Blue Belt Blues

Do not be one of those clichéd blue belts who stops training once reaching the milestone.--photo courtesy of Jiu Jitsu Times/Todd Shaffer

After re-reading this today, I realised that some might read something into this that was not intended, that I might be speaking negatively regarding my coach at the Dungeon, who’s decision it was to give me the stripes and to award me my blue belt.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am honoured that I received my stripes and belt and my first years of initiation into BJJ under Aaron and the other coaches at the Dungeon. This piece I wrote about ME and MY failing. No one else’s.

(Disclaimer- this is MY experience and I know not every one will experience this. But it might help someone else as it is helping me to write it as I am finding it very cathartic.) 

I have something to confess –

I am suffering with the Blue Belt Blues at the moment and I am struggling to motivate myself to train. Its MY FAULT – its MY ATTITUDE.  I know this but it still happens.

I train at an awesome gym with great lads and great coaches who are great guys. I’ve only got myself to blame for these doubts and insecurities but as I have discovered I am not the only one to suffer from the Blue Belt Blues.

It seems it is a phenomena within BJJ. Well, I certainly fall into this category!!!

When I am training, I doubt every move I make, I second guess myself (although I always did and always will), I don’t feel I have a ‘game’ anymore, and I put pressure on myself whether facing a white belt or a purple belt. 

Being slightly older than most on the mats also has its difficulties. I injure much easier these days and when a young white belt with more strength than Hercules and stronger grips than Dana White holds on, the UFC gets hold of me as I start thinking of what I’m going to do and trying to stay 2-3 steps ahead and trying to run through every possible permutation of what he might do, but I’m mainly thinking ‘DONT GET INJURED, DONT GET INJURED’.

I also take longer to recover. Gone are the days I can train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Triday!!! If I train Tuesday, my body struggles to recover for Thursday’s session, which severely hampers training and progression, which then assists the downward spiralling ‘blues’. 

When I first started as a white belt, the learning curve was steep. Very steep.

But I loved every session regardless of getting tapped numerous times. When we did ‘specifics’ and I faced higher belts or even white belts with stripes, I was lucky to make it out of the first minute.

Then I started to get stripes. I was most proud of the first one. I felt like I had just been given a black belt, and in the gym I trained initially at The Dungeon.  

When you get a stripe, you DEFINITELY deserved it. The Dungeon is NOT a gym that hands out stripes like candy. You had to EARN it.

However I got back on the mats and still I loved it and still I got tapped. But I started to get some “game.” My game, it wasn’t a good game, but it was my game. I got stripes 2 and 3 pretty close together, mainly I think due to competing in competition and getting golds and silvers in most of them.

I still loved training and was still not putting pressure on myself and none was put on me by others.  I could just train and enjoy, and if I got tapped, I didn’t feel like an absolute failure. Little comments would then start from my teammates:

“You must be due your blue soon!”

“Next seminar, you should be getting promoted.”


Suddenly rolls that should be just a nice enjoyable roll were becoming more competitive and put more pressure on me to submit my opponents.


Nothing had changed.

But suddenly there was an expectation that I shouldn’t be tapped easily; I should be the one submitting. I should be the one passing guard. I should be one sweeping. With the expectations came nerves: being nervous of getting it wrong and letting myself and others down. Letting down the stripes on my belt.

Then suddenly, I got my 4th stripe, which was a total surprise as I didn’t feel I deserved it.

(That said i didn’t truly feel like I deserved any of my stripes including the one I have on my blue belt. Just as I started to feel a tiny bit comfortable, I got my first stripe, which took my out my comfort zone)

 “I DON’T DESERVE IT YET! CAN YOU WAIT A FEW MORE MONTHS PLEASE?” I wanted to shout to my coach. But that’s just not done!

I then got my second.

“But coach, I have only just started to feel like I maybe deserve the first one. Can you wait a few months please?” 

I got my third. I wanted to say to my coach:

“Okay coach. Look, I still don’t feel like I deserve my second stripe. I also don’t feel like I am worthy of it yet, so giving me a third doesn’t feel right yet. I feel like the first one now fits me like a glove and I’m comfortable in it when I walk on the mats. Can you wait to give me the third one please? The pressure is starting to spoil my game and make me nervous.”

I didn’t say it out loud to him of course. 

When I got my fourth, the pressure ramped up as did the expectation.  Suddenly, I was expected to do better, The little comments about ‘being promoted’ also ramped up. I honestly said on many occasions to my friends on the mats, “I don’t want blue yet. I don’t deserve it.”

I wasn’t just saying it; I meant it. Funnily enough,  I still mean it.


Because since getting my blue belt, I haven’t improved. If anything, I’ve gone backwards. I seem to have forgotten so much. Basic sweeps, passes, and submissions – I can’t remember them. Not just in the heat of the moment on the mats – I CANT REMEMBER THEM AT ALL!!!

 When I got my blue belt at a large inter-club competition, I was pleased, over the moon, ecstatic. I was so proud of myself, but I still didn’t feel I deserved it (especially as I lost my one and only fight that day!!!)

I saw others getting their blue and purple belts and thinking, “Yeah, they definitely deserve this promotion. Well done!” But when my name was called out and I didn’t expect it to be, I was actually hoping that my name wasn’t called out to be honest.

So I got my blue belt and got back on the mats and from day one. When I walked onto the mats with that blue belt around my waist, I felt different. I felt pressure. I felt like there was now an expectation that no white belt was allowed to tap me, and if they did, then I am a disgrace.

The pressure I have felt since receiving my blue belt has taken all the fun out of jiu-jitsu for me, and I desperately want it back, which is why I am still training and still trying to get it back.

Its like since I’ve got my blue belt all my belief and all my confidence in my game has disappeared, which in turn has totally ruined the fun aspect of jiu-jitsu for me.

Plus being a blue belt, the large target on my back can be slightly disconcerting. White belts are determined to destroy you and scalp you. And although you pretend there is no ego and no problem with a white belt tapping a blue belt – THERE IS – there is pride.

Because I am older than most of the guys on the mats, I can’t do the things that I once could and that they still can.

I don’t have strength to match them, However, I don’t feel I have the technique either!! Again self doubts plague me every time I get on the mats.!!

 No progression + Getting older + Slower recovery + Expectations + Pressure = PLATEAU = NOT ENJOYING JITZ ANYMORE!!!    

BUT I WANT TO!!!                                 

SO WHAT DO I DO???????                            


I have read a few articles including the ones below, which are helping me ‘GET PERSPECTIVE’.

But if anyone can offer me any advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

I don’t want to ever stop training BJJ, and I hope I can work through this horrible patch of self doubt, no confidence, no game, no fun, and pressure.



  1. Fantastic read, I remember you telling me this when I received mine and took it on board. I thought I was probably about a 6 month to a year to getting the Blue belt. Now I feel I’ve got to get better and prove my self, but I’m not gonna let it beat me again like I did 10 year ago watching friends progress faster than me and just quitting. This time I’m just keeping up with my self and enjoying it a lot more. As for getting tapped from white belts it did concern me and it happened but looking around the gym at the calibre of white belts that train at our gym those thoughts seem to disappear. I read something from a local coach at another gym that each time you walk through the gym door you leave better than you went in and that does it for me.

  2. Take it from a 46 year old purple belt, it really means nothing to get tapped during sparing. To say that no white belt should tap you is putting expectations that are not realistic. The one thing that Jiu Jitsu will teach you is honesty. You have to be honest with yourself, and expectations of yourself. Your instructor saw something about your game that made him say you are ready for your blue belt. Trust that he/she knows what they are doing. Besides unless you plan on becoming a UFC fighter or a top level competitor, it is all for fun.

  3. 55 year old purple belt, been at this a long time and am comfortable with where I am at. What really resonated for me was the recovery time between hard training sessions. I finally am coming to grips with not being able to go hard every time I train, and also respecting what my body is telling me. I sometimes see people I have competed against getting their brown, and one even his black belt. If I feel at all bad, I remember all the people I have trained with or competed against who have left the sport and I am happy with where I am on this journey. Just remember, we are here to challenge ourselves, but also to play and be who we are meant to be.

  4. I’m a 55 year old purple belt and I completely agree. I think avoiding injury is one of the most important items for older athletes. In terms of motivation, when I hit those plateaus I switch it up to something I’m no good at. Play only spider guard for a month. Or look for wrist locks only for a month. Put play back into it, and stop worrying. Plus if you’re limiting your game, it gives you an excuse for why you’re getting “beat”. 😉

  5. Thanks for writing and being so real. There’s a reason why so many people quit BJJ, it’s not a easy sport. Long term or short. It took me over 5yrs to get my Blue belt (I am terrible at grappling, but less terrible than when I started ), a lot of what you wrote really resonated. Keep on rolling buddy, it’s all making you better, even the ‘backwards’ days

  6. There is always a plateau in every sports. It is very hard to be motivated, but once you begin and finish the work out it is a great feeling. I was a distant runner and always did better with lower times in my practice. When I entered a race I listened to other runners breathing and various paces, it threw me off and I always ran poorly. So, I focused and concentrated in my own self and how I trained. This help me and my times were better and faster. The center of growth is you not others. Your challenge your self and premeditate your reaction and counteraction. Your will get better because no one gets worse when they work out every day. Improvement comes slow and sometimes in spurts. Good luck.

  7. Here is what worked for me: let yourself get tapped by less experienced practitioners for a couple weeks. You need to confront your fear of losing to lower belts and the pressure that you put on yourself to perform at a higher level. Once you realize that it’s okay to not put so much pressure on yourself, and once you have confronted the worst situations, you will lose that fear and pressure. Don’t be afraid to lose. Don’t be afrad to perform poorly.

  8. 39-year-old blue belt here. You’ll make yourself crazy worrying about getting tapped by lower belts. The only thing that matters is that you’re there, putting in time on the mat. Pick and choose your training partners. Don’t feel bad about turning down that big spazzy white belt looking to rip your arm off. And remember, you are getting better, and so are your teammates, so it’s hard to judge. Just trust your instructors, don’t think about things too much, and get in there and train!

  9. blue belts are not expected to be good. getting blue just means that you have a fundamental understanding of the basic positions, their defenses, common submissions and escapes. the difference between blue and white is that a white belt may not know what an omoplata or north south position is. a blue belt should know what they are and the basic concepts behind executing them. a blue isn’t expected to hit the moves. blue is when you start trying to hit them and learn through trial and error. purple is the first belt where there is an expectation of competence. purple means that you not only know and understand the theory but you have regularly practiced each to the point where you are hitting them without thinking too much about it. a purple should be able to execute theory on low level blues all day but will have a hard time against opponents who have also achieved this level. the difference between purple and brown is that at brown you have refined your technique to the point that you can execute theory againt someone at the purple level who is fluent and practiced with technique and knows everything you are going to do but you can do it anyway because your leverage is tight. you create the tension and impasse and are able to shift the advantage to your favor to the point of submission. black is just a recognition that you have reached this level for a period of time long enough to label your achievement as mastery of the essence of the art. at black you basically begin again as you rralize that you have mastered what amounts to merely a tiny drop of what is possible. just keep rolling. your belt really isn’t your business. your belt is something that your professor does. it is a point of reference for you to use as a guide on your journey.


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