On Monday night, Nov 3, 2014, I was awarded my puple belt in BJJ by my instructors Tim Mannon and Justin Chong.
I don’t even know where to start. I have planned how to write this post for years. Years. I thought about being all sneaky and sly and just slip it in at the end of a post like Slidey. I still think my best idea was to write a review of the company that made my blue belt (it’s an old TKD belt, btw) and give it a proper send-off. I almost even wrote that post once about two years ago, as in fully planned it out and got out the computer to write it, only to decide to do other things instead.
I’ve been trying to write this post now since that Monday night, and there’s just so much that wants to come out in a jumble. So I apologize for the mess.
I’m sitting here, even 2 days later, just gobsmacked. It’s too soon; I’m not ready. I was just really starting to dig in to being a decent blue belt. I took the belt to bed with me on Monday night and last night because it still all seems like a thing that happened to someone else. I painted my toenails purple, but they just look weird.
Tim has been experimenting with different ways of doing promotions recently. It used to be the old “sneak up while you roll and whip you” method, which I still like because you have no idea it’s coming and are just focusing on doing jiu-jitsu. But recently he’s done some more formal “line up and call names” types. This was one of those. He brought out two blue belts and one purple. I looked at that purple and decided it was too big*, so was obviously not mine. I was disappointed, but then again I’ve hardly gotten to train normally for six months now thanks to injuries, so of course it made sense that I wouldn’t be promoted.
*Of course, if you look at the picture in the last post, the belt IS clearly too big, too.
He called up the two white belts and promoted them to blue. And then he started making a speech. (Tim doesn’t usually make speeches for promotions.) He talked about how “this person has had more opportunities to quite than anyone here” and how “this person has had more bumps and bruises and injuries, but has kept training” — and my brain said, “Wut.” He said some other nice things about perseverance and dedication though I don’t think I heard half of them because I was trying so hard not to cry. I did cry, though.
Five years is a long time at a belt. There have been so many times over the last few years especially when I’ve thought, “This is it! I’m right about purple belt! Any day now!” I bought purple nail polish and stuck it on my bathroom counter so I’d see it every day. I’d make sure my camera was charged and in my bag so I could get pictures. I lost my original blue belt and didn’t want to replace it because certainly I’d be promoted shortly, so I pulled out my old TKD blue belt. (That was three years ago, btw.)
“Any day now… Any day now…”
After a while I started to seriously look at myself and how I’m training: What giant holes am I missing? Where can I improve? Perhaps I should compete more and really evaluate myself that way. Watch more training videos? Roll with only the people who crush me? Roll with only the people who don’t? Train more often? Travel to train?
“… Any day… now…”
And then I started getting injured. Frequently. After the first few, I was able to come all the way back and then start improving before the next one would hit. And then the next injury starting coming faster on the heels of the one before, such that I still hadn’t even caught back up to where I’d been. And on top of that, when I could train, I didn’t feel as if I was getting better. There were days I could do things and think, “Yeah, I’m a purple belt now for sure!” But nothing would happen afterwards to encourage that thought, and then a class or several would be terrible.
There was finally a point — probably around the same time I stopped blogging the way I had been, and it’s honestly one of the reason I backed off from blogging — when I realized that I would likely be a blue belt forever. That I had thrown everything I had into it, but had only gotten injuries and no indication that I was improving; that I must have hit my physical and mental skill cap, and wouldn’t ever be able to get above that. That I would be the person from the poll several years ago: “Would you continue to train jiu-jitsu if you could never get better than your current skill level?” And actually, my answer was tending towards, “No,” because there are better things than bashing your head against a wall.
But I decided that I would be the best blue belt that I could be. That I would be an example of what a blue belt should look like and act like in our school; that I would help when I could help, be encouraging where I could be, take charge when I needed to, and keep my mouth shut the rest of the time. That I would focus on the little ways in which I could improve. That I wouldn’t stress out about needing to miss class for other things, but that I would still train as regularly as I could. (Which turned out to be not-so-regularly because it’s easy to be lazy.)
This is a motivation belt to me. I know it’s a “you’re so close, and these injuries have been slowing you down until you hardly even want to train anymore, but I know if I give this to you now, that you’ll rise up to earn it squarely” belt. And I will.