Getting promoted is never the result of a sudden, dramatic improvement in your jiu-jitsu. By the time you reach your next belt level, you’ve likely undergone a long, slow process involving incremental changes in your technique and mindset. Your teammates and opponents, however, are also going through the same process, and if you think you’ll be able to decimate every lower belt you meet after getting promoted, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Yes, there should be a stark difference between a black belt and a white or blue belt (and if there isn’t, someone in the equation isn’t wearing the right color around their waist). But for ranks that are closer together, such as white and blue or purple and brown, the disparity between skill level can be a bit murkier. Your belt color doesn’t box you in with other people of your rank — as a purple belt, there are almost certainly blue belts who can beat you and brown belts you can beat. Honestly, if someone messes up or is having a particularly good or bad day on the mats, there are white belts out there who could probably catch you, too.
This, of course, doesn’t even take into account the fact that different academies and instructors grade their students at a different pace and based on different requirements. For example, a blue belt student might win every competition they enter with a slick takedown-to-armbar combo, but if they struggle the moment they have to pass their opponent’s guard, their coach might believe they’re not ready to be promoted to purple belt yet… even if they’re beating all the purple belts in the absolute division.
Given the amount of time that can pass between belts, too, it’s completely unrealistic to believe that you should be able to beat everyone in the rank below you from the moment you get your new belt tied around your waist. The white belt who gave you trouble in your last competition as a white belt isn’t going to be an easy target three weeks later just because you’re a blue belt now. But if they stop training and you continue for the next two years, you’ll have a significant advantage over them if you cross paths on the mats again.
There are plenty of other factors that can contribute to you losing to a lower belt, from physical condition to size disparities to previous combat sport experience. (If you haven’t felt the pain of rolling with a three-month white belt who was a state champion wrestler in high school, you will one day.) No matter who you go up against, though, it’s up to you to remind yourself to keep your ego in check regardless of the outcome of your rolls or matches. You aren’t necessarily worthy of a new stripe just because you tapped someone who outranks you, and no, you aren’t unworthy of your current rank just because you tapped to someone who you outrank. It’s all just part of the jiu-jitsu journey, and what really matters is that you keep showing up to focus on your own improvement.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography