Getting your blue belt is both one of the best and worst moments of the earlier stages of your jiu-jitsu career. On one hand, it’s the first big promotion that you get – you finally feel “legit,” and you start being someone that the newer students look up to.
On the other hand, it’s also the moment you start feeling like crap about your jiu-jitsu. The Blue Belt Blues is a real illness identified by the CDC (maybe), and you start to come down with it once you realize that you’re not as good as a blue belt as you thought you’d be.
The symptoms come in full force for those of us who compete. We get used to slaying bodies as white belts, taking home medals at every tournament, and coming home feeling like a million bucks. But then we get to blue belt and experience what I not-so-affectionately call a “bluesing streak.” Get it? Because you’re a blue belt and you’re… um… not winning.
Sure, there are some athletes out there who blaze through every belt level and leave a trail of defeated competitors in their wake, but many, many more are those defeated competitors. We give it our all, but every time we compete, that podium that was once so familiar now carries the vibe of our beloved, but long-lost childhood home. And you know what? It really ******* sucks!
Obviously, winning isn’t everything, and yeah yeah, we know that whole bit about how you either win or learn. But even so, nothing unravels your motivation in jiu-jitsu quite like losing in tournament after tournament after tournament after . . . well, you get the idea.
Some people act like it’s this great mystery as to why their blue belt teammates drop out so frequently, but really, it’s not strange at all. Realizing you’re not as great as you thought you were is a huge smack in the face, and honestly, I can see why so many people never recover from it. It takes some serious guts to compete in front of an audience and risk being embarrassed, and when you feel like a fool literally every time you put yourself on the line, you have to be a special kind of crazy to keep doing it.
But the thing is, it’s that spark of insanity that separates the winners from the quitters. I say this all the time, but jiu-jitsu really is the art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. A lot of people are reminded of this when they’re stuck in a heavy, sweaty guy’s side control, but the concept goes far beyond physical discomfort. You’re also going to deal with it in situations such as your bluesing streak, where you want nothing more than to spare yourself the disappointment and embarrassment of losing and consider never competing again as the solution.
However, quitting will not stop your bluesing streak. Literally zero world champions have gotten to where they are by deciding that it was better to give up than to lose. It sounds cliche, but it’s true: it’s better to have fought and lost than to have never fought at all.
At a tournament this past weekend, I continued my bluesing streak. I saw two of my teammates on opposite ends of that blue belt timeline. One was an extremely talented white belt who, as of a month ago, is now an extremely talented (but inexperienced) blue belt. He went up against someone who had four stripes and about two years of training on him, and, understandably, he was submitted pretty quickly.
The other was another extremely talented blue belt who had been on a two-year bluesing streak broken only by occasional visits to the podium. After putting in an insane amount of hard work and deciding to train smarter, he won his absolute division and earned himself an all-expense-paid trip to compete in Abu Dhabi.
The reason teammate number two ended up where he is today is because he didn’t give up when he was where teammate number one is now. He used his losses as lessons, and rather than simply deciding he was done competing, he went back to the gym, put in the necessary work, and kept putting himself out there to test himself. I saw him struggle. I know it wasn’t always fun and it was never easy. And yet, by pushing himself through that discomfort, he got to experience something that made it all worthwhile.
Perhaps if the Blue Belt Blues were a real disease, it would be a lot easier to cure – you’d just down a couple of pills, rest for a bit, and be A-OK in a couple of days. The reality, though, is (no pun intended) much harder to swallow. The only way you’re going to end your bluesing streak is by getting back to the gym as soon as possible and training even when you don’t want to. You will never get anywhere but where you are now if you allow your mind to beat you. Those tournaments you drag yourself kicking and screaming to aren’t about beating your opponents; they’re about beating yourself.
It’s OK to be upset about losing all the time. It’s OK to mope (a little). It’s OK to want to quit. If you ever want to improve, though, it’s not OK to give up just because things are harder than you expected.
You want to stop being a sucky blue belt? Get back into the gym the Monday after you get your ass beat. Stop making excuses for why you lost. Your headache or the four hours of sleep you got the night before or the crazy month of work you had might very well have contributed to your lackluster performance, but focusing on that isn’t going to help you win next time. Focus on what you can work on during class. Admit your weaknesses to yourself, and do everything you can to turn them into your strengths.
As someone who isn’t breaking her bluesing streak as often as she’d like, maybe I’m not the best person to give this advice. That’s fine; you don’t have to take it from me. Instead, ask all your successful higher belt teammates what they had to do to break theirs. I’ll be willing to bet their responses will sound a lot like, “train harder, train smarter, and never, ever give up.”