The Black Belt “Winning” Mentality

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In martial arts, especially in Jiu-Jitsu, it is ingrained early on that the black belt should always “beat” their students/lower belts. No matter the age, physical ability or attributes, the professor/coach is always supposed to “win.”

During my 10+ years of training, I have seen black belts pass up rolls with students they know who are athletic, who have good technique, and essentially would give them a hard roll. I have seen black belts absolutely destroy whoever they roll with no matter the size and belt rank of their opponent. I have also seen black belts get destroyed by lower belts and coach through the roll with them as they are getting smashed.

Are all these scenarios acceptable? Yes, they are. Here’s why:

Other sports are not that way. We don’t expect professional basketball or football players’ coaches to out shoot, score, or out run their players. Could you imagine the Patriot’s head coach try to outscore Tom Brady in touchdowns? I don’t think so.

While it is not a cut and dry comparison, this is something that we need to think about whether we are black belts or the lower belts rolling with them. For example, I am a female black belt over the age of 40 and under 115 lbs. I know that I will never be able to beat a 200+ lb, 20-year-old male white belt. This is not because I don’t have the technique to do so, but rather my technique and experience cannot overcompensate for strength or athleticism. Would I fare better rolling with a 130 lb female purple belt of similar age? Yes, definitely. Can I have an off day and not roll my best? Yes, of course. Should I feel bad about it? Definitely not.

However, as black belt and even colored belts, we hold ourselves to an unreasonable standard that we are going to or should beat everyone that we out rank and we beat ourselves up when we don’t. I remember a few weeks into getting my black belt, another black belt paired me up with two blue belts to roll with. Both were in their 20s, one male who outweighed me by at least 30 lbs, and a female who was of similar size. Long story short, I did not have a good roll with either for varying reasons and I got mad. When I brought my concerns to the black belt about not pairing me up correctly, he responded with – “Well you’re the black belt so you should beat them no matter what.” That made me feel worse like I should be invincible and be able to beat anyone, no matter age, size, or belt rank.

The reality is that at black belt, we should be happy if lower belts “beat” us or give us a hard time. It proves that they are learning, growing, and improving. If in Jiu-Jitsu we were trying to “hoard” knowledge or withhold belt promotions to keep a small portion of individuals superior, we would not have the sport and community that we have today.

We need to remember that we are all human and at the end of the day, it isn’t about winning or losing because there should never be any more than friendly competition in training to motivate yourself to get better. No matter the belt rank, we are all there to learn and help each other get better. After all, the black belt isn’t merely about who you can beat, but it is about all of the knowledge and experience that you have gained along the way and sharing it with others.

Let that all sink in.

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