We hold great respect for those with higher belts. They are our teachers, our best training partners, and the sparring opponents our pride sometimes fears we’ll be paired with. It’s only natural that we seek to become like those we hold in high regard, including their snappy cummerbund.
I’m pleased to say that last weekend I received a third stripe on my Purple Belt from Royce Gracie.
There was no pomp or circumstance, he kind of just caught me on my way out of his seminar. It has always been this way with promotions as Royce’s student: he knows his students and has his eye on you, whether you know it or not, and will advance you when he believes you’re ready.
I went to the seminar with a lot of encouragement from my friends who had their idea about my “actual” belt level, but little expectation, as I understand advancements from the Gracie’s themselves come slowly, and by criteria known best to them.
I know that belt level is not what matters.
I know that nothing matters outside of that moment in training (or in self-defense) when you either do or do not know how to respond. That’s what we’re working towards. (Even the “we” who mostly just want to play… we want to play well!)
Most people I know would see the title of this blog post and say “you shouldn’t think about belt promotions at all, just train.” I hear that, and agree. But honestly, I can’t say I don’t personally think about next advancements at all.
Thinking about belt promotions is worthwhile, in moderation.
As a personal development buff, I appreciate the setting of goals, and seeking long and short term benchmarks. A clear vision of the future creates a sense of dissonance between the now you’re in, and the future you want to be in. That lights a fire that inspires positive, results-producing action.
Another part of effective goal setting is sharing your goals, and I’m not afraid to share mine publicly. I’d like to get my brown belt before I have a baby, which could be ostensibly next year (no, not “expecting” currently). The selection of this time frame is basically arbitrary, but one I’ve decided to accept and allow to motivate me.
Since there are no “brown belt moves,” nor competition winnings, nor even criteria known to me that will be determining factors for my instructor, this creates a general sense of needing improvement all around.
This drives me to train many days per week, to ask more better questions, and to roll as much as possible. These are good results of allowing belt promotions to matter.
Those Obvious Cons…
Bad results of “beltlust” might be caring more about the belt than the knowledge, less focus on partner safety (particularly during perceived evaluation) in a mercenary mindset, or game-threatening frustration at naturally occurring plateaus.
Negative impacts can be school-wide in environments that perpetuate a high focus on belting (above honoring the nuances of the art itself, and partner safety coming first) as part of a business model constructed without respect for individuals’ innate desire to improve and become loyal customers for the right reasons.
Like everything else…
One’s focus on belt promotions in BJJ can be a positive thing in moderation, and it is certainly also vital to remain clear on what “really matters.” Any good instructor should tell you what that is. Keep training, and keep focused on those little gold nuggets that appear in every session, and allow your game to grow organically. It will.
Don’t be afraid to set goals for yourself, however. Consider setting goals around training time, drilling time, and sparring time. These matter most. A pinch of caring a little about your next advancement may be a motivator too, in moderation.