I have always been a writer, and as far back as I can remember I wrote short stories and poems. Subsequently, throughout my black belt journey, I read many analogies comparing the different belts. So, the version that always resonated with me was a literary comparison I once read.
The article explains the different belt ranks as varying reading and writing comprehension levels. A white belt learns the alphabet, a blue belt starts to form words, a purple belt puts those words into sentences, and a brown belt puts those sentences into complete thoughts. It’s a very comprehensive explanation of learning the language of jiu-jitsu from infancy to adolescence. Adulthood, however, means a higher level of thinking.
The blackbelt level is described as writing poetry, which is the ability to communicate and manipulate the language into artistic expression. It requires a deep connection to the soul of the words and phrases obtained only through the struggle of learning their primary functions.
A blackbelt in jiu-jitsu requires the same level of dedication and exploration. A grappler must learn the correct operation of BJJ techniques to achieve a black belt, and during that 8–12-year span, their spirit is often tested.
Plateaus will be crossed, egos will subside, and endless inward reflection will be required for a black belt to complete their journey. But only through that struggle will they discover the beauty of the art.
In the beginning stages, they seldom recognize the life-changing path they have taken. However, shortly after their first rolling session, they realize jiu-jitsu is a much more cerebral game than they anticipated.
As the years pass, they slowly learn how to control a sparring session’s chaos and realize that violence is not the point. It is a necessary component of the process, but mastering the art means more than just learning how to win a fight.
We push ourselves to our limits by constantly recreating an environment of deadly struggle while rolling. It is an astronomically challenging task for the mind to process the incredibly detailed mechanics of jiu-jitsu’s techniques under that duress. The amount of fortitude required to navigate that labyrinth of suffering for years becomes a compulsion that leads to injuries, skin infection, and many strained relationships. So, when a black belt perseveres through that storm, jiu-itsu’s deeper insights enlighten them, and it forever changes how they view the world.
When I was awarded my black belt, I felt undeserving. There was still so much of the art left for me to learn, and that assumption was correct.
Being awarded a black belt doesn’t mean nothing is left to learn. It only means your instructor recognizes you have reached a point in your journey where you deserve to be free from the anxiety of, “What comes next?”
From the white belt on, the only goal of a practitioner is to achieve the next rank. Most grapplers perform every action with the intent to show their professors they are worthy of a promotion. But there is nowhere left to go after a black belt. Your promotions come automatically in a set time frame.
Freedom from the hypnotic trance of climbing the ranks allows a black belt to do jiu-jitsu just for the love of the art. They examine BJJ to gain a deeper understanding and hope to share their learnings with others.
This “post-graduate” work will help evolve the art for future black belts to explore. Because a black belt recognizes jiu-jitsu as living energy we are all connected through, and it grows and changes as the decades go by.
So, a grappler must also recognize executing a game plan against your opponent while rolling requires more than imposing your own will to progress. It requires understanding your opponent’s will, and that insight only comes from empathy.
A black belt has experienced every possible situation along their journey, uncomfortable and gratifying, and those experiences create intuition that binds them to their opponent. It allows for black belts to stay ahead. They know what you will do next before you do it because they have had the same reactions countless times.
Intuition also contributes to black belt “magic” through building muscle memory after countless reps on the mat. Every technique has a counter, every counter has a redirect, and so on into cyclical infinity. Throughout attaining a black belt, a grappler will learn systematic attacking sequences. Think of a tree diagram that continues to expand.
From day one, grapplers spend hours and countless reps perfecting their techniques until they eventually become subconscious. But a black belt’s level of subconscious understanding goes down endless branches of their tree diagrams. Most rolls happen entirely within the parameters of that flow state for them. It’s like being connected to the universe.
Jiu-jitsu is one of the few remaining authentic martial arts that offers its partitioners the ability to transcend their mortal consciousness through its meditative suffering. But it takes a maddening amount of dedication to understand that connection, and all black belts walked that line of uncertainty and disappointment to achieve a mastery of the art and themselves during the process.
We are the samurai and the Jedi knights of this modern world. A Jiu-jitsu black belt will always get my respect, no matter who they are or what they have done, because they have struggled to obtain the secrets of this beautiful art. Hopefully, all of you reading this will get there one day too.