Yesterday, professor Tom DeBlass made a controversial post about white belts, blue belts, and the things they write about jiu-jitsu online. Though I am indeed a blue belt who writes about jiu-jitsu online, this article has nothing to do with what Mr. DeBlass posted. It does, however, have a lot to do with many of the remarks I read in response to him.
I’ve never heard anyone suggest that Tom DeBlass is anything but an awesome coach and human being. By all accounts, he loves and respects lower belts and simply believes they shouldn’t pretend like they know more than the average black belt.
However, many of the people responding to his comment seemed like they might not share the same love for lower belts that he has. It didn’t take long before I saw people questioning how much a lowly blue belt could really offer to the jiu-jitsu community or admonishing white belts for daring to think that they had the right to an opinion – any opinion – about jiu-jitsu. These people were essentially saying, “The color of your belt makes your journey insignificant.”
I’ve been hearing these comments since I started jiu-jitsu. I’m hesitant to even mention that I’m a blue belt when I write articles, because it guarantees that there will be at least one person in the comment section (yes, I do read your comments!) questioning my ability to give advice or even open my mouth about a sport I know so little about. But it had been a long time since I’d been exposed to so many in such a short period of time.
I’ve learned to shake them off for the most part. What really bothers me is how those comments might come across to a white belt who would probably be a purple belt right now if her knee injury wasn’t regularly taking her out of the game. I get pissed off for the single dad who finally – finally got his blue belt after six years of juggling kids and a full-time job and still managing to make it to class once a week. I feel anger bubbling up inside me for all the people whose jiu-jitsu journeys are questioned because of the piece of fabric that holds their gi together.
If I personally had a nickel for every time I’d gotten a raised eyebrow when I mention that I’m still a blue belt after four years of jiu-jitsu, I might have been able to buy a gi back when I first started training. I was working as an ESL teacher in Costa Rica, and I was more broke than I hope I’ll ever be again. At one point, things came down to me either paying my gym dues or eating something other than rice for the next seven days until I got paid again. I chose training and ate the rice. The idea of being able to afford even a cheap used gi was laughable when I was too broke to afford a $20 pair of shoes and had to duct tape my current pair back together.
Even then, my work schedule only allowed me to train twice a week, which continued when I moved back to the USA and could only find an MMA gym with limited jiu-jitsu training. I learned some basic submissions and techniques, but when I moved back to Costa Rica with a better job and my very first gi, my instructor had me start at the very beginning of the belting system. I was bitter about it at the time, but two and a half years, one blue belt, and two stripes later, I’m sure glad he did.
Since then, I’ve been through numerous setbacks, including cracked ribs, dislocated joints, crippling depression, and countless times when I wanted to leave jiu-jitsu behind and never look back. But I’m still here. I have a long, long path (and many more setbacks) ahead of me, and I will proudly admit that I still know basically nothing about jiu-jitsu. But I’ll be damned if someone tries to make me see my blue belt as a reason for me to be ashamed instead of a reason to be proud.
Please, put away your tiny violin. I’m well aware that my struggles to get where I am in jiu-jitsu are nothing in comparison to what many people have been through.
But it is my journey, and I embrace it. No matter what anyone tells you, no matter how easy or hard your own journey has been, you should be proud of it, too. Even if you’ve only been training for a week, you’re ahead of everyone who tried one class, decided they didn’t like losing, and never came back.
I understand that most people siding with Tom DeBlass were agreeing with his point that especially at lower belt levels, we should be focusing on how to improve our bite rather than how loudly we can bark. I write for a living, so I have to bark if I want to survive, but I still agree with the sentiment. Before you rip me apart in the comments section and send me rude messages, I want to reiterate that if you agree with Mr. DeBlass’ original message, this article is not directed towards you; it’s directed towards the people both on and offline who’ve twisted that sentiment to make other people feel as though the work they’ve put in means nothing.
Whether you’re a white belt, a black belt, or somewhere in between, I hope you’re proud of that thing that holds your gi together. It means that your jiu-jitsu journey has already started and is still in progress. Those stripes – no matter how long it takes you to earn them – represent countless hours of hard work that lots of people would never dream of putting in. If someone is so concerned with the color of your belt that they can’t see what you have to offer to the sport and your teammates, it says a lot more about them than it does about you.