Sunday, April 21, 2019

Don't be in a Hurry to Get Promoted: Enjoy Your Lower Belts

Yup. That's actually me. I like experimenting with stupid looks.

A few days ago, a few of us were sitting around "stretching" before training. A promising teenage white belt asked me if it was cool being a purple belt. I chuckled, then paused. The question was basically akin to one of my freshmen students (I teach high school) asking if it was cool being an adult.

Sure, kinda. I mean, it's sort of nice having that automatic recognition that comes with experience. And buying beer and lottery tickets. Strip clubs are fun. Or so I'm told. 

But it's never the neverending party you think it's going to be... mostly because both being a purple belt and being an adult also comes with a shit-ton of responsibility and expectations. I actually like both responsibility and higher expectations, but you lose a hell of a lot of freedom for that "privilege." 

Actually, being a purp is probably a lot more like being a college kid. While you do have more responsibility and higher expectations than earlier stages, it's also permissible to do a lot of experimentation. Expected, even. 

I distinctly remember being a white belt and looking up to the purps and almost being in awe, not unlike little kids looking up to the big kids. I couldn't wait to get there. So much so, I didn't really savor the white belt experience. 

Or the blue, for that matter. I wanted to get better as fast as I could. I was pacing myself as if I were running a 5k without realizing I was in a race across the continental US. 

Around mid-purp, I started paying more and more attention to higher belts. And I started noticing something I hadn't noticed before. They weren't always having as much fun as I was. Sometimes they looked... stressed. I'm no spring chicken; I've experienced enough life to understand they were dealing with something I had only briefly tasted as a jiu jitsu practitioner but experienced in spades as an adult - responsibility and expectations. 

They had to lead classes. Develop lessons. Manage egos at the gym. Having people depend on you. Worry about keeping student safe. Worry about making sure the gym was clean. Talk to upset parents. Wrangle hyper kids. Constantly fight off younger, more athletic lower belts eager to "tap a brown or black." They're expected to know anything and everything about the sport. Avoid having bad days on the mat. If you own a gym, there's all the headaches of running a business. And so on. 


I didn't see those angles in the earlier days. I just saw them effortlessly kicking ass in the sport I struggled to grasp. Like the high schooler who can't wait to be an adult to buy beer and start earning a paycheck, I failed to understand those relative perks came with a whole lotta shit. 

At some point, I'll get that promotion from a four stripe purp to brown, and I'll embrace the new responsibilities and expectations. But I've spent the last two years thoroughly enjoying the purp experience, and taking advantage of the twilight of my "college" years in this sport. I only wish I had done this with the two previous belts. Regret is kind of a shitty thing that way. 

So what did I tell the white belt?

I told him not to rush it. Savor the experience. Enjoy the obscurity while it lasts, because it ain't gonna last and you're gonna progress from it soon enough. 

~ Jason


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