This is a concept I borrowed from the “Four Stages of Competence,” also known as the “conscious competence” learning model. This is a learning theory developed in the 1970’s by Gordon Training International. I have applied this contention to Brazilian jiu-jitsu as it relates to learning and belt progression.
White Belt – Unconsciously Incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know.
At this stage, you’re barely aware of the difference between an armbar and a choke. You rapidly learn that there’s normal looking people walking around with superhero-like skills! You sign up for BJJ so you too can be a super-hero. As exciting as these skills are, you quickly realize that they are earned through time, hard work, and patience. These techniques are also very dangerous, so train smart, tap early, and don’t get hurt!
Blue Belt – Consciously Incompetent – you know what you don’t know.
After some time you become “painfully” aware of your deficit. You realize what you don’t know and you become conscious of the vast space from where you stand and where black belts do. This can be a challenging stage, as this massive shortfall can seem overwhelming. Reaching a black belt someday can seem nearly impossible, but in spite of how you may feel, don’t give up!
Purple – Brown Belt – Consciously Competent – The techniques require some conscious effort, but you can now perform them with a degree of confidence and success.
At this stage, you’re beginning to develop your own sense of self on the mats. Your toolbox will begin to take shape as you define your jiu-jitsu game.
Black Belt and beyond – Unconsciously Competent – Your skills are becoming second nature.
You can now perform techniques without relying on lower-level functions, skills, and thought patterns. This is an exciting time as you begin to free yourself from external thought and effort for the first time.
However, be careful as “auto-pilot” can be the death of creativity.
Continue to challenge, create, refine and redefine your jiu-jitsu experience and this will lead to a state of consciousness free from everything. This is called FLOW.