A few years ago, not only did I start learning Judo and BJJ, but I also started studying Japanese. I love learning languages, even though my brain fights me every step of the way. I had to start at the beginning, learning the alphabet, and then some words and phrases. Even though I have learned a lot, I still feel like a one year-old trying to string together words to say something in my target language. That’s when it hit me, when we learn something new, we are like newborns. I’ll be using my BJJ journey as an example for this blog post.
Just like a newborn, you know nothing. Nothing of your target martial art or even, as in my case, target language. Do babies cry because they can’t get instant gratification and be like an adult right away? Maybe there is that frustration, and I see it in today’s adults. “Why can’t I do this yet???” say so many new white belts. Just like a newborn to maybe…. three months old. It takes a baby a while to figure out all these new movements. Some babies develop faster and their brains catch on quicker, some take a little longer. I experienced this in my white belt days. The struggles of learning everything, feeling like I will never be able to get this. Feeling like I would never remember all the steps. But I persevered and stuck with it. I applied the delayed gratification mindset. If all white belts who struggle apply the delayed gratification mindset of being a newborn in their new martial art, it will pay itself off well in the end.
We reach a point later in white belt, when things start to click. Now we’re starting to crawl and maybe even attempt walking. Don’t get me even started with experimenting with tons of things! We don’t know where all the dangers are, and thankfully, if we have good parents (upper belts/black belts) we’ll be guided through this part of our journey safely. But it’s the experimentation and the exploration of what we can do with what we are learning that helps us grow even more! I see this so well in the world of grappling, not so sure with my Japanese (but I am not quite there yet in my command of the language). I began to feel this when I was a few-stripe white belt. I was starting to grasp the basics and confidence began to grow. Just like a toddler proudly walking for all the world to see… that was me at this point.
Upper BJJ blue belts. You get emotional. Don’t think this is working. You want to quit. You might just need a nap and then get back out there. The blue belt blues are rough, just like going through puberty. You have to get through this awkward phase to get to the fun part of life in BJJ. Growing up is hard. Again, if you keep looking forward to the goal of delayed gratification, the reward in the end is worth it. I’m sure with learning everything else, from drawing, to painting, to learning a language, you’ve got to get through this hard part in life to bloom. Quit too early, and you’ll never see what you could have become. I went through those hard ups and downs as a blue belt. I had nights I would come home absolutely emotionally crushed. I didn’t think I had what it takes to do this. Other nights I came home on cloud 9. But I continued on, pressing on and the roller coaster of emotions slowly calmed down as I entered the next stage in my BJJ development.
Your game is maturing. You’re maturing. You still do stupid stuff, but you can be mature enough to learn from your mistakes now. Same with martial arts. Like a BJJ purple belt, you are zeroing in on your game. You can play with white belts, even the spazzy ones, and they sit in awe of your skills. You still get creamed by the black belt, and you sit in awe of their skills. It’s the happy middle. You’re “adult” enough to start doing more responsible things, like help teaching the white belts, help teach kids class, and maybe even help coach. Ranking up has it’s privileges, and you start to see more and more of those now. This is where I am now in my journey. I love this place, I understand many of the fundamentals, can play and grasp more things. I’m getting a better idea of what my body can and cannot do, and yes, still make plenty of mistakes while rolling. But I love what I am becoming and seeing what I can do compared to what I was able to do as a white belt. The delayed gratification is paying off! But I’m not done with this journey yet.
I am going to stop here. I’m only a one stripe purple belt. But based on what I see with brown and black belts is they are the aged wise ones. Just like... older adults. They have been part of this thing called “life” (or BJJ or any martial art you want to put in here) for a LONG time. They are seeing the fruits of delayed gratification. They stuck through it, they went through the growing pains. They…. Are ….. Awesome. At least, if I am able to stick with it, that is how I envision my journey to continue.
So with anything we learn, whether it be a martial art, painting, singing, engineering, and even learning a language, if we look at it as becoming a new born again, and strive for delayed gratification instead of rushing the process, it pays off well in the end. If you train another martial art, comment below with how you see each part of the belt ranking process with how a child grows into an adult. I would love to see how it compares. Any other thoughts are welcome too!