White-To-Black Belt: Phases, Pitfalls, and Whole Foods

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photos By Mike Kalika


Overly Respectful White Belt: When you’re a white belt beginner, everyone is a wizard. You don’t know what’s happening. You’re tapping all the time. You feel helpless. What a weird sport to get addicted to. You look up to everyone. They’re amazing. Everyone you tap to must have fountains of information to share with you about how to be so great. You thank everyone profusely for spending even a little time with you, and apologize to everyone you’re partnered with because you’re obviously wasting their training time. You’ve placed the whole damn sport on a pedestal. Frankly, you’re vulnerable to being taken advantage of and your whole mindset is setting you up for disappointment when you realize everyone is human. You’re people too, Mr. or Miss White Belt.

Overconfident Blue (Save the Kittens!): There’s a big difference between confident and smug. Occasionally blue belts get a little on the smug side of things. They achieved what their white-belt selves at times thought was an impossible goal – entry into the colored belts. You have validated proof that you know SOMETHING. You can probably beat 90% of people in the street if it came down to it, unless you live in San Diego. Do you REALLY need to train more? Time to quit. Rickson Gracie kills another kitten. (You never saw that meme?) FYI – if you’re not practicing regularly (aka not quitting), you’re not as good as you think you are and you’re definitely not getting better.

Disillusioned Blue: Especially if you made the transition from our Overly Respectful White Belt friend, you probably put way too much stock in rank in the first place, and achieving that goal is like taking a big gulp of air after having held it for two or three years. It will be hard to chase that high again, and the vision of what it would be like vs what it is actually like is also probably a letdown. You may have realized that not everyone is a god, and maybe that was something you needed to believe in. Hopefully, this propels you into another level of self-awareness, mature confidence, and diligence. Possibly, it will make you leave all together. Please don’t leave. You’re just getting started.

Hungry Purple: A phrase I first heard from Leticia Ribeiro. Hungry Purples are (purple) belts that have gotten enough experience and success to make them eager to prove themselves against everyone. Rank means nothing as everyone has the same target on their forehead. The cool thing is this lack of fear opens up huge new opportunities. Black belts beware the Hungry Purple. Underbelts take heart from the Hungry Purple and realize that anyone can beat anyone at any time. It’s never absolutely impossible. Hungry Purples: enjoy the pleasure of no pressure paired with growing solid abilities. Embrace it forever.

Brown Belt Balance Woes: As a blue belt I couldn’t imagine how anyone would ever think of quitting once they became a certified bad-ass brown belt. As a brown belt I went, “oh”. You’ve (probably) been training for a long time. You’re probably don’t share the same brand of confidence as the aforementioned blue belt, but you do know you know some things. Brown belt can be a time of interesting contemplation and reduced drive. Purple belt is HARD. At purple, you’re figuring out your place and strengths and you’re happy to grit your teeth and grind it out. You’re still doing that at brown but you’re probably a little more self-aware and confident in your abilities. Depending on your commitment to competition and possibly your age, you may start wondering what the heck people actually do with their evenings when they don’t go to the gym from 6-8pm or longer. Experimentations to find out result in the discovery that Whole Foods offers free samples every Tuesday from 5-7 and your joints don’t hurt so much when you take an extra day off per week. (I have advice in other articles about how to reduce that FYI). Is that a sunset? I haven’t seen one of those in 8 years. A lot of people take hiatuses at brown as they seek to find balance in their lives that doesn’t always include the mats. Heresy! No – whatever is best for you is best. The mats will always be there. And you also know that taking that extra day off per week doesn’t mean you’ll miss the one magic class that will change your guard passing forever. Probably.

Black Belt Ego: Guess what? Jiu-Jitsu kills your ego, but it also does a fine job of building it right back up again. I once asked my instructor Brian Rago how he planned on dealing with his students eventually catching him (one day I swear it will happen!), and he said that he already assumes it will. A good instructor will actually be happy about it. Many black belts exist that don’t share this sentiment, start to believe their own hype, and start hiding from challenges. It can stunt them and sets a bad example, even if they’re not a teacher at their academy. Black belts may even start to believe that their rank means they are a good teacher. While it may be true it is far from something that goes hand-in-hand. The Black Belt Ego must also resist the temptation to think that a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu means they are experts in anything else in the world, including nutrition and diet advice, personal training, love, or life in general. They may be, but all others would be served well to question what expertise someone is qualified to advise on besides tapping other people out.