Why You Always Remember Your First Stripe

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It’s hard to express why a little piece of tape means so much.

Yet, when we earn the first stripe on our jiu-jitsu white belts, we understand it immediately. That first stripe may as well be a new belt for how much it means to us, which is why so many jiu-jitsu practitioners still remember the moment they got theirs years down the line.

Promotion days are like jiu-jitsu holidays — a time to celebrate, enjoy the company of your teammates, and reflect on the past year or even the past few months. Many no-stripe white belts who have been training for at least a few months approach this day with a very particular hunger, knowing that they’re still a ways away from blue belt, but hoping that they’ll at least walk away with a single stripe on their belt.

The first stripe is basically the blue belt of your white belt, the equivalent of dipping your toe in the water before taking your first big step into the responsibilities and expectations that will rest on your shoulders in the future. You’re no longer the newest and least knowledgeable at the gym, and brand-new students will start looking to you for basic techniques and advice on mat etiquette and how to tie their belts. You’re accessible, expected to know more than the day-one white belts, but not nearly as intimidating as the colored belt students.

It’s not all responsibility, though. Your first stripe is the first tangible sign that your coach is paying attention to your progress and the first time you realize just how much work goes into getting anywhere in BJJ. Months of work, of getting beaten up, of showing up and exhausting yourself and then waking up sore the next day has culminated into one piece of tape. Suddenly, you start to realize why those upper belts can see your submission attempts coming from a mile away — they’ve put in a lot of work to get there.

You’ll have many more stripes on your journey, and maybe some will also have their own emotional impact on you. But don’t feel silly or childish for being excited about your very first one. Let yourself enjoy that moment, even if your other teammates are earning entire new belts on the same day. They deserve — and will be — commended for their progress, and you should be proud of yours just the same.

Your first white belt stripe is a big “small step” on your path to black belt. Many, many people walk into a jiu-jitsu gym and never stay long enough to get where you are today. One day, you’ll look back on that special moment and remember the day you gained proof that you were on your way to being good at jiu-jitsu.

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