Having your blue belt is like being at the awkward teenager stage of the jiu-jitsu journey. You know enough to kind of understand what’s going on, but you also know a whole lot of nothing. You feel pretty legit, and there might be days in which you really feel good at jiu-jitsu, but you also have a ton of days in which you feel like you might never be great at jiu-jitsu. You’re at a stage in which the highs are really high, and the lows are really freaking low.
Maybe it’s the same way at every belt level. I couldn’t tell you. I’m just a blue belt. All I know is that I don’t know a whole lot of anything. I have times when I feel like I’m holding my own against purple and brown belts and times when I feel like I’m struggling to not be demolished by white belts. I feel like a baby deer that has figured out how to walk, but still stumbles over legs that are too long for its body.
Despite all that – or perhaps because of all that – that strip of fabric that holds my gi together has become the most special object I have. It represents every drop of literal blood, sweat, and tears that I’ve put into this sport and all the ones that are still to come. Just like my jiu-jitsu expertise, it isn’t all that impressive on the surface, but to me, it’s everything.
My blue belt has seen me through my most difficult times in jiu-jitsu. When I was a white belt, I was much more comfortable with sucking. I was “just a white belt,” and nobody had any expectations of me whatsoever. If I got tapped out twenty times in five minutes, if I had to see a basic technique a hundred times before it even registered in my brain, it was fine. I was a white belt. I was supposed to be bad at this.
But my blue belt has put me through emotional hell. Now, people expect me to have an idea of what I’m doing. I feel like if I get my butt kicked at a tournament or even in class, the people around me are questioning if I even deserve my blue belt. The symbolic part of my brain can’t help thinking that on the days it keeps coming undone in class, it’s telling me that I don’t deserve to be wearing it.
Rationally, I know it’s all nonsense. I’m still very much a beginner in jiu-jitsu, and I know I’m going to have to get knocked down thousands more times and get back up just as many if I want to improve. I know that the reason I’m not dominating in tournaments like I used to is because the people I’m competing against are actually decent at this and have spent a significant amount of time dedicating themselves to jiu-jitsu. But I still feel like I have something to prove, and when I can’t prove it, it feels like I’m drowning.
Still, knowing how bad the Blue Belt Blues can strike and having seen firsthand how many people drop out of jiu-jitsu after that first major promotion, I take a certain amount of pride in knowing that I’m not one of them. I refuse to be one of them. Relatively speaking, I haven’t come that far in jiu-jitsu, but I’ve come far enough to know that I’d be furious with myself if I quit now after pushing through so much crap.
My blue belt has seen me lock myself in the bathroom after a tough class to let myself cry for thirty seconds before splashing cold water on my face and coming back out with a (forced) smile. It’s seen me drag myself kicking and screaming to class when my depression begged me to stay home. It’s seen me grit my teeth through countless injuries and brutal tournament matches. It’s seen me wishing I was still a white belt so I could stop putting so much pressure on myself, so I could go back to being “really good for a white belt” instead of just “an average blue belt.”
I know this is all just part of the game. But my blue belt has shown me that even though I may be that awkward baby deer stumbling around and trying to find my footing, I can get back up and keep moving forward, however awkwardly it may be. Every time I tie it around my waist, I’m reminded that my passion is stronger than my pain. I know that if I can make it this far, the only thing that can stop me from making it the rest of the way is myself. And well, I’m just not going to let that happen.
Each belt level has its own highs and lows. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up saying the same thing about my eventual purple, brown, and black belt a few years down the road. But at this point in my life, I can honestly say that there is no object I value more than my blue belt. It’s shown me only a glimpse of the trials and triumphs that the rest of this adventure holds in store, but the lessons it’s taught me so far – not only about jiu-jitsu, but about myself – are truly priceless.