How Do You Deal With Being Stuck At White Belt For A Long Time?

As an active blogger in the jiu-jitsu community, I often get interesting questions about my grappling experience.  I recently got a question about belt status from a friend of mine, and I felt that it would be worth exploring in a post:

How on earth did you have the mental toughness to stay at white belt so long? It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. How did you push on? Were there times you felt defeated?

I started training jiu-jitsu (strictly no-gi) back in the late 90s. I trained off and on, often taking years off in between and never settling down and training with a specific instructor. I eventually put the gi on in 2011.  I began training where I currently train in 2014 and was awarded my blue about 4 months after I started there, and my purple 2 years after that.

Rank was never relevant to me.  I knew they existed but because I was focusing on no-gi, and because I was neither interested in competing nor really interested in doing anything with jiu-jitsu other than getting a nice workout in and developing some new skill, the notion of a belt didn’t cross my mind until I first put a gi on.

For me, the value of rank is pragmatic.

Some schools won’t let you attend certain classes unless you are of a certain rank.  I want all of the “levels” to be unlocked.  Also many training partners will look at your rank to determine if they want to roll with you.  Being a higher rank has value in these instances.  Similarly, if you want to be able to teach, the general standard at many gyms is purple (though I started teaching while still a blue belt.)  And of course there’s the factor of competition: if you compete and the competitions you attend won’t let you compete up but your skill set is such that the talent pool at that competition at your belt rank is insufficient, you may wind up feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. When I compete I want a challenge so I often will compete up.

So let’s say you’re a white belt who wants that blue really badly.  Why?  For the respect of your peers?  So you can make posts on social media?  So that your family members see you progress and finally understand what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with this thing you do where you roll around with sweaty people?

None of it matters, it’s all arbitrary.

There are UFC champions who are white belts in BJJ.  Rank may have value to you on a personal level, but your goals should have absolutely nothing to do with a narrow swath of cloth and everything to do with what that cloth is supposed to be a symbol of.  Develop the skills of a blue belt, of a purple belt, of a brown belt, of a black belt, and recognize that if you have those skills, the color of the belt you wear doesn’t matter.

If your focus in training is climbing up the belt ranks, you should probably quit.  Jiu-jitsu isn’t about what color belt you wear it is about the level of your technique.


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