It’s the end of the year, which means you’ve either been bombarded with social media posts from your friends receiving stripes and new belts, or you’ve been the one on the receiving end of one of those invaluable pieces of tape or fabric.
Getting promoted in jiu-jitsu feels like an honor because it is. Getting your black belt can take as long (or longer) than getting a Ph.D., and in any reputable academy, even stripes are given out sparingly and only after a lot of consideration. A crazy amount of work happens between each promotion, and whether you’re getting your first stripe on your white belt or you’re finally getting that coveted black belt tied around your waist, you should be very, very proud.
A promotion, however, isn’t simply a glorified pat on the back. Sure, it’s a symbol of recognition for your increasing level of skill and the role you play in your academy, but it’s also an expectation. Each level you hit is like a ledge on a mountain that gives you a place to look down at how far you’ve come, but also to analyze how far you have to go and how you’re going to get there.
Truly, the only time when you have no responsibility within your academy except to show up and survive is when you’re a white belt with zero stripes. This is your brief moment to just drink it all in and try to make sense of what the heck that guy just did to your arm. From the moment your coach puts that first stripe on your belt, they’re telling you that they want more from you. Now, you’re not the lowest fish on the food chain, and it’s up to you to help build the welcoming environment that got you to stick around in the first place.
As you move up through the ranks, these expectations grow, and it’s up to you to grow to fit them. Check in with yourself and ask what you’re doing to meet these personal and interpersonal goals. Your game may have been good enough to win a few tournaments by points as a blue belt, but as a new purple belt, that same strategy probably won’t be enough to get you to the next level of serious competition. Is your game well-rounded? Are you hunting for submissions? How are your leglocks?
Consider also how your role in the academy should be evolving. The higher up the ranks you move, the more you should be taking on. Not everyone has the time or desire to be an assistant coach, but at the very least, you should be helping out the lower belts when needed. Even as an upper-level white belt, you should be taking it upon yourself to give a bit more rather than just receiving. Ask the newer students to roll even if it means sacrificing an opportunity to roll with someone who challenges you more. The give-and-take dynamic that’s established from your very first class should lean more and more towards “giving” as you move up the ranks.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t take a moment to bask in the glory of a hard-earned promotion. It just means that you shouldn’t get comfortable there. Make an effort to grow into your new rank. If you’re not sure how, ask your coach. Work to be the teammate that you needed when you were newer, and strive to be better than the grapplers you think are competitively out of your league. This is just one step more in your never-ending journey, and it’s up to you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Featured image by Giulliana Fonseca Photo and Video