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Getting Past The Blue Belt Blues
With each stripe and belt promotion in jiu jitsu, you are faced with a different challenge.
Although each school is different in their promotion eligibility, in general there are techniques and mental aspects to master before moving up to the next step. The higher you get, the harder it can be to make adjustments in your game. As a white belt promotions seem to come quickly, since the entire sport lies ahead of you. However; once the fundamentals and core moves of Brazilian jiu jitsu are under your belt (or on them, in stripe form), it can be jarring to find out where to go next.
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Entering the sport is like learning a new language; memorizing words and basic phrases can be done relatively easily and a lot of positive feedback is received. Once you introduce sentence structure, grammar and advanced vocabulary you suddenly feel like you have no grasp whatsoever on the subject. You spend a year or two learning the basic words of jiu jitsu, but what happens when you’re faced with trying to have a true conversation and trade in that worn and grungy white belt for a pristine, crisp blue one? Once you join the colored belt ranks, what happens? Are the blue belt blues real?
Earning blue belt stripes, especially your first one can be frustrating and seemingly impossible. Your gym partners will begin to challenge you more during rolls, making it feel like you have taken 5 steps back in your grapple game. New techniques will be taught that are much harder to complete and you will probably be holding yourself to a higher standard than you did previously. So how can we, as blue belts, keep our morale up and continue to improve? Here are a few techniques to focus on, as well as mental aspects to perfect.
1) Set non stripe related goals. Rather than obsess over getting your first blue belt stripe, work towards improving a specific area of your game. Have at least one takedown you can be successful with, a sweep and at least one defense for common submission attempts. Just because you’re now a member of the colored belt brigade doesn’t mean you should leave behind your fundamentals, it means you should be using them with more ease and fluidity. Continue to practice and drill your core positions! Be comfortable with setting them up, escaping them, know submissions from multiple positions. Honing these techniques will morph into learning new ones at a faster rate, and give you a familiar set of moves to turn to when faced with unfamiliar territory during live rolls.
2) Roll with everyone Hopefully you have already started to do this as a white belt. Don’t avoid people in class because you’re afraid they’ll beat you. Every time I tap in class is an opportunity to learn and improve. A lot of times your professor will take care of this for you, but show your desire to get better to them by accepting your rolling partners happily and be open to defeat. Nobody in class should be aiming to hurt a rolling partner, so there’s nothing to lose! Practice moves with white belts, it will help you as well. Don’t shy away from brown belts, they have so much to teach!
3) Remember why you started Most people start Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling or any form of martial arts for the self defense aspect. Inevitably, this will expand to a love for the sport. This is common and a great thing, but don’t let yourself forget what your initial goal was. Maybe you work overnights and wanted to be prepared, or you were bullied in school. In those situations, whether you are a four stripe white belt or 2 stripe blue belt doesn’t make any difference to the antagonists. The number of medals you’ve won or podiums you have stood on won’t deter them from targeting you. Real life application is easy to forget, but take time to remind yourself and stay humble.