Thursday, February 18, 2016

Longing for the Days as a White Belt

What it felt like as a BJJ white belt?

Sometimes I feel myself longing for that exciting feeling I had back when I first started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  The newness of learning something I had never known was impossible to compare to much of anything I had ever experienced when I first started training.  I never trained Martial Arts as a kid so when I began training Jiu-Jitsu I finally "got it."  My discovery of Jiu-Jitsu came at a time when I most needed it; something to give me focus and direction.  I totally immersed myself into training as much as I reasonably could and the learning that came with it.

I jumped at almost every opportunity I could to train with high level guys that would come through town for seminars and workshops. I competed as often as I could because I felt that it was an important aspect in developing into a better grappler.  Even as a full-time, "career guy" and single parent at 30, I would sneak into the gym for a training session anytime I could find a plausible opportunity.

How it evolved and changed?

As time passed and I started gaining some rank in Jiu-Jitsu I still longed for learning and developing my grappling.  I began teaching kids once I reached blue belt and eventually adults as time passed. As an instructor it was vital for me to be a student of the sport.

At times I became overly focused on reaching certain goals and ranks and that honestly took some of the fun out of it for me at times.  Anyone reading this can relate on some level regardless of your time in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu.  If you stay long enough you will see trends and changes within the competition environment and I tried my best to stay in tune with that despite what we were training in our classes.  I found as time, purple, then brown I longed for that feeling I had as a new white belt that was completely devoid of goals, self-imposed pressure, etc. This was a pitfall for me and I imagine I'm not alone feeling that way.

What I missed the most?

One thing I missed probably more than anything is that feeling of almost no expectation.  When I was a white belt I didn't know much of anything.  I had some natural ability and basic understanding of wrestling but outside of that I was like a clean pallet.  The amount of knowledge I felt I could obtain seemed limitless as a white belt.  The amount of time I invested in addition to normal training sessions was borderline obsessive compulsive but it was a lot of fun.  It gave me something to channel my free time off the mats until I could get back in for another training session.  That time studying online and chatting with teammates gave me some focus so that I would have a plan when I got back in the gym to train.

So I got my Black Belt

Yes, you too can get a Black Belt if you are committed and keep going long enough.  I managed to stick with my original instructor which was very important to me.  I'm not saying that is the way for everyone but I wanted to have that squeaky clean lineage.  Loyalty is a big thing to me and I was lucky enough to develop a relationship with my coach and see it through for my last, big promotion. I can honestly say as I approached my Black Belt I really focused on basics for the last year or so leading up to that point.  Maybe that took some of the fun out of it for me?  Taking the most basic route of fundamentals rather than learning something completely new just wasn't for me?  That being said I don't regret it and feel some of the most basic fundamentals are lost on the average grappler that reaches blue belt.  I don't mean to paint every blue belt with that brush but if you are reading this you are in tune with social media.  You see how many people become overly focused on things and specialize in certain areas rather than developing themselves to be well rounded grapplers.  You don't even have to leave your gym in many cases to see that.

I will say though that the last six months or so leading up to Black Belt I did become much more focused on leg locks and nogi grappling.  I knew as an upper belt having a well rounded game and understanding of leg locks was very important.

I have been 75% gi focused since day one.  It's not that I don't enjoy nogi but my training & teaching schedule simply works out that I am mostly training in the gi.  Couple that with a limited amount of time to train and that's just where my focus was & competing in the gi.  I started to feel that excitement all over again as I started to transition into a leg lock focused nogi game; throw in some stand-up as well thanks to working with Reilly Bodycomb every opportunity I get.

Joseph D. Shelly & Me at my Black Belt promotion

Something new...Judo!

Fast forward just a bit from my most recent promotion and I would be lucky enough to find a new training partner and teammate in a 3rd Dan Judo Black Belt.  This guy not only has been training Judo for 30 years but has a moustache that rivals both Don Frye and Magnum PI.  Turns out he's my age and the real deal.  He's a lot like me and we both have very similar goals.  We love training, learning new concepts along with the application, and teaching others what we love most.  He sold me on Judo and I'll be honest it wasn't easy at first.  The stand-up aspect of grappling has always been my weak point (always defaulting as the guard guy) and it's not often you have the chance to work with really talented wrestlers or Judokas outside of your own academy.

In just six months of working Judo with him 1-2 times per week I've been able to elevate my confidence in standing with anyone at my own gym at a level I had not experienced before.  The best part of this new discovery is simply's new.  It has given me that white belt feeling all over again that I experienced when I first found Jiu-Jitsu.  It is making me a more well-rounded grappler and keeping me very hungry to continue learning.  Moving forward I hope to compete in at least one Judo tournament this year and maybe even some Sambo!

Akin Kurtulan (my Judo coach and teammate)
Moral of the story?

I think it's fairly simple.  We all hit the proverbial rut in training.  We feel like we've hit a wall or simply losing interest for various reasons.  My suggestion is to make a list of the things that you loved most when you first started training.  Identify those things that made you most excited about training.  Once you figure that out ask yourself, "what can I do to bring back those really good feelings again?"  Don't stray from what brings you the most enjoyment.  Don't set artificial goals that take the fun out the aspects you love most.

For me I firmly believe it is to never stop evolving.