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White Belt’s Burden: The Known Unknown

I have hit eight months of practice. Jiu-jitsu continues to evolve and entangle my brain in new, enticing ways. I am slowly building a way to spar with others that is calm, uses fewer of my physical attributes, and I sort of know the traps I will become ensnared in. I sometimes catch submissions; I sometimes can hold off a better player and frustrate his game. But…but…I can now see how long the road is going to be, I can sense how far to shore I will have to swim. I am moving from the unknown unknown to the known unknown, and when you suddenly realizes what you do not have down, then the human ego weighs you down.

Part of the challenge so far has been to acquire as much knowledge about jiu-jitsu as I can. I watch Marcelo Garcia’s and Robert Drysdale’s online academy videos to confirm my learning. I keep a detailed written journal for big ideas and positions, while I keep a class log on my phone. I make it to class twice a week, even when I am on the road. I now lift weights and eat a little better each day. But after watching Seth Connor’s blue belt test online, I now actually understand how far I might be from the island of blue belts. I say “might”, because clearly every white belt’s journey to blue belt is unique. Testing, promotion and progress are nebulous; comparison is futile. Still, the ego compares. If there is one concept that keeps me afloat is a sea of doubt, then it is that I am continuing to make progress with each class AND I enjoy what I do in training. The goal is to disengage my ego completely and abandon my natural tendency to conquer, to achieve, to reach the finish line. As a white belt, I can now understand how much time I can spend on just one area to make it flow. Before I began jiu-jitsu I naively believed that if I knew “two good moves”, then I could win a fight. The days of the ninja and kung fu masters in hidden monastery cliff temples are gone. 

When I began, the challenge was to muster the courage to go to class. Then the challenge became to build up my fitness so that I could roll with other people who were often much younger than me. Now? Now I carry the weight of understanding the distance I need to carry on without tangible achievement. The goal line is far, far away, and even thought a belt colour is only a levelling up that brings a whole new set of obstacles, the mind of a modern overachiever like me craves tick boxes, acknowledgment of how hard I am working and success in even the smallest of ways. 

How will I approach the next eight months of practice, as a new baby enters my life and who will demand much of my time and sleep? A good soldier carries onward knowing that it is the only way to survive the onslaught. A strong warrior learns to transform the fear into motivation, exhaustion into adrenaline and relishes the impossible warfare. I will aim to stand between those two archetypes.

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