Don’t Listen To The People Who Try To Discredit Your Jiu-Jitsu Journey

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Photo Source: Issys Caldeon Photography/ Instagram

Yesterday, professor Tom DeBlass made a controversial post about white belts, blue belts, and the things they write about jiu-jitsu online. Though I am indeed a blue belt who writes about jiu-jitsu online, this article has nothing to do with what Mr. DeBlass posted. It does, however, have a lot to do with many of the remarks I read in response to him.

I’ve never heard anyone suggest that Tom DeBlass is anything but an awesome coach and human being. By all accounts, he loves and respects lower belts and simply believes they shouldn’t pretend like they know more than the average black belt.

However, many of the people responding to his comment seemed like they might not share the same love for lower belts that he has. It didn’t take long before I saw people questioning how much a lowly blue belt could really offer to the jiu-jitsu community or admonishing white belts for daring to think that they had the right to an opinion – any opinion – about jiu-jitsu. These people were essentially saying, “The color of your belt makes your journey insignificant.”

I’ve been hearing these comments since I started jiu-jitsu. I’m hesitant to even mention that I’m a blue belt when I write articles, because it guarantees that there will be at least one person in the comment section (yes, I do read your comments!) questioning my ability to give advice or even open my mouth about a sport I know so little about. But it had been a long time since I’d been exposed to so many in such a short period of time.

I’ve learned to shake them off for the most part. What really bothers me is how those comments might come across to a white belt who would probably be a purple belt right now if her knee injury wasn’t regularly taking her out of the game. I get pissed off for the single dad who finally – finally got his blue belt after six years of juggling kids and a full-time job and still managing to make it to class once a week. I feel anger bubbling up inside me for all the people whose jiu-jitsu journeys are questioned because of the piece of fabric that holds their gi together.

If I personally had a nickel for every time I’d gotten a raised eyebrow when I mention that I’m still a blue belt after four years of jiu-jitsu, I might have been able to buy a gi back when I first started training. I was working as an ESL teacher in Costa Rica, and I was more broke than I hope I’ll ever be again. At one point, things came down to me either paying my gym dues or eating something other than rice for the next seven days until I got paid again. I chose training and ate the rice. The idea of being able to afford even a cheap used gi was laughable when I was too broke to afford a $20 pair of shoes and had to duct tape my current pair back together.

Even then, my work schedule only allowed me to train twice a week, which continued when I moved back to the USA and could only find an MMA gym with limited jiu-jitsu training. I learned some basic submissions and techniques, but when I moved back to Costa Rica with a better job and my very first gi, my instructor had me start at the very beginning of the belting system. I was bitter about it at the time, but two and a half years, one blue belt, and two stripes later, I’m sure glad he did.

Since then, I’ve been through numerous setbacks, including cracked ribs, dislocated joints, crippling depression, and countless times when I wanted to leave jiu-jitsu behind and never look back. But I’m still here. I have a long, long path (and many more setbacks) ahead of me, and I will proudly admit that I still know basically nothing about jiu-jitsu. But I’ll be damned if someone tries to make me see my blue belt as a reason for me to be ashamed instead of a reason to be proud.

Please, put away your tiny violin. I’m well aware that my struggles to get where I am in jiu-jitsu are nothing in comparison to what many people have been through.

But it is my journey, and I embrace it. No matter what anyone tells you, no matter how easy or hard your own journey has been, you should be proud of it, too. Even if you’ve only been training for a week, you’re ahead of everyone who tried one class, decided they didn’t like losing, and never came back.

I understand that most people siding with Tom DeBlass were agreeing with his point that especially at lower belt levels, we should be focusing on how to improve our bite rather than how loudly we can bark. I write for a living, so I have to bark if I want to survive, but I still agree with the sentiment. Before you rip me apart in the comments section and send me rude messages, I want to reiterate that if you agree with Mr. DeBlass’ original message, this article is not directed towards you; it’s directed towards the people both on and offline who’ve twisted that sentiment to make other people feel as though the work they’ve put in means nothing.

Whether you’re a white belt, a black belt, or somewhere in between, I hope you’re proud of that thing that holds your gi together. It means that your jiu-jitsu journey has already started and is still in progress. Those stripes – no matter how long it takes you to earn them – represent countless hours of hard work that lots of people would never dream of putting in. If someone is so concerned with the color of your belt that they can’t see what you have to offer to the sport and your teammates, it says a lot more about them than it does about you.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been a blackbelt for over 8 years and have taught all types. I try my best to instill the value of respect to my students. Respect those that came before you, respect those on the same journey and those on a different Jiu-Jitsu because we are all practicing the Art for our own reasons. No one’s journey is more important than anyone else’s. Thanks for writing this, more Professors need to preach respect to everyone no matter the belt or the grind.

  2. So awesome thanks for writing this. Been white belt for 12 years. This article hits the nail on the head for sure. Injuries work kids wife life all get in the way of training but we keep coming back:). This represents thousands of us. Thanks for writing this.

  3. I am a female white belt who began jiu jitsu at age 50. Because I could. While I am continually humbled by the skill around me, I feel no shame in making my own way. Thanks so much for your enlightened opinion.

  4. Excellent article.. Proud blue belt for 6 years having had challenges of colon cancer , torn rotator cuffs, herniated discs and 14 knee surgeries… Back on the mat after almost 2 yr lay off and very satisfied with my journey . Recently got my first stripe on my blue belt and will continue to train no matter what anyone says…Its my journey….love every minute of it…

  5. Yeah good stuff! As a blackbelt with 14 years on the mat and 13 years to get that, I don’t assume I have much to say. Everyone has their own journey, experiences, setbacks and struggles. A blackbelt doesn’t guarantee you have wisdom or the humility to use it, just a grasp of jiujitsu.

    I’m not really a coach, more the gym’s crash test dummy, but I do spend a lot of time giving advice to our whites and blues. Without them, there is no gym and no purples and above will just drop out of the air. Not every white or blue can speak well or thoughtfully about the art, but those who can should. Everyone can write about their own journey and have something useful to say.

  6. Great ideas in your article and it’s so well written! As usual, the lessons learned in BJJ translate to life in general – we all have our own journeys, and belittling anyone else’s says more about the speaker than the target.

  7. +1million to everyone elses’ comments.

    One of our instructors has a phrase he repeats regularly: Whitebelts are the lifeblood of jiu jitsu.

    It’s not our job to shut up about our experiences when writing our own blogs or writing to reach those similar to us – it’s our job to write honestly about exactly what those experiences are like! Why? Because whether we know it or not, we are pulling along other whitebelts in our wake – helping them stick with it even when it’s hard.

    As a 45yo woman with only a year of learning, half of that spent on the sidelines with serious injuries, I actually *search the internet* looking for articles written by those similar to me. I *need* to hear about the struggles of other whitebelts, bluebelts, older beginners, small women in gyms full of well-meaning but 190 pound guys, people struggling with injuries, mental illness, chronic illness – each and every one of us who drags ourselves to class every day even though it’s HARD.

    Yeah, reading articles by experts who can educate me can be helpful technically, but frankly that won’t keep me coming back to class on a hard day, or grinding my way through painful rehab, or believing I’m actually getting anywhere.

    What WILL keep me on the mat, progressing and contributing to the sport? Reading articles written by you and those like you. Because I see some of myself there, and that makes me feel like I can do it, too.

  8. Well thought article raising some valuable points. I feel it’s important not to diminish anyone’s journey as we all know how tough it can be on and off the mats. I got my blue belt today, it took me just over two years of regular and intensive training to get it, during that time I had to overcome a lot of obstacles including my daughter being diagnosed with rare disease called nephrotic syndrome, getting injured and diagnosed with serious disc herniation (with surgical referral). Despite that I never quit and I’ll never do, life on the mats is a reflection of life outside of it, we have our ups and downs but we can always find strength to push through if we only want to do so.

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