Dear White Belt, Being A Blue Belt Isn’t So Bad

Dear white belts,

If you’ve been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a while, your instructor or other upper belts have probably told you horror stories about the “blue belt blues.” In fact, if they were like my instructors, they held a flashlight up to their face and told you about them in a ghoulish voice followed by a long MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!.

I was joking about that last part…maybe.

If you’re not familiar with the blue belt blues, they’re essentially a time in a blue belt’s training when he comes dangerously close to quitting. Maybe he’s hit a plateau in his skill set, where he feels like he’s no better than he was at white belt. Maybe he even feels he’s getting worse. Maybe he just sees the long, hard road to purple belt ahead of him and says in an Eric Cartman-like voice, “Screw you guys; I’m going home!”

I am not going to lie; there are at least kernels of truth to these stories. But what so many people neglect is the other side of the coin: the reasons why blue belt is…dare I say… sweet (which you can also say in an Eric Cartman-like voice).

That’s not to say you should want to be a blue belt for the rest of your life. Of course you want to be a purple, brown, black, and if you live long enough — red belt.

But with all you may have heard about how much blue belt is a test to be survived rather than a journey to be enjoyed, it is easy to overlook all the upsides of BJJ’s second rank.

But there are upsides, and here are some of them, in no particular order:

It’s your first belt promotion.

Let’s start off by talking about getting the belt.

Firsts are always special to us. First cars and first kisses always hold a place in our heart not usually given to seconds and thirds. Even if those firsts weren’t particularly good, we still put them up on a pedestal.

In all of BJJ’s rankings, only one belt holds the privileged spot of being the first promotion — the blue belt! It is the first time you get to experience the joy of feeling yourself tremble as your instructor reaches into her gi, pulls out your new belt, undoes the rubber bands keeping it together, and wraps that cardboard-like stiffness around your waist as you struggle to hold back tears.  You’ve worked your butt off getting kicked around by all the higher belts on the mats, and you’ve finally been rewarded for it with something besides six inches of tape.

I am sure purple, brown, and black belt promotions are as sweet as watermelon on a hot, summer’s day, but they are not firsts, and therefore will never hold the position that blue belt does.

You get the best of both worlds.

If you’re an upper belt, you can probably control and tap lower belts. If you’re a lower belt, you know that not much is expected of you, at least in terms of understanding techniques.

As a blue belt, you have the best of both of these worlds. You can probably bully most new white belts, even if they’re bigger and stronger than you. You can probably also hold your own against other blue belts, and — on good days — sweep or even tap a purple belt.

At the same time, most people probably aren’t going to look down on your sloppy basics. After all, you can still fall back on the “I’m just a blue belt” excuse.

As far as I know, there’s no black belt level excuse for screwing up an arm bar.

What’s so great about purple belt, anyway?

Whenever I hear about the blue belt blues, I always want to ask, “What is so awesome about purple belt?”

Seriously, tell me! What exactly will happen when my coach promotes me to purple? Will the gray clouds above me part while the sun peaks through and little Disney animals dance around me? Will I live my life like a rock star, falling asleep on piles of money after beautiful women fight tooth-and-claw just for my attention? Will I have an audience with the pope?

If not, then what is so great about it?

I am not a purple belt, so obviously I can’t give you a firsthand account about what it or any of the higher ranks are like. However, at least some people at those ranks must suffer with some of the problems blue belts go through. What does a purple belt feel when she’s tapped out by a blue belt…or, gasp…a white belt??? What goes through a black belt’s head when he doesn’t feel like he’s learning anything new? Do either of them ever ask themselves, “Why do I even bother continuing?”

While I expect my technique to get better as I climb the ranks, I can’t imagine the overall experience of jiu-jitsu getting much better. Right now, it’s pretty damn good. At the very least, it’s not nearly as bad as they told me it would be.

So, white belts, when and if (hopefully when) you finally get that blue belt tied around the midsection that those warm-ups have no doubt solidified into a six-pack, remember: blue belt isn’t all tears and damning the gods.

Some of it is pretty damn sweet!


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