Words: Callum Medcraft
When I started Jiu Jitsu, I was hell bent of being promoted to blue belt as quickly as humanly possible – hands up if you felt the same?
No one likes to be labelled the ‘newbie’, so being relieved of that ostracising white strap around your waist is high priority when starting to train martial arts. That said, when it comes to jiu jitsu, we really shouldn’t view grading this way, and here’s why…
Promotion to blue belt in jiu jitsu is a massive, massive achievement – perhaps the most important achievement of your grappling journey. Being rewarded with your first power-up is the culmination of at least a solid year’s worth of trials and tribulations on the tatami.
The first twelve months are all about survival; thrashing about somewhat hopelessly, trying to keep your head above water, while your skilled training partners barley break a sweat in racking-up a few casual submissions. Gradually, you get tapped less frequently; you learn to use technique over strength, and you come through the other side with a feeling that you ‘get’ jiu jitsu. Now you’re in, baby.
A number of prominent teams within the USA have already incorporated the green belt for adult promotions within their curriculum; what reason can be argued for this ‘innovation’ other than that of commercial intent?
So why do we yearn for recognition of our progress with belts? Anyone who says they’ve not thought about their next belt at some stage or another is clearly lying, but why do some choose to dwell on this so prevalently instead of focussing on the beautiful journey?
In the traditional world of martial arts (and, perhaps, in general life) people tend to crave recognition; the perception of excellence can be more important than actual excellence. Being a black belt becomes a status symbol, enabling the beneficiary to feel like they’ve entered the world of the elite, which in turn opens up new opportunities: teaching, opening a gym and, ultimately, making money. Is this what being a black belt is all about? Not in my book.
As jiu jitsu becomes more popular, there are ultimately going to be changes. If we’re honest, the benchmark for becoming a black belt has already changed since the art left the shores of Brazil, but we still stand alone within the martial arts realm by promoting efficiency over time served when awarding belts. The IBJJF provide useful guidelines for belt promotions, but many choose to focus on these guidelines and assume they will achieve their next belt accordingly. Ultimately, everyone learns at a different pace, and we should be simply focused on getting better, not getting belts.
A number of prominent teams within the USA have already incorporated the green belt for adult promotions within their curriculum; what reason can be argued for this ‘innovation’ other than that of commercial intent? If a student can’t take their licks, do their time, and wait the 12 months plus required to reach the rank of blue belt in jiu jitsu, perhaps they’re in the wrong sport.
The crux of the matter is this: PLEASE don’t wish your journey away. Clichéd as it may sound, the belt is there to keep your gi closed, and we all know the colour you bear around your waist means jack shit if you can’t defend it on the mat. Don’t be ‘that’ guy. Enjoy every moment for what it is and don’t get obsessed with your next promotion. We’re in this for the long haul, not for sugar highs that ultimately mean nothing.