There are a lot of memes that circulate around about the process of going from white belt to black belt. A notable one portrays a pocket knife. The pocket knife seems to keep growing and growing until finally there seems to be more tools than one really knows what to do with.
I remember the first day I started Jiu-Jitsu, I got my ass handed to me by a 16 year old kid. Here I was a grown man weighing close to 200lbs and right out of crossfit ready to do some damage. My first day…. A 16 year old kid. I can’t make this stuff up. I was hooked.
My white belt life could be described by an ever growing, seemingly unending enthusiasm. I couldn’t tell my rear end from a hole in the ground or a shoulder lock from a wrist lock but I was so excited to be learning so much about a whole world I knew nothing about. It was captivating how little I knew about something.
Time passed and eventually, I started to get better. The learning never ceased. As a matter of fact, learning seemed to be growing exponentially. Different techniques started to stem from other, more basic techniques. What’s even better is that people were tapping me out less and less. My survival skills were progressing at an alarming rate.
I got my blue belt at what seemed to be the pinnacle of my growth as an “escape artist”. I was Houdini-ing my way out of almost everything and frustrating the living crap out of people that ranked higher than me. Few people caught me here and there compared to how much I was getting tapped in the early months.
As my escapes and survival got better, so did my attacks. I tell new students, “Focus on your defense first. The rest will follow”. Now that I knew how to defend myself from 80% of what was thrown at me, I could really start honing in some attacks. At the blue belt level, the attacking techniques I learned actually began to stick. Furthermore, the techniques I was learning now were easier to implement because concepts and movements started to make sense. I guess blue belt can be described as where things start to make sense.
Time passed, I received my purple belt. I hit the ground running. I was winning gold medal after gold medal. The first year of my purple belt continued at such a remarkable clip and then BAM. I hit a plateau that would last all the way until I received my brown belt.
My purple belt life was characterized by constant failures. I was no longer learning great techniques that actually made any substantial difference. My weaknesses started to become so much more evident and I wonder whether I consciously or subconsciously made an effort to work on my weaknesses and ignore my strengths. This is where I really started to see how many holes in my game there were. My Jiu-Jitsu was like water through a sieve. The knowledge I acquired from white and blue belt seemed to only elucidate the many areas my Jiu-Jitsu was lacking.
I had a couple of injuries that held me back. As a matter of fact, in addition to the various sprains to my wrist, shoulders and knees, I broke some ribs, separated some others and dislocated a thumb. In Judo, I also fell on my neck. It was rough. I kept showing up though and I kept training through what I could.
The physical anguish isn’t what bothered me though. It was the mental anguish. The mental anguish of not feeling like I was doing any better was heart-breaking. My learning curve was stunted. People were catching me more often than not and I even remember one day, a professor of mine was screaming at me in Portuguese for letting myself get my ass kicked by a blue belt –This actually was one of the worst training days of my life.
It wasn’t until the end of my purple belt that I started to make some minor changes that led to some big results. I started to change my attitude about certain aspects of my training. I started competing more often. I started to really care about taking care of myself on and off the mats. I started to really dedicate myself again to learning, going above and beyond the class time to take private lessons and do my homework. I started watching World Championship matches and was surprised with how much I was actually picking up. And more importantly, I started to take way more chances in training. I started to behave like a white belt again. It was fun again.
A month before I got my brown belt, I knew I was ready. The heartbreak of having my purple belt was gone. I felt like a new person. The day I received my brown belt, I rolled with my professor. We chatted for a long time after the school closed down about the person I was, the person I am and the person I needed to become to be successful at the next level. The interesting thing is that I had felt I was already undergoing these changes and only when I made the decision to break through did I start to feel like the worst was over. The worst was indeed over. A new chapter in my life had begun.