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MUST READ 1: Belt Testing

Probably the most seminal moments in the practice of BJJ are the belt promotions where the students belt color changes.  Most every person I know, on most every single color change has the same reaction:

“I’m not really sure whether I deserve it.”

I can tell you I had that exact reaction when I received by blue and purple belts.  There is such an increased expectation on performance (real or imagined), that often times students are afraid they can’t meet those expectations and willingly choose not to test when they are eligible.  This is a real shame and should NEVER happen.  If you believe in your instructor and they tell you that you are ready…….THEN YOU ARE READY, TAKE THE TEST!  If your goal is to achieve a black belt, why would you EVER pass up an opportunity to get one step closer?  These opportunities don’t happen every week.  CARPE DIEM!!

One of my best friends from high school who is a Renzo Gracie Black Belt has provided 2 of the most insightful comments to me about belt color changes.  Last year as I discussed my own concerns about meeting the expectations of a purple belt he told me this.  He said,

“Greg, you have to realize that when you get your purple belt, you will still be the WORST purple belt out there for a while.”

How liberating and true that comment is!  See, the belt system is nothing more than a way to get rewarded for your progress.  I am only incrementally better this week as a purple belt than I was last week as a 4 stripe blue belt, but in people’s mind that demarcation means so much more than what it really is.

The other “fear” people have is being put in a position of losing to a lower belt.  Again, there is essentially no difference between a 4 stripe whatever belt compared to the next higher color belt, BUT THE PERCEPTION IS LARGE.  In a quick text to my friend today, he shared with me HIS first purple belt competition experience.

In his first purple belt match he was submitted by a blue belt.  That blue belt turned out to be Ryan Hall, a VERY successful and talented practitioner who has played on many of the world’s biggest stages.

Look, there are simply going to be people who are more physically gifted than you, who are just going to be better athletes, and there is a good chance you will eventually lose to a lower belt rank.  DEAL WITH IT.  DON’T LET THAT STOP YOUR PROGRESS!  Today I ran into an individual whose skills were far superior than mine.  Quite honestly, it would have been tough to beat some of the blue belts in my weight division.  But competitions are just ONE part of being a great practitioner.  Teaching and leading are two other facets.

It is ESSENTIAL for anyone who wants to teach and lead, that they lead by example.  As coaches, we have the DUTY to pave the way for our students.  We have the DUTY to test when it’s time.  We have the DUTY to push past our fears so our students can look up to us as the example.  How is possible, with any credibility, for a coach to push their students to overcome their fears if we do not overcome our own first?  How can we educate them on how to accomplish that feat if WE do not know it ourselves?

My first martial arts instructor in Virginia stressed never comparing yourself to someone else, only to who YOU were the day before.  If you believe in your instructor, willingly skipping a belt test is like telling your teacher you no longer believe them.  WHY NOT BELIEVE IN YOURSELF WHEN SOMEONE ELSE BELIEVES IN YOU?  WHAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK?

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