On Tuesday 6th of April 2010 at approximately 8.35pm – After 2 years and 2 days (or roughly 240hrs*) of training – I was awarded my Blue Belt by Andy Roberts.
As the astute of you may have noticed – those of you with mastery of esoteric subjects like “The Gregorian Calendar” and “Maths” – that means I’ve now been training as a Blue Belt for 3 months now. A suitable time I think, to look back and reflect on that momentous occasion and address that all too familiar subject what does a blue belt really mean?
I think I’ve said this before, so I hope I’m not just repeating myself endlessly, but the goal is not the reward. The goal is, of course, to get better. The Blue Belt is your reward. I think it’s easy to conflate the two and see your next belt as the ultimate goal. I know when I was a white belt I saw Blue Belts as Gods among men, smashing us mere mortals aside with strange and obscure techniques coming from odd angles and weirder set ups and dreamt (sometimes literally) of having such super powers. And then I got my Blue Belt. And like everyone else before me I realised that, no, they aren’t special. They’ve just trained hard to get where they are. The techniques they use aren’t crazy or secret, they just know how to apply them and possibly have a few favourites they’ve perfected. But they still get subbed, and make mistakes. They are still growing into grappler in their own right and (if you’re me) still feel like they know nothing. In short a Blue Belt is a lot like being a White Belt, they are both different points on the same learning spectrum. Not like those Purple Belts – Wow – They are like Gods among men!
A Blue Belt for me represents you have a good grounding in the art. To me, saying you’re a Blue Belt means that you have a good understanding of what BJJ is and how to do it. You know your kimuras from your armbars, you don’t just wildly scramble for position – you work towards it, and you know to set up positions before going for subs, you can hold your own whilst rolling against other Blues, and when you do tap out to higher grades you generally know WHY you lost. In short it represents you’ve achieved a solid base to work from. It shows you’ve arrived in the BJJ world. It is the first marker on a much longer journey, one you should be proud of and celebrate, but just a marker none-the-less.
Now on that last point and all I’ve said above about how it doesn’t really change anything: I’d like to pretend I casually accepted my Blue Belt with zen-like calm and didn’t make a big fuss about it, but we all know I’d be lying. When it happens it feels like the biggest achievement in the world. It wasn’t until I got in the car on the way home that it hit me. This was it. This is what I’d been pushing for all this time and I’d finally achieved it. WOOOHOO! I may have been listening to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect ya neck” with the windows down and the system up, I may have joyfully punched the roof on more than one occasion, there may have even been a few tears. I refuse to confirm or deny any of these rumours – But I will say I was damned happy to get my Blue! Finally when posed the dreaded “So what belt are you now?” question from non BJJers I no longer had to waffle on about stripes and how “well, BJJ grading system is quite different from other martial arts”. I could hold my head up high, wait for the dramatic music and declare “I, my naive friend, am now a Blue Belt!” and then swish my cloak about my person before disappearing off into the night…
I got a lot of props at the club too, which was nice. I think being one the last of the old guard to get my Blue helped a lot in that (as I knew basically everyone) and having so many people coming up to me to congratulate me and say how hard i’d worked and how much I deserved it gave me a massive confidence boost at the time**. Like a child I refused to tap to white belts and managed to succeed for over a month until a particularly large white belt leaned on my throat ’til I saw stars and I felt it was probably best to swallow my pride whilst I still capable of swallowing. I also (and I’m sure every new Blue Belt must do this) gratuitously wrist locked everyone I could until I realised that escalation can only every be a bad thing. Still, it was nice to play with my new toys. I think my favourite moment as a New Blue was walking past two white belts chatting at the end of a class and one of them pointing to me and saying “He’s the one you should roll with him, he could teach you a thing or two” WTF? Really?! When did that happen? It really made me smile at the time. Especially as, much to my surprise, I was able to teach him a thing or two – Namely “don’t encourage new Blue Belts to prove how good they are”, nooch.
Now it’s several months in I think it’s all settled down back to normal. I gave up my foolish “thou shalt not tap to white belts” stance ages ago, I still occasionally try a cheeky wrist lock , but other than that it’s pretty much business as usual. I currently feel that I’m (re)discovering the joys of BJJ for the first time. I don’t really think my game’s improving in any massive way, but I am enjoying slowly trying things out. I train, I get smashed, and I try to learn. It’s almost exactly like being a white belt again, except that now I want to concentrate on the basics. An irony, I believe, everyone realises once getting their Blue.
P.S. I realised half way through this that I’ve been automatically capatilising “Blue Belt” like it’s some kind of title. I know I’m probably breaching all kind of grammar rules, but fuck it, I like it. I think we should all adopt caps-lock to show deference to the power the mighty belt. Also, I really want to be able to write: “oh, so you’re a blue belt in TKD are you? That’s cool. I’m a Blue Belt in BJJ…” on message boards.
*When I say “roughly” I mean roughly. The bullshit assumptions and generalisations I have made to get to this number would make mathematicians cry. In fact, I’ve recently submitted the “time spent training” algorithm to the board of BP so that they can use it to aid their accurate reporting of how much oil is pumping into the Gulf of Mexico.
** Of course, the props were all yours too. I really couldn’t have done it without y’all helping. Thanks guys.