When participating in a martial art, I think it’s quite common for others to ask you ‘What belt are you?’ Indeed, I know very well the restlessness of entering a training center wearing a white belt – your newness is around your waist for everyone else to see; your inexperience is inescapable.
There’s something exciting about progressing through your belts – from earning your first stripe on your white belt to getting promoted to your next belt. It’s like a badge of achievement. It gives you something to aim towards, and it gives you something to feel proud each time you’re promoted.
It can be really easy to get lost in the quest for a higher belt. However, the quote, ‘It’s not about the belt’ really is true. While the belt does signify a level of experience and commitment, what it doesn’t accurately represent is heart. It also doesn’t really represent true skill level. It doesn’t represent how much dedication, sweat, and tears the student has poured into their learning.
There’s a lot of drama in the Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts community in general about earning belts through an online curriculum or people being promoted too quickly because of favoritism. I really don’t get involved or distracted by those discussions. For me, when you tie your belt around your waist, regardless of what color it is, you know exactly what it is worth and what it represents to you.
When I tested for my yellow belt in Kajukenbo, I knew by the end of the test that even if my coach had not awarded me the belt, that I had achieved something. I had overcome many fears and obstacles to get to that point and I knew that even if I continued to wear a white belt, there confidence I had gained was priceless. When he tied my yellow belt around my waist, I was overcome with joy. I knew I had worked for it and that I had earned.
Some time later I watched somebody else test for their yellow belt and I felt like their test was a lot easier than mine. Their moves weren’t as deliberate, there were some errors, etc. In the end, however, this person was awarded their yellow belt … that was the moment that I had to really think about the belts and what they meant.
I went home feeling disheartened. I felt like I had worked so much harder and given so much more than this other person — yet now we were the same rank.
This was also the point where the quote ‘Leave your ego at the door’ was something that I had to take to heart. I had to check myself — it was all about going back to the main purpose as to why I was learning the martial art in the first place.
I was here to learn.
I was here to build confidence in myself.
I was here to conquer my fears.
I knew that I was working towards all those and achieving my own milestones. I knew what my belt represented to me. I knew I did well. I knew I could be proud of my accomplishments. It was my belt.
As for others – well, their journey was personal to them. Perhaps they had their own goals to achieve and earning their belt represented their accomplishment in those goals. They knew how much effort and dedication they put into earning their belt. They knew their belt’s worth … this was not something for me to decide, judge, or compare myself to. It was not my belt.
Coming to terms with this was a really big moment for me. It is when I realized that it would never matter what color belt I had around my waist since I knew that what was most important was that I never gave up, that I continued to improve my skills, and that I was happy with my accomplishments.
Letting go of the need to compare myself to others has made my martial arts training experience so much more enjoyable.
In terms of Jiu-Jitsu, I now hold a blue belt. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of criticism out there about the Gracie University system and how the curriculum is online and you can test for your blue belt virtually. I, however, did earn my belt through Gracie University. I completed my training at a certified training center and then tested by submitting videos online.
When preparing for the test, I drilled constantly. I thought about my training day and night and worked really hard to pass my test. Once again, when I was awarded the belt, I knew that I had earned it. I know what it means to me and what it represent to me. I am confident in my skills at the level that I’m at. I don’t know that a blue belt from other Jiu-Jitsu schools represents, but I know 100% what mine means … and that’s enough for me.