Reaching a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is often said to be as difficult as earning your black belt in most martial arts. I believe this to be true, and while it used to give me a sense of pride, (particularly when I was a blue belt), over time I see that beyond the comparison with other martial arts this says a great deal about Jiu Jitsu in general.
I find the phrase “a belt is just something that holds your pants up”, to carry meaning when it is spoken by a skilled martial artist in any art where the participants actually spar. Beyond the dismissive sentiment, the statement overlooks the main point. While somewhat arbitrary belted grading within a martial art, when done correctly, provides an amazingly accurate representation of a students skill level.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu earned the (often unchallenged) reputation of having our first belt maintain an essentially equal grade as many other arts top belt in a very indisputable fashion. When Jiu Jitsu first came to the U.S. many black belts from other arts would visit the academies to see what the fuss was. The Jiu Jitsu professors of the day, (employing a style I greatly admire), would invite the visitors to spar with their best blue belts. This is why the assertion still essentially goes unchallenged today and also why when fighters walk out in the UFC you very often hear their ranking in Jiu Jitsu and you seldom hear their ranking in other arts, (outside of professional level competition such as wrestling accolades, etc.).
I am not saying this to put down other martial arts. Man, as long as people are getting off the couch and getting some activity in I am psyched. I think exercise in general and getting some practice with your mindbody connection specifically is a wonderful thing for society in general. I also don’t say this just because we are all Jiu Jitsu fans, that is a given. I am bringing it up because our students have been working incredibly hard and diligently and the work continues to pay off.
Recently we have had a handful of promotions. I want to not just bring attention to their work and accomplishments, but also acknowledge the hard work being put in by all of the students at Praxis regardless of where you are at in your personal practice. Belts may in fact hold your pants up, but they also tell a story of how much work you have put in and say a great deal about your ability to work diligently towards a goal.
In no particular order; Joey, Ji, Costa, and Luke all received their Blue Belts recently. While I am probably not going to be setting them up with challenge matches anytime soon, that has more to do with etiquette, style, and general professionalism rather than any concern about their ability to handle unexpected challenges.
Jiu Jitsu has a well earned reputation as an art that can execute under duress. Every single one of you from white belt on up are putting in an incredible amount of effort to not just reach your next belt, but to increase your capacity to deal with frustration, failure, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, and generally how to orient and conduct yourself when things aren’t going your way. I often get the “what I’m going to do speech” from students when they outline their plans for progress. While I love it and appreciate it, I think that all of you should realize that while attendance and effort might average out over time, it doesn’t always average out week to week.
We all get sick. We all have off weeks, sometimes those become off months. We all fail. We all often don’t get what we want. Our plans often don’t go the way we intended.
That isn’t what Jiu Jitsu is about.
Jiu Jitsu takes all of that and says “ok, here we go”. Everyone that got promoted has had injuries, missed more class than they want, didn’t get the progress they wanted in the timeline they thought it should happen. None of them quit. All of them kept at it the best they could until one day they got their next belt.
Speaking of next belts and ability to perform under duress we recently saw Matt get his purple belt, and Adam receive his brown belt. When you look across the spectrum of belts and promotions you can get an idea of the size of the mountain you are climbing. Matt and Adam are tough dudes! While it takes a while to see the actual fruit of your labor, it can be heard immediately from the other students when someone is called up for their next belt. This is particularly true in those difficult to achieve and long sought promotions. Applause bursts out at these promotions because the people suffering there with you, all of the students, understand that anything worth having is worth working for.
Remember, you aren’t learning to juggle, you are gaining the skill to pull off technique against a fully resisting opponent. This isn’t something you can download or learn overnight. So before you get too carried away with beating yourself up for not being as far down the road as you would like, know that you are in a marathon and not a sprint. That isn’t a reason to slow down, but it is a reason to pace yourself.
A gift my teacher gave me was his very balanced perspective of be proud of what you have accomplished but always ask more of yourself. Proud, but not satisfied. I think that one of the reasons Jiu Jitsu has such a family feel to it is that we get to suffer together towards a worthy goal. Keep this in mind the next time you are discouraged with your current level. Then look around for someone who is looking as discouraged as you feel and see what you can do to help them progress. It is a little trick that will keep you moving in the right direction.
I appreciate all of you being there and the work you put in.
See everyone on the mat!