Do You Feel Like You’re Not Getting Any Better At Jiu-Jitsu? Good News! You’re Wrong.

Issys Calderon Photography/ Instagram

If only there were a doctor who could cure the Blue Belt Blues. As cool as it is not to be the newbie anymore, it also sucks to have to be stuck in what is essentially the puberty of jiu-jitsu. It’s an awkward phase, and one of the worst parts is feeling like you’re always going to be trapped here.

A lot of my blue belt friends (and even a few purple belt friends) have lamented to me that they haven’t noticed any huge differences in their jiu-jitsu since they got promoted. Many of them have said that despite training hard as often as they can, they don’t feel like they’re actually getting any better at jiu-jitsu. I always wish I could tell them, “Oh, it gets better,” or “Nonsense! It’s all in your head,” but instead, I end up practically screaming, “Thank God it’s not just me.”

When I was a white belt, I felt like I was zooming through jiu-jitsu. One day, I didn’t know the difference between a kimura and an americana, and the next day, I was tapping people out with them. I felt unstoppable, and even though I struggled with some techniques, I could tell that my jiu-jitsu had significantly improved from one month to the next.

But as a blue belt… I don’t know, man. It’s weird. I still feel like I’m learning when I see new techniques, but because I’m having a hard time applying them in class, I don’t feel like I’m actually getting any better. I’m still decent at basic submissions, but I can’t pull off a lot of the more involved ones we’ve seen and drilled in class. I, like many other people, have often found myself wondering if I’m ever actually going to be good at jiu-jitsu, or if I’m always going to be stuck here as only a half-decent blue belt.

The confusing thing, though, is that whenever I train with my teammates after I come home after traveling, they tell me I’ve improved since I left. And I feel like they’ve improved since I left, even though they seem shocked when I tell them that. So what’s really going on here?

Basically, we’re not giving ourselves enough credit. Even though we know jiu-jitsu is a never-ending road, with the journey between each belt promotion feeling endless in itself, we often forget how slowly progress is made in this sport. Day by day, not a whole lot changes, but if we could roll with our past selves after a year, you can bet we’d wonder how we were ever that “bad” at jiu-jitsu.

It’s kind of like watching a baby grow into an adult: small periods of time may not show a lot of growth, but those changes add up, and before you know it, your snotty little human potato has become a snotty teenage nightmare who is slightly more prepared for the real world. The big changes, like learning to walk and talk happen earlier on, and even though you’ll see some major changes a few years down the road (Periods! Body hair! Hormones!), most of the developments are a lot more subtle.

Similarly, when we’re “baby” white belts, our progress is going to be a lot more obvious. We’re going from knowing literally nothing to learning guard passing, submissions, and defenses. We’ve learned the basics of how to function in jiu-jitsu, and although they aren’t perfect, they’re a lot different from what we had before.

By the time we get to blue belt, though, we usually have the basics down. We know how to walk, and now it’s time to learn how to dance. Now, there are a lot more intricacies that we have to pay attention to. There are endless steps to learn, and if you put your foot in just the wrong place or twirl a second too late, everything can be ruined.

Jiu-jitsu itself is a dance, so it’s no wonder that we have to take so many missteps and practice so much before the final product even resembles art. Because we’ve already learned the building blocks, the smaller improvements we achieve aren’t going to stand out so much in our minds. But if we keep at it, they’re all going to come together to form something incredible.

Another reason we forget just how awesome we’ve gotten at jiu-jitsu is because our other teammates are putting forth the same effort and learning the same things we are. We’re all leveling off and improving bit by bit, which means you’re no longer going from being destroyed by all the blue belts to holding your own against them in the span of a few weeks. Instead, you might find yourself neck-and-neck with the same people all the time, or even being dominated by the same people all the time. They’re improving at pretty much the same pace that you are, so it would make sense that if someone was always a little better than you, they’ll continue to be a little better than you if they continue putting forth the same work as usual.

If you can’t see the improvement you’ve been making in jiu-jitsu, don’t worry too much. Not only are you in good company, but there are also very valid reasons why you’ve stopped speeding on ahead and have settled into a slower, more maintainable rate of progress. When you’re a black belt one day, you’re going to look back on these rougher times and wonder how you ever thought you were never going to get any better at jiu-jitsu.

Or at least, that’s what I like to tell myself.



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