BJJ White, Blue, Purple, Brown and Black Belts Reflections

A BJJ white belt once told me this:

I started rolling a year or so ago with a good friend during open mat sessions, in which I was taught about finding a personal philosophy, my style, so to speak. During my first roll I was crushed by two guys both half my size, this opened my eyes to how powerful technique was over size and strength, my neck ached for a week! I wouldn't have changed it for anything, I was hooked.

During my first six months I mainly rolled with whoever was on the mat during the day, not learning any specific techniques but just enjoying a roll and a play and picking up techniques off of these guys I was rolling with.

These guys and girls didn't have to help me out in any way they could have left me hurting but they didn't this is what hooked me into BJJ! It's a bond that develops very quickly when you are working very hard with another human being sharing the same path (and sweat) as you with similar goals, it is incredible.

After a few months of playing my quest truely began, my thirst for further development in techniques and in myself had began I had my philosophy and I had ideas (oh how many times these have changed over a year!!) now it was time to get on another path one with a direction.

I ran this by a BJJ Blue belt and these were her reflections:

I was a youth pastor and I started BJJ when a few of my youth invited me to come to a class. I had no idea what BJJ was and had no former martial arts experience. At 26, I was a wife and mom and was out of shape. Not at all prepared for what I was getting into! ;)

My first grapple was with a teenage boy. It was awkward. He tried to make a joke and said, “Don’t be afraid to get sexual.” I didn’t think it was funny. LOL. After that, he kept saying things like, “Try to get into a dominant position” and “just move”. I had no idea what dominant positions were and I didn’t understand what he meant by just move. I thought I was moving. Haha

Despite my awkward first grapple, I was INSTANTLY addicted. I loved the full-body workout and I loved that it was a thinking game, as well.

My first six months of training were a whirlwind of new experiences. I went from knowing nothing to learning all the basic positions and the fundamental ways movements: how to pass guard, how defend my guard, how to move between dominant positions, how to escape bad positions, how to do basic submissions and how to transition between submissions. I remember in the beginning feeling overwhelmed by the sense that I was forgetting so much of what I was seeing. I remember feeling so impatient to get better. At the time, I was training five or six times a week and I couldn’t stop thinking about BJJ. Honestly, things haven’t changed much in that department.

I didn’t realize how blessed I was to have the team I have until much later after I began. My instructors, both Fabio Novaes and one of his black belts, Ben Aubin, were extremely patient and attentive. They spent as much time building my confidence in myself as they did on teaching me technique. The rest of the team was the same way. After almost every class, you would be likely to find me harassing one of the higher belts to help me with some position I was having trouble with. That is still the case now. They made me feel like I was a part of the family from day one.

I have no idea what the guys thought of me when I first started! Haha! I have always been a very competitive, intense grappler. Think of an angry, de-clawed kitten trying to take down a pack of pitbulls. They somehow managed to stop themselves from snapping me in half. What I have seen from my teammates with other people is that, if someone comes into the gym and is humble and friendly and illing to work hard, everyone will welcome them in and do whatever they can to help them learn.

I am not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere between 6 months and a year, I “hit the wall”. I got my blue belt at 8 months and I think it was shortly after that when I started to feel like I was stuck at the level I was at and wasn’t improving. I got frustrated a lot. I cried a lot. Fabio (head coach) and Ben were really patient. Haha! Eventually, I got to the point where I realized that I was still improving, but that it was a slow process and that I needed to let go of my obsession with getting everything perfect right away. I had to remind myself that I was still a newbie on this journey and that I needed to enjoy the process instead of stressing over my imperfections. Once I let that go, BJJ got to be a lot more fun. It turned into a constant experiment. I wonder if this will work? What will happen if I do this? And, amazingly, once I let go of my need to improve, I started feeling like I was improving more. Go figure.

The game is what makes BJJ fun. It is a weird mixture of puzzle and instinct and all the while you are moving and getting an amazing workout. I love the people. We laugh a lot. Our gym is a big family and that makes BJJ so much more fun. When I get tunnel vision about something that I am not able to do effectively, it's no longer fun. I get into an obsessive this-must-be-fixed mode that saps the fun out of my training session.

I've never tried a strategy and felt "not for me". If a technique doesn’t work for me, I usually assume it is because I am missing something conceptually or in the details that is preventing me from doing it effectively. When this happens, I either let it go because I know I am “not there yet” or I become obsessed about figuring out where I’m going wrong. I have been shown more times than I can count where I was approaching a grappling problem in a way that wasn’t effective. I already touched on when I hit the wall, but I think the reason why I got to that point was that my expectations were not realistic. I wanted to grapple like a black belt when I was still a beginner. Also, I got it in my head that other people were expecting me to do better than I was. That was untrue and the pressure I was putting on myself was unnecessary.

My instructors, Fabio and Ben, were instrumental in helping me realize that the pressure I was putting on myself was hindering me instead of helping me. They encouraged me and showed me that I needed to be patient and just keep training and that the improvement would come in time. It took me months to believe them, but now, when I start to get down about something I feel I am not doing well, I just remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that I need to just keep working.

This was awesome so I thought: "I wonder what a BJJ purple belt would think of all this?" and here's what he had to add:

I started training in BJJ back in 2003. I was curious cos some of my Traditional JuJutsu buddies had tried BJJ. My first lesson was on the spider guard into triangle transition...WTF! first spar, got murdered, tapped repeatedly (and arguably a little aggressively!), soul destroying yet exhilarating.

Mixture of emotions really. For years I would get butterflies in my stomach when it came to the sparring portion at the end of class. Hating and wanting it at the same time. This slowly decreased after a few years. Now I just want to spar all the time and I never get butterflies, even at comps.

My first 6 months of training had no agenda. I was just trying to improve my grappling.

The attitude amongst my first training partners was very competitive, beginners were generally paired up with beginners and neither of us had a clue so we yanked, and pulled and grimaced our way through and revelled in small victories, like NOT succumbing to a choke or lock or somehow managing to gain a position of some sort. It was very ad hoc. I changed clubs after a year or so of this due to moving home. My new club was a bit less competitive on the mats, I was still flapping around without a clue though. My third club (again due to a move of home) I have been at for around 5 years and I suppose I still flap, yanking and pulling and grimacing around in an ad hoc manner (and revel in my small victories). Point being, there is no 'I am now awesome' status to BJJ, you are always crappier than someone else who is better than you.

You have to remember that I only trained once a week during my first six months so my progress was very very small, if any. I'd say I did not get my first 'tap' until about 9 months to a year of training like this. Ironically, I tapped a Brazilian fellow out, which was amusing to me.

The heart of why BJJ is fun for me is that it stimulates both body and mind in a way other martial arts, of which I have tried many, don't quite seem to match. I also can avoid crap things like doing katas - which after nearly 25 years of doing various martial arts, I have not read or heard a single cohesive and logical reason for the purpose of apart from wasting everyone's time.

I can't recall a time it was never fun, but like everyone else I experience plateaus in my game where nothing seems to work. I get a little down about it, but it doesn't stop me training and after a while, I get over it and carry on as normal.

Sure, Deep half seems to be problematic for me recently, I just can't get my head around it (defending it or using it). I aim to conquer this stumbling block in 2012, but I tell you what, I thought small guys like me had to be fast and furious all the time, ie use our only advantage which was being, er fast and furious. My instructor regularly spars with ginormous people and proves that effective grips and body movement is much more economical than randomly moving around and trying to look 'busy'.

This shit is getting real! I knew I couldn't stop now. I went on and spoke to a seasoned (salt and pepper) brown belt and here's what he shared:

Initially I only dabbled in BJJ and grappling, it was the late 90's and I started with Chen Moraes who ran Anaconda JJ out of the Budokwai in London. I then trained a little with Mauricio Gomez for a really short period of time, but really got into BJJ when I started to train under Roger Brooking, an Alliance BB who took over Mauricaos spot at the Seymour Leisure centre.

The first impression of my first roll was: "Technical and subtle" I was used to pretty physical sports like boxing and some wrestling, but I hadn't really experienced the subtleties of BJJ. I certainly was not a natural!

To be honest, I didn't really like BJJ or grappling at first, and really forced myself to improve as I knew it was vital addition for any martial artist who was serious about being well rounded! But when you start putting moves together, the addiction kicks in, which is what happens to most people.

During my first 6 months of training, having seen the first UFC's and Royce in action, I just though BJJ was the guard, so all I really wanted to do is submissions from closed guard as that is all I thought BJJ was.

My instructor was really laid back at the time, but there were a couple of wannabe bad boys (who always) come and go, but generally most people were cool!

Initially I really only came for the self defence aspect of BJJ, but then you get a buzz for the art and technique. But still for me the essence of BJJ is self defence.

I think what makes BJJ so much fun is the great combination of being both physical and cerebral. It really is both mentally and physically rewarding as a sport/art.

Training with arseholes is never fun! I like to train with people I like who challenge me, but really struggle to enjoy training with people who I don't like.

Once, there was this one guy who used to train with us called Lobel, he has a really slow and methodical game, and I always had this really fast and aggressive game. So I tried to copy his game to an extent, but failed miserably, my instructor said I didn't have the strength and size to control like he did, so my game couldn't really be like his. I think he was right!

I don't think training plateaus are created as such, I think if you do something long enough there will naturally be phases where you wont improve at the same rates consistently. There is not all that much to do about them, but clear your head, keep training and be patient!

There you go guys and gals that's it.

Nah of course it's not. This is what the BJJ black belt had to say about it:

I first started BJJ and similar sort of stuff probably around 1992 with a guy called Mike Gregory ( I came from a JKD background like many others. It's been so long that I find it very hard to remember what my first roll felt like now (it's 20 years ago now!), but it was fun, very different from striking, which didn't really help my groundwork.

We had very limited info back then. We would work anything new we were shown and practice it lots. People trained hard and we tried to research as much as possible and train smartly as well. One of the best things about Jiu Jitsu is that it's never ending, each new idea can lead to months of training and experimenting. The only time it's not fun or enjoyable is injury time.

Over the years you try many techniques and strategies and the only ones I've felt weren't quite "for me" were the ones relying on too much flexibility, but even then, sometimes I though I wasn't flexible enough, but it was my hip position/structure that was wrong instead. That's the thing with growth Jiu Jitsu: At some point (after a year or so), I looked at the game and saw it as very simple and thought there wasn't much too it. Obviously, I thought I was at a plateau. Soon after that something would happen that would open my eyes to new depths.  Again, that was all due to a lack of information.

I really hope you enjoyed these mini interviews. I hasten to add that they were not my idea. This was the brainchild of Mr Richard Hurst and I owe it all to him.

I would like to thank Mr Hurst (BJJ White belt), Mrs Allie Lombardie (BJJ blue belt at the time of writing, now purple belt), Mr Seymour "Meerkatsu" Yang (BJJ purple belt at the time of writing, now brown belt), Mr Miad Najafi (BJJ brown belt) and Mr Steve Campbell (BJJ black belt) for their time and effort.



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters


Allie said...

You know what I find the most interesting is how, in the last interview, he said back in the early days of his training they didn't have a lot of information and just practiced what they learned over and over again. I have really taken for granted all of the great bjj I have at my fingertips now!!

Also, it is very strange to read what I wrote before. Made me laugh a lot. Thanks for that!! :)

Liam H Wandi said...

Hehe it's like finding an old diary. Just the other day I found an old one I used when I was a white belt and the stuff I noted down was very funny. I was very concerned with things I don't feel are as important nowadays :)

Your contribution was massively welcome :)