As much as we may feel like tying our jiu-jitsu belt is akin to putting on a superhero costume, the unfortunate reality is that standing there while your coach ties your new belt on you for the very first time doesn’t transform you from Peter Parker into Spiderman.
This isn’t meant to imply that getting promoted isn’t a significant step in your jiu-jitsu journey. The years of effort we put into improving our jiu-jitsu guarantee that our promotions up to the next rank are major milestones not only in our BJJ careers, but also our lives as a whole. Although there’s definitely a lot of great responsibility that comes with all that great power you accumulate during your training, even Uncle Ben would probably agree that the amount of pressure a lot of us put on ourselves after a promotion is a bit excessive.
Think about how you felt the day you turned eighteen: you were probably excited for the whole new world of opportunity your new adulthood afforded you (Freedom! Respect! Unprecedented levels of stress!), but if you really looked back on your last day of being seventeen, you likely didn’t feel a whole lot different from one day to the next. Beyond that, the “7” changing to an “8” probably didn’t do anything to actually prepare you for adulthood.
Similarly, your transition from one belt to the next may offer you a bit more in terms of opportunities within your academy and in the competitive world (Coaching! Respect! Kneebars!), but ultimately, you’ve just accumulated one more day of experience than you had yesterday.
When you’re finally — finally — not a white (or blue or purple or brown) belt anymore, though, you may feel like your overnight transformation should’ve been a bit more dramatic. Now that you’re a blue belt, you should never get tapped out by a white belt again, right? Or hey, since you’re a purple belt, you should never struggle with fundamental techniques again… right? Or as a new brown belt, you should never ever have a hard time submitting any blue belt that you roll with. Right?
The longer we train, the more we know that this simply isn’t true. But it can still be disheartening to be a few days, weeks, or months into breaking in your new belt and feel like your abilities aren’t any more advanced than they were before you were promoted. We put a crazy amount of pressure on ourselves to improve, and while that drive can push us to be better, it can also be destructive if we let it get in the way of giving ourselves what our coaches give us when they promote us: acknowledgment.
In giving you your new belt, your coach expects you to grow into it. They don’t see you as being infallible, and they know that your abilities will develop slowly just as theirs did when they were at your level. You are going to be your own biggest critic. Although this is inevitable, you should also make the effort to be kind to yourself. Look at your progress the same way you look at childhood photos of yourself, and recognize that small changes build up over time in jiu-jitsu the same way they build up as we age.
Jiu-jitsu may give us the knowledge to break limbs and make people go to sleep, but ultimately, we’re all still human. Your new belt may make you look and feel a bit more “super,” but don’t let it convince you that you should be clobbering every monster that comes your way when you’re still getting the hang of slinging a web.
Featured image by Giulliana Fonseca Photography