Dear Blue Belt: You Are Not A Shark Or A Lion Or A Wolf

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Unless you are an Animorph, I regret to inform you that you will, in fact, never be a shark, lion, or a wolf, no matter how good your jiu-jitsu gets.

I’m telling you this because social media likes you remind you of things that you posted years ago, and much like that thing you said to your crush in seventh grade, the “apex predator” memes you post now will make you cringe one day. I’m telling you this because no one told me, and wow, I really wish someone would’ve told me when I was a blue belt.

To be fair, blue belts are far from the only ranks who publicly envision themselves as being fiercer and mightier than they really are. It’s truly bananas to see black belts comparing themselves to grizzly bears, though it definitely happens. But blue belt is usually about the time when students in combat sports are most likely to start getting cocky because jiu-jitsu is finally starting to make sense.

By the time you’re a blue belt, you know significantly more jiu-jitsu than most of the global population. If a new student with zero official training comes into the gym, you can probably outwork them and even submit them if they’re your size or smaller. Some techniques come naturally to you now, and there is logical progression from one position to the next. Jiu-jitsu is probably still confusing, but basic positions make sense instead of just being a tangled mess of limbs. You may or may not have a “game” that you prefer, but you probably have a few techniques that work really well for you.

Going from knowing nothing to knowing something — and then receiving acknowledgment of that progress — is a huge ego boost, especially when that development takes place over the course of a year or longer. When you get promoted to blue belt, the memory of being a confused, helpless white belt is still fresh in your mind. While there is almost certainly more progress that happens between all the other belts, the most dramatic metamorphosis takes place from white to blue belt, and oftentimes, the expansion of skill comes with a big expansion of ego.

If the ground is your ocean and most people don’t know how to swim, you should at least remember that according to this analogy, you yourself are, at best, a sardine. You can swim against the current and can fend for yourself better than free-floating plankton, but in the very ocean you speak of, you are still near the bottom of the food chain.

You are important to your own inner-gym ecosystem. Just as plankton would fear sardines if they had the capacity for emotions, the newbies in your BJJ class probably think you are at least a little bit terrifying. The progress you’ve made helps motivate new students while giving more experienced students a fairly challenging roll. The knowledge you’ve retained isn’t nearly on the same level as a black belt world champion, but it’s likely enough that you can help white belts when they’re struggling with a technique.

Animal memes aren’t a problem, really; they’re often a symptom of an overinflated ego, which most of us get at some point during our journey on the mats. You should feel good about the progress you’ve made, because whew, this is a long and difficult process. But remember that you are still at the beginning of your adventure. To be confident and embrace your place in the jiu-jitsu world is healthy — you can recognize how far you’ve come while looking forward to how far you still have to go. To be overconfident is to set yourself up for disappointment and possibly danger.

In jiu-jitsu, there is always someone higher on the food chain, even if you’re a world champion — it’s just a matter of when you get to test yourself against them. No matter how good you are or how good you’ll get, you’ll still make mistakes and suffer setbacks. And that’s ok. It’s expected. After all, you’re only human.

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