As much as I hate to admit it, I have always been a sentimentalist. I look for metaphors and meaning everywhere. If I have ever met you, rest assured that I have made up a long narrative in my head of your life story.
I always look for ways to give the hobbies I partake in a deeper meaning that transforms them from regular past-times into meaningful endeavors. This task had been exponentially more complicated in the past, but that was not the case with jiu-jitsu. It provided me with the perfect parallel of life-to-hobby and gave me more meaning and purpose than expected.
The Blissfully Ignorant White Belt Years
During my white belt years, everything was brand new. I had been a longtime MMA fan before stepping on the mats, but my actual grappling knowledge was minimal. During this formative period, my journey resembled my toddler years. Blissfully ignorant of dangers, willing to try new moves, and awed by small successes. Even a front roll or a perfect shrimp was confidence-boosting, and I was constantly shocked by how immense the knowledge I needed to obtain was.
I also felt uncoordinated as a small child, not highly focused, and definitely not sturdy. But regardless of the constant failures, there was so much more for me to learn that quitting was impossible. My white belt years taught me about resilience, self-discovery, and self-awareness.
The Dedicated Blue Belt Years
Suddenly, when someone wrapped a blue belt around my waist, an innate necessity to intensify my training began. I felt the need to fulfill the expectations bestowed upon me by my coach. And just like I once did during my tween years, I became obsessed with giving it my best. An insatiable thirst for knowledge and perfection ensued, and I found myself shifting from hobbyist to completely obsessive practitioner. I learned the lingo, studied footage of my heroes, and traveled to learn from the jiujiteros I admired. I rolled frequently and defined my life based on my commitment to progress and developing my game. My blue belt years—just like my teens—taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and commitment.
The Rebellious Purple Belt Years
We all remember those rebellious teenage and early 20’s years. Mine were very noticeable. I went from a straight-A student, voted most likely to succeed, to a complete mess. Something switched in me, and my dedication and commitment began to feel wasteful instead of purposeful. Thus, the try me years began, that era in our lives in which we feel the need to do a total 180 and become someone else.
Receiving my purple belt made me feel unworthy and hypocritical. Impostor syndrome kicked in, and I began doubting my approach, purpose, and worth. I trained more often, but I let go of the previous belief that I had to train how I assumed world champions trained. I stopped trying to emulate my coaches’ games and finally allowed myself to enjoy the artistic side of jiu-jitsu.
However, that rebellion came with the significant side effect of often losing, which created even more self-doubt. Finding your voice means extended periods of trial and error. I got tapped by lower belts, and higher belts asked me questions about the crazy positions I was engaging in to help guide my development. But shame wasn’t enough to derail me. I was on a quest to find my game, and I hoped to find myself in the process. Like with my teens and early 20’s, the immense amount of adversity I faced to this point defined my purple belt years. Devastating injuries, changes in jobs, scheduling mishaps, and internal turmoil were the baseline of then.
My purple belt years taught me about my resilience, but they also taught me about the importance of finding my voice and not being scared or embarrassed to show the world who I truly am. Every tap was a lesson, and every injury taught me adaption. The financial and social obstacles fomented my dedication and taught me about prioritizing.
The Pessimistic Brown Belt Years
A month after receiving my brown belt, Covid hit the world. The fallout forced gyms to close their doors, and the US quickly became more divided than ever before. Depression sank in, and my daily routine was shattered. I found myself lost, forced to partake in new activities–if you know me, you know that spontaneity is not my fortè.
The changes to my routine began to feel like more than I could handle. As gyms reopened, I promised myself to take advantage of the unique gift given to me since I found jiu-jitsu and embrace the incredible team training brought me.
But just like in life, after a traumatic experience, we force ourselves to believe that we will never take things for granted again. Yet, a few months later, we fall back into our old patterns.
My plan to heal and improve the world through jiu-jitsu faded as fast as the plan I crafted on my 30th birthday to make the world a better place. After the dopamine dump of telling others about my purpose, I fell back into my previous habits of self-loathing and self-deprecation. Every lower rank athlete looking to submit me and boast about it now threatened the freedom I once enjoyed while rolling. Forced to play a safer game and now facing a life-changing experience that drained the fun out of anything, the outlook became grim. I am still in my pessimistic brown years, so I have yet to figure out what I am supposed to learn in this era.
My game is a perfect metaphor for who I am: weird, messy, unsophisticated, and absurd. But who I am on the mats and to my teammates is the best representation of who I truly am as a human being. Jiu-jitsu allowed me to awaken my empathic skills.
Through BJJ, I have become an active listener, a better observant, and the best cheerleader anyone could ask for. This self-discovery journey has taught me more about human nature than any psychology class I have ever taken. And as with life, the more I advance, the more I realize that life is an infinite course. You may hit some goals along the way, but there is no finish line. Each goal just resets the course or simply makes the next loop more challenging. But as much I have wanted to give up on both BJJ and life, quitting is not a feasible option.