerous black belts. The new wave of students coming in can look at their instructors and know they have a guide to the top. I didn’t have a black belt to train under consistently until the later stages of my purple belt. I think that starting in these circumstances really affected my mindset on rank and made me care less about it. I didn’t believe that I would become a black belt, so I simply focused on training and improving myself

I did finally achieve the promotion to black belt on July 9th, 2011 from Master Renato Tavares under the approval of my coaches Kyle and Colin Cannon. Though, I didn’t actually feel like a black belt until October of that year when I went to the Miami Open. This was my first big tournament as a black belt and it was intense. I remember warming up in the bull pen staring at all of the other black belts around me. I would fixate on their belts and think “man. . . black belt. . . bad ass” and then I would stare at my own waist with the same color tied around it. I was a black belt but I didn’t really feel like one. In some ways I still felt like that white belt from 2003. Then I had my first match which I won by submission after playing a dominant game. That match made me feel like I was where I belonged and made me realize that I was in fact a quality black belt.

 

The Take Away

When you train do you care about the belts and stripes over your training? If you roll with a person who has more stripes than you do and you submit them, do you think you should be promoted to a higher level than them?

If you do, then you’re missing the whole point of the BJJ journey. First off, if you are training at a school that keeps with the tradition of BJJ, expect to put in no less than 7-12 years for a black belt with the average being closer to 10. Are you not up for 10 years to get a black belt? Well then you have two options.

  1. Change martial arts.
  2. Go to a website like www.keikosportsusa.com and buy yourself a black belt. The belt will run you about $20 dollars and will save you a lot of money in the long run with gym dues and what not. Yeah, you didn’t earn it . . . but then again, you weren’t in it for that in the first place.

Now assuming you’re up to the task of investing a nice chunk of your life into this art like so many of us, then let me give you a piece of advice. Don’t worry about the belts and ranks. I promise, if you focus on your training, build relationships, immerse yourself into the community and improve yourself on and off the mats. The belts will come and you will achieve mastery, and just as important, you will receive the countless benefits that BJJ offers. Remember BJJ is a martial art and like any martial art, it’s about improving ourselves and helping us become a better version of ourselves. As an instructor I’ve seen students become frustrated and upset over belts to the point that it negatively affects their training. By allowing yourself not to get so caught up on the belt, you allow your mind to concentrate its focus on yourself!

Thanks for reading!

4 replies
  1. Seam
    Seam says:

    Great article, well written. I know when I am in a flat spot at training I do get bummed about progress. But I’m more interested in the skills than the belt. I’ve had discussions of a similar flavour with younger guys when rolling, except its about tapping. When I say I’m happy to tap once the other guy has me wrapped up an I can’t escape, guys under 30 are go smacked. Tapping = losing to them. I say that I think it’s more important to focus on the skills. Tap, reset, try again rather than spend a couple of minutes and loads of energy surviving just for the sake of it. But maybe my philosophy isn’t for everyone :).

    Anyway, thanks again, I look forward to part three!

    Reply
  2. 40andFighting
    40andFighting says:

    Great post, Chewy! It’s important for guys at my end of the belt color scheme (4-stripe white) to hear a black belt preaching this message!

    I started BJJ at 39, and realize I will be 50+ before I might wear black. However, that doesn’t bother me. I’m motivated by the inch-by-inch improvements I see both in fitness and in technique.

    I will admit, however, that the potential for blue belt in our school’s December promotion cycle is quite the motivator!!

    Reply
    • Chewy
      Chewy says:

      Thanks brother.

      I’m glad you’re ok with reaching your black belt later in life.

      Yeah knowing that you’re inching closer to a new belt always pushes you a little bit more. I hope you’re able to snag the blue before the new year. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

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