Dear Blue Belt: Give Yourself Some Credit

Belt promotions in jiu-jitsu are a big deal, and for good reason — it takes ages to progress from one belt color to the next, and with that time also comes countless hours of self-doubt, physical strain, and education. Belts (and even stripes) feel like grand achievements because they are grand achievements.

While purple, brown, and black are obviously higher level belts with larger gaps in between them, there’s a reason why so many upper belts still remember the feeling of getting their blue belt. Our blue belt promotion provides our first major checkpoint of both achievement and expectation within the academy. We’re no longer the lowest on the totem pole, but we must also set an example for newer students.

The “expectation” part of this is tough to internally manage for a lot of blue belts. This is the first taste of serious internal pressure that many jiu-jitsu students get, and most of the pressure doesn’t come from coaches or teammates, but from within ourselves. As a white belt, you probably thought the blue belts you trained with were really good. And as a white belt, that’s what you should feel about someone who’s been training for at least a year longer than you. The gap between day-one white belt and day-one blue belt is immense, after all. But just because that gap is huge doesn’t mean that you should hold yourself to impossible standards.

Think of the difference between teaching a child numbers and teaching them basic math. A child who can recognize the number “2” and count their fingers is still years away from learning multiplication tables. Still, once that child passes third grade, it would be completely unreasonable to expect them to understand trigonometry. They certainly know way more than the tiny toddler who still struggles to wrap their mind around numbers larger than 20, but at least they have a handle on how to identify and use numbers.

As a blue belt, you are learning how to identify and use jiu-jitsu, and that’s the standard you should hold yourself to. No one is expecting you to know everything and excel in every competition you enter. As you work to achieve your BJJ goals, don’t compare the athlete you are now to the athlete you think you “should” be at this stage. Focus on being one day better than you were yesterday, and grant yourself compassion when you hit plateaus (because trust me, they will happen even beyond the blue belt stage). And when you’re struggling to acknowledge how far you’ve come so far, ask yourself how blue-belt-you would fare against the version of yourself that stepped into a jiu-jitsu academy for the first time ever.

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A blue belt athlete may just be “average” in your typical jiu-jitsu gym, but the vast majority of people on Earth won’t ever become jiu-jitsu blue belts. You’ve worked hard to get here, and though you have a long way to go (ideally the rest of your life) before you hit the finish line on your jiu-jitsu journey, take a moment to exchange a friendly handshake with the ego you’ve been trying to leave behind since your first class. At this stage, you are likely the person putting the most pressure on yourself; make sure you balance it with some acknowledgment of how far you’ve come.

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