Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #5: Belt Blues: The Struggle Is Real.

Lesson #5: Belt Blues: The Struggle is Real.

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Most of you have heard of the ‘Blue Belt Blues’, a phenomenon many people will experience soon after getting their blue belt in which they begin to think they don’t deserve their new rank. The new blue belt might question their skill level, lose confidence in themself and often, quit Jiu Jitsu alltogether. Conservatively, for every blue belt that stays on the mats to purple, 2 have quit. Granted, life can also steer someone towards giving up on BJJ, but feelings of inadequacy can play a big role in why a blue belt leaves. The fact of the matter is that at every level you will question yourself. Every belt level experiences the blues, not just blue belts. How badly and for how long depends on the individual.

Virtually everyone who have experienced ‘The Blues’ have associated it with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Most have said that at some point they wanted to give up Jiu Jitsu all together, and many also indicated that these feelings lasted way longer than they were comfortable with. Many felt that as soon as they earned their new belt, they became a target for those sitting in the upper echelons of their previous belt- often losing to them- as well as chum for the more experienced sharks within their new belt rank. Basically folks report losing to training partners they expected to easily tap. What we can take from this is that often we feel like we ought to be better at Jiu Jitsu than we actually are, which has a tendency to swing us too far in the opposite direction and make us think we suck way worse than we really do. On any given day, most of us experience this inner battle, and most folks with a healthy sense of self worth tend to balance out and accept that there is always someone better, quicker or sharper on the mats.

The problem the person experiencing ‘The Blues’ is facing however, is a sense that they’ve leveled up, therefore ought to magically have the new super powers associated with that rank. ‘Yesterday, I was a white belt. Today I’m a blue belt, but I still can’t pass that other blue belt’s guard and some three-stripe white belt just caught me in a kimura. I must really suck’, goes the logic that’s churning mercilessly in the mind of someone suffering from ‘The Blues’. It’s a tough transition from being the King of the White Belts one day to just another blue belt the next. But let’s be real here, a ranking system is simply a way of tracking yourself along a spectrum of skills. Expectations will be a bit higher once someone moves up in rank, but no coach expects a fresh blue belt to pass like Keenan, dominate like Drysdale or submit like Garcia. So when the time comes, don’t put those expectations on yourself. Toronto- and I’m sure the BJJ world-over- has a veritable blue belt army, but only a handful of purple, brown and black belts. ‘Blue Belt Blues,’ and how individuals deal with it plays a big role in blue belt attrition, and that is clearly reflected in the number of individuals who remain to achieve higher ranks. Self-doubt is normal and will only last as long as you let it. Decide to accept your skill level as it is at all times, and trust that experience and time- rather than belts- will provide skill.

‘The Blues’ is a bit of a different beast for higher ranks; by the time someone reaches purple, they generally expect a bit of self-doubt and frustration while adjusting to their new rank. This time around however, they know that it doesn’t last forever and that they simply need to continue putting time in on the mats and trust the process. That doesn’t mean ‘The Blues’ doesn’t get under the skin of higher ranked students, it simply becomes easier to face and overcome after surviving the growing pains of adjusting to their blue belt. That said, by purple belt, expectations are pretty high. ‘The Blues’ hits hardest for higher ranked individuals on the bad days; those days when you’re not at your best, people are catching you and looking pretty smug about tapping a purple, brown or black belt. White and blue belts expect to be submitted by their peers and superiors, and it’s a treat when the roles are reversed. At purple however, some people start to believe their own hype and get the notion that they shouldn’t be caught by certain people. A lot of purples have reported being targeted heavily by blue and brown belts. A purple belt knows what they’re doing, but they’re not without holes. It can become difficult on the ego when others on the mats wish to capitalize on those small gaps, while everyone is watching from the sidelines. Use this inevitability to sharpen yourself! People want to roll with you because you’re skilled and they’d like to measure their rolls against yours.

Before you throw your 4-stripe white belt in for good to avoid ‘The Blues’, remember that the growing pains don’t last forever, and all the feelings of inadequacy and doubt you may experience are the building blocks to humility and self-mastery. Embrace the grind, it’ll only make you stronger.

Feel free to share your ‘Belt Blues’ experience with us.

Lessons I’ve learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #4: Gym Hygiene is Really Important and Rarely Taught.

Lesson #4: Gym Hygiene is Really Important and Rarely Taught.

I have gone to the bathroom in bare feet, and returned on the mats to roll. There. I’ve said it. I didn’t do it because I’m committed to being the grossest, most inconsiderate person I can manage to be, but because no one told me it was gross. It never occurred to me. I figured it out through the silent stink-eye fellow grapplers were giving me and through BJJ memes. I mean, it makes perfect sense…but I didn’t know. That was a little bit embarrassing for me, and I’d like try to spare you some shame by handing down some lessons on gym hygiene I’ve learned over the years.

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The first is the most obvious ‘wear-the-shoes-provided-to-the-toilet’ rule. Most gyms will provide a pair or two of flip flops or some other footwear (this is often where Crocs go to die), to limit the chances of tracking illness-causing urine and fecal matter onto the mats via your bare feet. If your gym doesn’t have any, bug them to get some. Let’s be real here, guys- and sometimes even women- miss the mark, and miss it with a frequency that would make a visually impaired sniper’s record look pretty good. Even if individually you hit the can, you’re still probably stepping in someone else’s failures. Wear the shoes. Don’t forget to wash your hands, too.

Similarly, we’ve all heard of the numerous studies that indicated there could be fecal matter on toothbrushes left in washrooms, check out this study http://www.climbing.com/news/study-finds-fecal-veneer-on-gym-holds/ done in a rock climbing gym that suggests the stuff is all over climbing holds due to members doing the do in their climbing shoes. Don’t track this stuff onto the mats and make your partners sick. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Wear the shoes.

Next, wash your gear. This includes sports bras and cup straps. For most of you this is obvious; why would I want to stink and use my chest and crotch to cart around all that thriving bacteria? But some folks feel they can stretch these garments out a bit further than their natural one-use-between-washes life. Lots of people only have one or two of these items, so sometimes the best solution is to just go out and invest in a few more cup straps or sports bras. It should go without saying that gis and no gi rashguards must be washed after every use. And no, you won’t wash the magic out of your belt if you throw it through with your gi. You’ll only wash staph and ringworm-causing bacteria out. Sorry for your loss. A gym can have the tightest disinfection regime, the flyest in-washroom shoes and disinfectant fluid available all over the place, but it’s always as vulnerable as its least hygienic member. Don’t be datch guy. Wash your gear.

Stay home when you’re sick! It’s bad enough that I just absorbed your bodily fluids via sweat dripping in my eyeballs, I don’t want your mucus and germs, too. You’re not a beast when you train sick. You’re just kinda being a jerk with no consideration for your partners. I don’t like taking time off either, but you need to submit your cold/flu before you even think about submitting anyone else. This goes for folks with communicable infections, too. Be excellent to your training partners by staying home and working on your solo drill, knitting a Wookie suit or baking a cake. I don’t care. Stay home when you’re ill.

This leads us to our next entry: treat your infections and viruses. The longer you leave things like warts and ringworm, the harder it becomes to treat them. They’re not going to go away on their own, and they’re going to wind up in someone else’s system. Not sure? Go to a doctor. Don’t pick at it, definitely don’t train *or visit other schools! Don’t do it!* and don’t mess around. Treat it with something that’s had clinical trials conducted on it and a proven track record of working.

Finally, if you happen to be a true beast and train Muay Thai for a couple hours, then follow it up with a couple more hours of jiu jitsu, be a mensche and change your clothes in between. This isn’t so much an issue of communicable diseases (although fresh clothes between sessions will reduce the chances of transmission), as it is about not grossing your drilling and rolling partners out. With great power, comes great laundry responsibilities.

Those are the ropes, folks. Feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add another gym hygiene commandment.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 3: Ego Isn’t Your Bro-There’s No Shame on Tapping.

Lesson #3: Ego Isn’t Your Bro.

Tapping is a fact of life in Jiu Jitsu. You will tap. You have to tap to learn. You will tap to someone better or quicker or more clever than you right up until the day you hang up your coral belt. You’ll tap to folks that you consider less talented than you. Eventually you’ll even give up a tap to the noobs here and there to help them learn. There’s no shame in tapping. Never. I can’t say this enough and any more firmly; There is no shame in tapping!

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Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about why we don’t tap. There are two primary reasons why someone doesn’t tap: Ego and inexperience. There’s different levels of ego on the mats, so for the purpose of this discussion, I’m not talking about being a jerk on the mats, just being overly stubborn or proud. Usually ego and inexperience go together, so before you think you’re a complete idiot because your elbows, shoulders and knees are jacked up from not tapping… Most beginners go through this somewhat painful and often embarrassing stage. You don’t know when to tap, but you’ll be dammed if you’re not going to give your all when you roll (we’re going to talk about the well known ‘White Belt Spaz’ another day). So you go hard and stay way too long in a kimura you thought for sure you’d be able to get out of. Not your finest moment, but ideally during your next rolls you survive longer before you tap to that kimura, and at some point along the way you’re going to say to yourself “Ah ha!!! I keep getting getting caught in this kimura because I keep letting my partner isolate my arm in his/her guard!”. This is learning. They may still have other ways of getting that arm, but now you’ve learned a defense to one.

A personal experience that I can share, I was at an open mat in Toronto as a relatively new white belt. While rolling with a purple belt, she caught me with my very first knee bar. I’d never felt one, never even seen one before that moment. I didn’t tap when I should have because I didn’t understand the mechanics of a knee bar; and I was too proud to tap to this tiny lady, even though she was ranked way higher than me. Meanwhile the poor purple belt assumed I knew what it was and what to do because I only train no gi. Needless to say I was very sore for a few weeks and even had the audacity to blame my partner, which isn’t fair. When in doubt, tap. I didn’t tap because I was ignorant of the submission and too proud to tap and ask what it was and how to counter it. Tapping is your responsibility.

There is no shame in tapping, there’s only lessons and experience. So when you have those days where everyone on the mat is a hammer and you’re feeling a lot like a nail, just think of all the experience you’re gaining and all the money you’re saving on painkillers and joint supplements! You may have tapped three times to the same darce, but I bet you won’t get caught a fourth time! And if you do, so be it, now you know you need to work on your darce defense.

Things I’ve Learned Studying Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 2: You’re Gonna Suck- For a Long Time.

Lesson 2: You’re Gonna Think You Suck – For A Long Time

On some level most people begin almost any skill- based venture with at least a basic understanding that they will suck really bad at it at first. Jiu jitsu is no different in that respect, except that you will in all likelihood do poorly for way longer than you expected. That doesn’t mean you won’t have tons of fun in the process of becoming great, but don’t let the realty of inevitable ignorance spoil one of the greatest journeys you’ll ever take in your life. As a wise man once said, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something”. – Jake the Dog.
Acquiring any nuanced skill set of course will be long and difficult, but many people underestimate the process required to become proficient at Brazilian jiu jitsu. Lots of folks see their 16 year old nephew with a Tae Kwon Do black belt and think that achieving their BJJ black belt will be a walk in the park. The fact that jiu jitsu is tough and takes a while to get good at often results in a number of drop outs by new white belts and early blue belts (we’ll chat about the Blue Belt Blues another day), who can’t handle the stress of being bad at something before they get good- So they quit. But this won’t be your fate, primarily because now you know what to expect, right?

Heck, catch a brown belt on a bad day and you might be privy to their grumblings about the shortcomings of their game. Meanwhile you’re looking at the two stripes on your white belt thinking ‘damn, if he thinks he sucks, I must be terrible!’. Well, yeah, you are terrible – compared to a brown belt. But you’re not a brown belt, you’re a white belt who is in all likelihood doing a very good job at being a white belt in jiu jitsu. Don’t rush the process and embrace the simple fact that the vast majority of folks starting out in bjj must first be the nail before they can be the hammer. And don’t forget that you’ll also have the magical days- those days when you light up everyone you roll with, your game is on fire, things click and you just get it. This is what keeps you going and reminds you that despite feeling as though you’re not improving, you really are.

This process of not being very good is actually good for you, both for your jits as well as for you as a person. You must first learn humility to accept your place on the mats, but you also need to foster the hunger to succeed, to keep coming back despite being subbed more often than you’d like. Finally, you need to learn how to swallow your pride enough to listen to your coach when he or she tells you to work on something, or tells you which submission to go for when they coach your roll. Trust your coach’s years of experience. Afterall, they spent a great deal of time sucking at jiu jitsu just like you before they got to where they are now.

Things I’ve Learned While Studying Jiu Jitsu: Lesson 1

1. Size really does matter…Sorta…

I don’t like starting off with this but we’d better get it out of the way first; One of the top benefits of BJJ most people tout is it’s ability to minimize size differences, going on at length about how great BJJ is for the smaller practitioner. On paper this is true, but anyone under 130 lbs or so can testify that climbing up the ranks in Jiu Jitsu is tougher when the average weight of their training partners is 170 lbs+. Technique and experience are undeniable equalizers, but at the end of the day a 209 lb body has an advantage over a 112 lb body.

That said, another size- related lesson I’ve learned is that women and men both come in all sizes in the spectrum. Whether you roll with a man or a women doesn’t matter much provided they’re roughly your weight. Will a 145 lb blue belt survive long against a 145 lb brown belt? Nope, but chances are the blue belt isn’t going to needlessly wreck up their body supporting someone’s excess weight. Besides, a 109 lb brown belt (and you can find more than a few of these guys training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Toronto!) can make it feel like you’re rolling with a 230 lb opponent anyways, so take the opportunity to work your technique on the mats, not your bench press by rolling according to your size. But don’t be fooled; that 109 lb brown belt will tap a 230 lb blue belt into oblivion. Experience will win out over size 95% of the time, so don’t walk away from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just because you’re 120 lbs. At the end of the day, a good blue belt of any weight will win out over someone with no experience regardless of weight. Don’t despair if you’re smaller, just stick with your training and trust your technique!

This isn’t to say that at any skill level a smaller person shouldn’t roll with a bigger person. There are benefits to training with someone above or below your weight class. A smaller person can benefit from working their attack timing, bottom escapes and sweeps against a heavier person, for instance. Similarly the bigger opponent is forced to focus on controlling their attacks and more often than not, their back and choke defense!

Size really does matter, but at the end of the day when the field is leveled, an individual’s BJJ skill and experience is what defines the roll.

Stay tuned for lesson number 2 next week!

As Jiu-Jitsu practitioners we all have our very own Jiu-Jitsu journey. A very unique story about how we got to where we are in our Jiu-jitsu careers. We all remember our first introduction to the art. Whether it was a friend begging you to join them on the mat, and you finally decided to give in.  Or maybe you just got fed up of a loved one using you as a grappling dummy on the area rug in the living room.  Perhaps you simply had a strong desire to learn Jiu-Jistu. 66386_517202508308966_598219599_n

My journey began five years ago.  And it didn’t go as smoothly as most people I know. I had started dating a man so passionate about Jiu-Jitsu it was contagious. After a few rounds of couch Jiu-Jitsu where my face ended up in his crotch, introducing me the seriousness of a triangle choke, I decided it was time to take it to the next level. At that point, it didn’t take much convincing to get me onto the mat. First off, I’d always been intrigued with the idea of being empowered through learning a martial art.  And secondly, who wouldn’t want to roll around on the mat with a good looking person they had recently started dating. It was a no-brainer. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a chilly fall afternoon in a small town in Norther Ontario.  We had to get creative since we did not have the luxury of a real Jiu-Jitsu gym.  My boyfriend at the time and his very dedicated training partner had set up some old wrestling mats in a class room at a school that had been shut down for years.  The royal blue school emblem right smack in the middle of the canary yellow mat was enough to make feel like I was on an episode of that 70’s show.  We got on the mat for him to walk  me through the fundamental principals of Jiu-Jitsu, but that quickly turned into a rolling session.  Within months we had managed to attract a few more training partners.  All new comers to the sport of course. Which meant that as the only woman on the mat, I was getting smashed on a daily basis.  That’s when my love/hate relationship with Jiu-jitsu flourished.  After a typical rolling session I felt great but I’d wake up feeling like my body had been run over by a heard of angry bulls.  And my ego felt like it had been thrown in front of a bus.  It was brutal, yet I stuck with it and I’m happy I did.  I’m a junkie for the way Jiu-Jitsu makes me feel. Jiu-Jitsu is not just a sport, it’s a way of life. So many lessons learnt on the mat transcends into everyday life.  It’s made me much more resilient to some of life’s challenges.  It’s given me loads of confidence and keeps me humble all at once.   It also reminds me that in life you have to go with the flow.  It’s also given me the opportunity to travel, and has introduced me to so many wonderful people.  But most importantly, it has introduced me to myself.