The Blue Belt Crossroads and Why The Cauliflower Chronicles is Required BJJ Reading

The cover of the Second Edition of The Cauliflower Chronicles

blue belt

Let’s establish a foundation.  Everyone training BJJ thinks about the black belt.  The number of practitioners who actually achieve the rank and status typically falls in the 1%-5% category depending on which meme you’re sharing.  Without getting scientific, anyone who trains knows that it’s a long, difficult, but very rewarding journey that for a million different reasons, some people never finish.

I would argue that the achievement of blue belt is a very close second in the pantheon of BJJ achievements for reasons including the following.  More people experience the transition to blue belt.  It stands to reason that more practitioners are able to survive the wonderful year or two that it takes to make it through white belt.  So achieving the Faixa Azul is a far more universal experience than achieving black.  It is also, unfortunately, the belt where many people feel that they’ve garnered enough knowledge and their plan to ‘take some off’ becomes a permanent vacation from the mats. “Blue belt fever” has struck down more students than any other plague.  And lastly, even Grand Master Helio Gracie chose to abandon his well-worn belt in favor of a blue belt to protest the state of BJJ at the time with it’s focus on competitions and to also symbolize that the journey of BJJ is never ending and there’s always more to learn.  The blue belt in BJJ carries a mystical weight and an ocean of meaning.

No one has captured the quest better than writer and teacher Marshal Carper in his The Cauliflower Chronicles.  It is the story of a young white belt’s journey from Western Pennslyvania to Hawaii with the hopes of earning his blue belt from one of the most famous BJJ practitioners in history BJ Penn.  Last month, the second edition of The Cauliflower Chronicles was released containing many pages of new reflections on that time in his life and BJJ journey.

The Cauliflower Chronicles, First Edition 2010
The Cauliflower Chronicles, First Edition 2010


The author masterfully sweeps the assumption that this is just the story of a pie-eyed white belt chasing his idol in BJ Penn to the side and brings to life for the the reader a great deal about the tumultuous history of Hawaii’s colonization, while sharing some of the most intimate details of his relationship with his then girlfriend.  This book blends the spirit of  On the Road by Jack Kerouac and A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan and should share space with those classics on your shelf.

The new Second Edition contains Marshal’s commentary and insights he has gained over the past 5 years since the publication of The Cauliflower Chronicles .  In that time, he’s moved back and forth across the country, gotten married, published several BJJ instructionals with the likes of Marcelo Garcia and suffered through a series of knee surgeries.  Now a high level purple belt, he discusses the transition from all-out competitor to teacher and life-time practitioner of jiu jitsu.

Marshal teaching a class at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, PA
Marshal teaching a class at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, PA

With that transition, comes the inevitable facing of time and age, what Marshal humorously refers to as his joints “putting in their two weeks notice.”

“As I get older, I am more and more careful about taking care of my body. My knees still give me trouble, so I have cut out nearly all activities but jiu-jitsu. I don’t go for runs. I don’t play pick-up soccer games. I avoid high-impact exercises like box jumps. I have rebuilt my life around avoiding additional surgeries so that I can train for as long as possible. This has also meant a shift in how I grapple and how I approach my training in general.”

BJ Penn and Marshal Carper
BJ Penn and Marshal Carper

One of the most valuable personal perspectives I gained from the new edition was Marshal’s take on the natural tendency to idolize jiu jitsu practitioners and put black belts on pedestals.

“The reality of your heroes is that they are all astonishingly human, and humans have a way of disappointing each other. Their jiu-jitsu might be better than yours. That’s all.” 

 Being a black belt does not automatically make you a good person.  Over the long journey, unfortunately many BJJ practitioners will come face to face with this realization.

When my conversation with Marshal turned to how his writing is influenced by his BJJ and vice versa, it became clear that both to him are lifetime journeys and that it will probably be impossible to be a master of both.

“With my joints turning in their two-weeks notices one by one, I’ve come to accept that I won’t be a Marcelo Garcia or a Kron Gracie. I love the sport, and I will train and teach until I die, but my greater calling I believe is to write. Fortunately, writing gives me another way for me to potentially impact the art that I love, and it also gives me a pursuit that I feel that I can master. I might never be a Hemingway or a Capote, but if many years from now a grandfather pulls one of my books off a dusty shelf to hand it down to a young grandson or granddaughter, I’ll have accomplished something special with my work.”

I asked Marshal what he has going on now and in the foreseeable future:

“I’m a crazy person. There is so much I am interested in and curious about that I could have five lifetimes and still never complete all of the things I’d love to do. So, I’m trying to simplify. 

Artechoke Media is a big focus for me. We are slowly rolling out our cloud instructionals, which in our mind is the future of capturing and sharing jiu-jitsu knowledge. I took the best of every model—DVDs, books, apps, blogs, forums—and created an instructional format that eliminates the drawbacks. Essentially, users get the depth of analysis that a book provides, the private lesson experience of a DVD, multi-angle looped GIFs like we see for fight highlights, and a flexible format that can be accessed from anywhere on any device. Mastering the Crucifix by Matt “Aesopian” Kirtley was our first official release, but my pilot project, 3-D Jiu-Jitsu is still available for free.

For 2015, we have multiple books planned, which includes a new cloud instructional (3-D Jiu-Jitsu Strikes Back) and another traditional book from me. As a small start-up, we’ve experienced a few setbacks, but we’re optimistic about a future. And I’m looking forward to announcing another project that no one is expecting by the end of Q1. Jiu-jitsu nerds everywhere are going to lose their minds. I have trouble sleeping at night because I am so excited about it.”

Marshal Carper at the Summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii
Marshal Carper at the Summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii

So no matter your age, your belt level, get to Amazon or if you’re still lucky enough to live near a physical bookstore, grab the Second Edition of The Cauliflower Chronicles and reminisce about your own journey to blue or if you’re not there yet, get your mind ready for the wild ride that is BJJ.

On behalf of readers and fans of Jiu Jitsu Times, Marshal, I’d like to thank you for creating this living, breathing time capsule of your journey to blue belt and for inspiring legions of writers, travelers, and jiu jiteiros to get out of their comfort zones and chase their heroes and their ghosts wherever they may reside.


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