BJJ Belts: Awareness & milestones in the journey of BJJ

I was talking to one of our first generation Lab Rats* yesterday after two gruelling BJJ sessions. He brought something up that we all experience throughout our Brazilian jiu jitsu journey: Awareness and coming out of plateaus**.

White, blue and purple.

As you my already know, I see BJJ, and all martial arts and other physical endeavours, primarily as tools to develop my awareness on every level. To me, sitting inside someone's closed guard is an exercise in physical (grips, balance, postures, frames, motion...etc.), intellectual (why did he do that? How can I best block it? How do I best initiate this?...etc.) and even emotional (I can't believe the SOB just blocked my sweep / passed my guard / armbarred me so hard...etc.) awareness training. I'm on the mat to observe actions and reactions and how they affect me.

But my friend said it a lot more concisely. He just looked at me and said: "I'm only just starting to not think of a move then do it, but rather just do it!" It's a huge milestone in anyone's journey. It made me think of how our view of what happens on the mat changes as we progress and grow within the sweeps, reversals and positions of the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu.

White Belts: "Wow that was lucky!"
When a (fresh) white belt sweeps or submits someone (or gets swept, reversed or submitted by someone) they always see it as a lucky thing, at least to a degree. I often hear it when I roll with them and of course remember myself thinking that. "Wasn't it neat that when I blocked the sweep with my hand he just whipped his leg out and triangled me!". Damn luck!

Blue Belts: "Sweet! I wonder what else I could do from here."
Blue belts are technique whores! No amount of techniques will ever be enough. I remember getting two armbars from closed guard as a blue belt and deciding "Right! I need to buy every book and DVD there is about armbars from the closed guard! I seem to be getting them often. This must be my 'game'". What an idiot!

Purple Belts: "I just can't get anyone with anything any more. I need to combine my techniques"
Nothing in my life has given me as much enjoyment and satisfaction as Brazilian jiu jitsu, but it comes with equal amounts of frustration. Around the time I got my purple belt, I was actually ready to give it all up and leave BJJ. The reason? I was not making any progress and, in my own opinion, was actually getting worse! I was convinced that all my techniques were crap (some truth in there I guess) and that every one else on the mat was learning some secret zhoo zhitsu shizzle that they were not sharing. Nothing I did was getting me anywhere except tapping. A lot. My armbars where failing, my chokes where getting blocked and I was getting swept every which way. What's the point of putting yourself thru the rigours of training BJJ if you can't get anything to work?

One day, I was just about to give up on yet another sweep. I remember it well. It was a scissor sweep and my training partner was an experienced judo player. He is somewhat smaller than me but with good balance. For some reason, I had my right hand inside his right collar (rather than gripping his left lapel) and was controlling his right wrist with my left hand. I got into position to scissor sweep him to my left but man he was stable. He wouldn't budge. Just before I gave up on the sweep and recomposed my guard (safety! safety!) I let go with my left hand and grabbed his left lapel by the scruff of his neck for a palm up palm down choke. He tried to use his right hand to block me or peel my hand, but every time he did that my legs scissored a little and threatened to sweep him over, forcing him to base out while I deepened my choke grips. After a few seconds (that felt like hours!) he tapped. That's when my purple belt*** moment came and from then on I was started to combine every technique I knew with every other technique I knew. The game became beautiful again.

How about you? What milestones of awareness define your Brazilian jiu jitsu and grappling journey?

Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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*Lab Rats is a nickname we have to those who train at the Labs. They might be boxers, stand-up fighters, BJJ / gi players or nogi submission enthusiasts. We are all Lab Rats.

**They seem to go hand in hand. A breakthru seems to take place when you suddenly find yourself aware of things you were not aware of before.

***I was still a blue belt then. I got my purple belt a few short months after that.


Georgette said...

That's a beautiful example! Hmm.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Thank you very much Georgette. I hated my frustrations :)

The BJJ Dummy said...

I agree with your pre-purple belt thoughts. It feels like i am going through that at the moment!

DagneyTaggert said...

One of the reasons I love the blog world is that I get to be reminded the frustrations I experience are not because I suck, but are in fact a normal part of the BJJ learning curve.

This was a wonderful post! Thank you for the timely words. I kind of needed to read this right now.


The Part Time Grappler said...

Thanks BJJ Dummy. One of the things I love about BJJ is that the experiences are universal :) it's like I share something so powerful with so many friends and strangers alike.

The Part Time Grappler said...

I don't know Dagney. Maybe you do suck!

Just joking of course, but you kinda handed me that one :)

I promise you, the frustrations are:
1. shared by everyone
2. Never go away with increased skill
3. Do go away when you realise that the privilege is not getting good at jiu jitsu, but rather the privilege is stepping on the mat in the first place :). We are lucky to have the time, facilities, health, coaches, resources...etc. to do BJJ.

And of course, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the blog :)