They say you don’t really know the value of having something until you’ve earned something money can’t buy. Receiving a stripe or a new belt is an indescribable feeling and getting your black belt is truly special. It’s not common for multiple people to get a black belt on the same day and recently I had the honor of being invited to attend a belt ceremony at Tinguinha BJJ where 5 individuals received their belts. In additions to pictures of the event, check out the advice on how to achieve the coveted rank of black belt.
It seems obvious, but the first step to being a black belt is to attend class. And keep attending. And don’t stop attending. Every black belt you see is a white belt who didn’t quit. There will be ups and downs, injuries and life circumstances that get in your way. Stay the course. It is an achievable goal.
Embrace the Lifestyle:
Jiu Jitsu isn’t just about being able to defend yourself or kick ass. It’s a culture, a philosophy, and a way of life. More than any other martial art, you can build lasting friendships with people from all walks of life. This is because you go through the shared ups and downs of winning and losing and because you constantly put your physical well being in the hands of your partners. They will become your family.
Keep the Routine:
If you do the sport long enough, you will get injured. I’ve had broken fingers and toes, tweaked knees, shoulders, and elbows, and even 2 bulging discs in my back. It’s not a tickling match and injuries happen. Understand that there is always something you can do. Don’t let yourself replace the time you spend at Jiu Jitsu with some other hobby while you heal. Instead, keep the routine. Show up to class and take notes. Coach your teammates and help them grow to keep your mind sharp. Watch technique videos to stay connected to the sport. Drill gently if your body allows it. Before you know it, you’ll be back to training.
Technique Over Everything:
If you are small you will be forced to learn this early. If you are big and strong you may struggle with this. The sooner you can focus more on the technique behind the movements and the principles, the sooner you will advance. By purple belt you will essentially know 99% of the available moves in the game. The details and adjustments that make the technique most effective are what will allow you to progress.
My Perspective on the Black Belt:
In August of 2014 I received my black belt and have had a couple years to reflect on what that belt means. In honor of the 5 black belts given, here are 5 key lessons I’ve learned since getting it.
- Discovery Truly Begins- Sure, you “discovered” new moves constantly up until black belt but it was just another tool in the tool box. As a black belt it will be the small details of a grip change or shifts in weight that will make the difference between 50% success rate vs 90%+ success rate.
- Setting Aside Ego- Ego is always a progress killer in BJJ but at the black belt level there can be pressure not to lose to a lower belt and not to take risks. To truly advance you will have to put yourself in bad positions and try new moves. You may have to remind yourself before training that your goal that day is to improve your leg locks, for example, and force yourself to do it without worrying about the outcome of the match. You tapping can actually teach students that it’s ok to take risks and that everyone stays humble.
- Varying Levels of Black Belt- Every black belt is tough and accomplished, but unlike the other belts, the disparity in skill at the black belt level can be vast. There are some who have been black belts for longer than others have trained. Some are older and have lost their athleticism. The good news is that you will be treated with the same respect regardless of which end of the spectrum you are on. You also have a lot to offer and a lot to learn. Be open to both.
- You Don’t Have to Roll- One of my biggest worries upon receiving my black belt was that I could not lose a match ever again. I asked my mentor, Damian, for advice and he said something very profound. As a black belt you have earned the right not to roll with anyone you choose. Sadly, some people are rolling with the intent of beating a black belt rather than learning. If you’re injured or don’t feel like dealing with that type of individual, it’s ok to say you don’t want to roll.
- Focus on Evolution- If you’re a black belt it means you’ve got, on average, a minimum of 10 years into the sport. None of us are getting younger and once you pass the 40 year old mark you likely won’t be able to maintain the position of king of the hill or top competitor in the adult division if that’s what you were prior to. You can still compete in masters divisions and test yourself but experience should fear the strength of youth. That said, there is an important passing of the torch that needs to happen where the veterans of the gym pass on knowledge and refine the technique of the up and comers. Start thinking about the role you can play for future generations.
Congratulations to everyone who received recognition of their progress and growth in the art. Special congratulations to the black belts of the day. Tinguinha has built a fantastic legacy of tough practitioners and truly good human beings. And you can see the future in the twinkle of kid’s eyes who received promotions and recognition that day.