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Monday, December 19, 2016


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"You've got to chase the jiu-jitsu, not the belt".

I'm in a similar situation to yours. In 2004 I was itching to get back to grappling after a less-than-stellar collegiate wrestling career that had ended the year prior. My rudimentary google searches for wrestling in the area had brought me to a musty basement beneath a hardware store in Ann Arbor, Michigan where people were practicing "submission wrestling", and I began training BJJ shortly thereafter.

About a year later, I started my first team (as a white belt). It took me four years to get to blue, mostly because there were no black belts in the country where I trained. When I finally did start training under a black belt, I didn't feel like the money needed to test for my blue belt was really worth it; $100 for a new belt, or $100 for a full month of instruction? My instructor was livid that I didn't go to the testing, but after I explained to him it was a money thing, he finally (begrudgingly) gave me my blue belt after 4 years of BJJ.

It took me 7 years to get from blue to purple. I have equally epic stories of all my BJJ accomplishments during this period of time but I'll spare you the war stories.

So now, after almost 13 years of BJJ, I'm a zero-stripe purple belt. In fact, one of my former students is ranked higher than me (he has 2 stripes on his purple belt) and even HE is on a slower track than most.

One thing I really like about wrestling is that there are no belts; you throw everyone into the same competition and the best wrestler wins. I'm not against belts or the "belt system". It's a tradition I'm happy to be a part of, and I respect it.

As irksome as it may be for some to receive promotions slower than others, it also sucks for that brown belt who is getting flexed on a regular basis by blue belts. Personally, I'd rather be on the slow end. I can tell you EXACTLY what accomplishments, struggles, etc, that I had at each belt level. I once met an older black belt who told me he doesn't remember having his purple belt at all, and I'm really glad that I will (presumably) have plenty of stories of what I accomplished as a purple belt.

So, to conclude, I wouldn't have had all of these experiences if I had been focused on my belt level, and not on my BJJ knowledge and skills. The belt should reflect where you're at (albeit subjectively) but it doesn't always do that and that's OK. My jiu-jitsu doesn't get any better or worse if somebody gives me another belt. My jiu-jitsu should be able to speak for itself.

I suppose that the only major issue for me is that I'm now looking to start my own gym (again), it's going to be difficult to sell my skills as a "mere purple belt". Sure, my BJJ is on point, but that belt color does start to matter a little bit more when you're depending on it financially.

Anyway, man... Didn't mean for this to be this long or to start a new issue or anything. Just something to think about.

Thomas Nadelhoffer


Thanks for your comment and for sharing your own experiences. I just want to briefly touch on the quote you started with:

"You've got to chase the jiu-jitsu, not the belt".

This is compatible with what I said above. Here is an analogy. I have students who simply want an A in my classes (or credit). They don't much care about philosophy. That's fine as far as it goes. While I would prefer that they cared about philosophy, it's OK that some students are just chasing high grades. Nevertheless, I develop the course in advance so students can see what we will be reading and when. They know in advance what will be on the exams and when they will be. They are told what I am looking for and expecting, etc. These are all part of the curriculum for the course. So, even though I want students to chase philosophy and not the grade, I nevertheless provide a curriculum knowing in advance that a large percentage of students will simply be pursuing the grade (or credit). Indeed, I am contractually obligated to provide students with the curriculum on the syllabus when the course begins. I wish jiu jitsu were more like this. But, it's like, only my opinion man!

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