Four Seasons of Belt Progression
White to blue is the spring.
This is where the greatest exposure to the basic elements of BJJ initiates. The very foundations of the rest of our journey begins with these critical building blocks. The first sprouts of knowledge, driven by motivation to improve. Not only is this our greatest season of individual improvement, it’s also where we’ll continue to look back for reference as we tackle more complex ideas in future seasons. This is also the most volatile, as many seeds are washed away. With the forces of old habit, new complexity and challenges, winds and rain will threaten the journey during the Spring (especially the first Spring), but will also serve to strengthen it in later seasons. It’s critical to develop this new habit of training, even if just showing up to watch.
Write down or otherwise record our training days if that’s your style, but whatever it takes to put no pressure on ourselves besides developing this new habit. To just to make Jiujitsu work in balance with the rest of our life ids our goal. With time and an open mind, techniques and philosophy will seep in, but this mat time won’t accumulate without showing up. Showing up should be our main focus in the Spring. Understand that this is the hardest phase for most, and most volatile, but that everyone before us had gone through it, and NO ONE regrets it. Stay the course.
Blue to purple is the summer.
Massive growth occurs here as we begin to fill the spaces between the springtime building blocks of BJJ. Making it to and through this season explodes our game, we speak the language and express ourselves within it. We’ve developed BJJ as a habit and are driven by it. We still encounter roadblocks but there is a growing gravity bringing you back to the mats. The pushing to class evolves into a pulling from class, as the gravity of BJJ intensifies.
But like students in other forms of education, we must be mindful that for many of us this can also be the season for summer slack off time. We’re wearing our first colored belt which is huge and should be celebrated. But watch for the “I passed my exam”, “i’ll just take a break and soak it in” etc. A danger of becoming a “blue and through” is real, and we need to keep an eye on ourselves and our training partners during this summer season to avoid this potential lifelong regret.
Purple to brown is the Fall.
If the blue to purple Summer is our hugely experimental stage, with our game spaces being filled with infinite options and pathways, our “filters” come into play and take on a bigger role in the Fall. Everything we learn passes through these filters when learning new ideas. We learn how to more specifically analyze movements and how they might be better suited for different mindsets, anthropometry
and strategies. In the same way that not everything survives the Fall in nature, we learn to choose which things survive in our games. Everything will be revisited, but for now, with the current filters in place, we choose what survives and thrives, knowingly or not.
Brown to black is the winter.
Fall back on and refine our harvest. What fleeting fads can be set aside, what can we preserve like canned veggies to carry us through the winter. All that sticks, impossible to unlearn, internalyzed deeply, helps define us as the black belt we’ll become. Concrete answers earlier in the seasons turn into conditional answers now. The newest and greatest game changing techs or superheroes of the past lose their initial flaming magnitude as we see with newer, more experienced eyes, the truer and longer lasting nature of each. We’ve also now forgotten much of the initial techniques that introduced us to the bigger concepts we can’t live without. Like story problems in math, we forget if it was apples plus apples or trees plus trees, but we’ve internalized the concept of addition. We learned by the numbers so we can forget the numbers. We can see much more of the forest, and further within it, as the fallen leaves have revealed greater vision. <-josh waitzkin
Moving through the black belt marks the new beginning, a new spring to reseed our intentions, clarify our direction and reinforce our methods of how we’re giving back to BJJ. With our more finely calibrated ability to see holes we’ll notice how many are still in our own game. Many things fell through the cracks, and many assumptions, systems, and mindsets are being held onto unnecessarily. Much of our self improvement is based in recognizing other’s holes, helping them, which reveals our own. Instead of having “the way it works for me” we learn “the way it works for you” in our speech. While spreading ideas more than ever, we are sponges of the knowledge brought to us from every white belt as well. We understand that a white belt that cannot learn from their black belt should find another black belt, and a black belt that cannot learn from a white belt shouldn’t be wearing one. We are porous and inviting, and amplify a particularly renewed fondness for the whitebelts during their springtime, as we pass again through another spring ourselves.
Approaching our upcoming first, second, and third degrees.
It’s super symbolic that our belt physically turns to white on the edges. Great instructors see black belts within every white belt, like a sculptor sees the future piece before the first chips hit the floor. Let those corners and fading edges to white be our reminder that we are also nurturing the white belt within ourselves and every black belt, and there’s also a black belt within each white belt currently being chipped away on. The belt’s physical representation of this should keep it close to your soul, keep you humble, for the mats and life.
Approaching 3rd degree (depending on our affiliation) earns us the title of Professor, and grants us the honor of awarding the coveted black belt. What makes a black belt? More specifically, what makes a black belt under us?! Everyone has a different path, how will we handle the 70 yr old? The handicapped? The competitive young competitor? It’s another (longer) summer experienced through older eyes. We’re more zoomed out to see the connections and relationships between techniques and people. Re analyze the old and the basic, and look forward to the new and exciting innovations, all with a more educated eye. As Hericlitus says, “no one steps in the same river twice”, with at least 2 decades on the mats and further along our life journey, we are much different than our first Summer. How exciting it is to not just learn new techniques, but to also learn old techniques again with the new eyes for it?!
Additionally, as we used to say “the way it works for me” or “the way it works for you”, we now commit to the pursuit “how it works for all” in our speech, thoughts and actions. The philosophy, on the mats and off the mats, spreading the love and it’s lessons, connecting each other through the language of Jiujitsu.
Footnote: As of 2022, I’ve personally only made it to 4th degree so i don’t have the benefit of hindsight to write further on this season. But i do put my faith in assuming it’s continued cyclical pattern, and look forward to any further seasons the gods grant me the pleasure of having. My first Summer i was on an obsessive quest for all things BJJ and it’s lifestyle. But this new Summer seems to be a season of pleasant bombardment of growth. Techniques, ideas, friends, puzzles and exciting challenges are constantly brought to me. Not sure how long this Summer lasts, but whatever i’m given, i look forward deeply to growing through, and growing alongside my many training partners in BJJ, and training partners in life within it and any other seasons i’m blessed with after.
Published: December 19, 2022
Categories: Jiu Jitsu Thoughts