Reflections on Jiu Jitsu Belts
What is the Value of a Belt?
The older I get, the more I realize you never quite get what you deserve. Rarely does the punishment fit the crime. Rarely does the reward fit the prize. For example, even if your job pays you the market rate, even if the taxes and health insurance costs are equitable, there is no adequate compensation for the time you miss from your family. Rewards are the same. Nothing that I have ever done in my life has made me deserve moments as good as the perfect day at the beach or the beauty of my daughter calling my name.
In Jiu Jitsu you get belts. Outsiders always have the wrong idea about belts. People often say, “You have been training for 3 years and only have a blue belt? My 8 year old is a black belt.” Even those of us who train can get the wrong mindset at times. "I deserve this belt because I can tap out so and so” or whatever false criteria you apply. What others don’t know and those of us who train sometimes forget is a Jiu Jitsu belt is in itself meaningless. It is an overpriced piece of cloth. The true meaning of every belt is from the wearer. I am the one who gives value to a belt every time I put it around my waist.
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An obvious part of its value you bring to a belt is from knowledge of technique and the art of grappling. You can compete with guys of a certain caliber. There is huge value in that. If you train for long enough, you are savage. There is no arguing with that.
But the value that we bring to a belt is much deeper than the martial aspect. Part of the deeper meaning is the recognition of the trials of the mat. Trials are rarely discussed. However, I believe it is a huge component in what fosters the idea of community and brotherhood in Jiu Jitsu. One trial is the idea that you must preserve against constant adversity. It takes a mental toughness to know that in your workout you will face shoulder pressure, knee on belly, being deprived of oxygen and whatever else. The belt is recognition of your attitude to adversity. It is the unspoken communication that while some run from adversity, you embrace it. You know in the end this adversity will make you better. Another trial on the mat is humility. Humility is always a roll away. We live in a world where we seek to bolster our ego by our credit sores, possessions or a million other things. The mats are diametric to this. The mats will break you if you cannot lose your ego. It sounds strange to say that while you develop a confidence in your abilities, that confidence is coupled with humility. Another trial of the mat is truth. On the mats, only through hard work will you find truth. You will find truth in how good you are, how to refine your technique and become better. There are very few places in the world that have the same level of honesty as the mats.
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Ultimately, we know these trials will translate to off the mat. Facing adversity consistently on the mat makes it a little bit easier when we face it off the mat. This is true if the adversity is with a tight budget or sick loved one or whatever life throws at you. Humility makes your relationships better. Humility makes everything in life a bit better. The truth of the mat does not only relate to your submission skill set but also who you are when faced with challenges and pain. It gives you confidence and courage to seek the right answer even if they are difficult to face. These trials give you strength in impossible situations. You know you have been victorious many times on the mats, when exhausted, by calmly applying technique. You know that the times you tap out did not mean an end but a call to get better. You know you are capable of more than you imagined.
Not only is a Jiu Jitsu belt a recognition of your physical skill sets but should also serve as a subtle reminder of the depth of trials faced on the mat. Ultimately, these trials make you a better equipped person off the mat.