I recently listened to Andy Stumpf's podcast Cleared Hot ( https://clearedhotpodcast.com if you are interested). During it he discussed a concept about mastery. The concept is that to move from beginner to master in any field you have to pass through certain 'gateways'. These gateways are: Beginner>proficient >effective>efficient> innovative > Master.
What I found interesting is how well these gateways align to the BJJ belts I.e. white/beginner, blue/proficient, purple/effective, brown/ efficient and black/innovative.
I think that one of the truly amazing things about BJJ is that it teaches students of the art countless lessons which apply well beyond the mat; the belt system is one such lesson. To obtain any belt in BJJ you have to be that belt, you have to have a certain level of performance on the mats. You cannot hide behind a belt, nor fake your competence on the mats because you are pitted against another person who is expressing their ability against you simultaneously. To advance in the art you have to practice and train, you have to put hours in on the mats. It is not sufficient to learn x number of techniques or attend a certain number of classes. You have to be able to express the art to a certain level against an opponent.
The lesson that I think people can learn from BJJ and its belt system is that to advance in any field you have to work hard and be dedicated to it. There are no shortcuts or hacks to achieving anything worthwhile. The belt system lays out an easy to understand path but does not offer any quick tricks to walk it.
Any efforts to trick the system and get a belt quickly, without the requisite ability result in you being exposed. Consider a fake black belt and how quickly they are exposed when facing a real blue or purple belt. The fake black belt lacks any proficiency in the art, which becomes quickly apparent when they are tested by their opponent.
In the podcast, Andy goes on to say that when you meet a master in a field they tend to think of themselves as somewhere between effective and efficient. Whilst beginners often consider themselves around the innovative level. Again you see this reflected in BJJ with people's lack of humility either results in them quitting the art, stagnating or never beginning in the first place.
Often the advice of 'don't worry about the belt, just focus on getting better' is given. What I think this advice really means is, do not think you are further along the path, just accept that you must keep trying to improve. The belt does not define you, it marks your progress in the art, showing which of the 'gateways' you are currently focused on. Are you learning proficiency as a blue belt or becoming more efficient as a purple belt.
To people outside the art or about to begin BJJ the lack of belt levels from white to black (when compared to other martial arts) and the time taken to achieve even a blue belt appear daunting and can be off putting. But the true benefit of the BJJ belts is that they teach us that patience and dedication are mandatory for progress and that taking time at each of the 'gateways' is necessary to advance. They force us to build patience and become humble rather than relying on external rewards or shortcuts. This is an invaluable lesson we can take into every aspect of our lives.
Tristan is a Redback BJJ Canberra Bluebelt and physiotherapist in training.
By Michael Armstrong
Every parent, teacher and coach hopes that the children they are responsible for will succeed and fulfil their dreams in life. But what are the actual factors that contribute to this success and how can coaches and parents be part of that developmental process? I believe BJJ is uniquely positioned amongst martial arts to provide developmental opportunities that are key components for a successful life.
Angela Duckworth, Ph.D, conducted studies across a broad range of contexts, fields and employment, in an attempt to identify the components for success in life. Surprisingly, her research found that talent was often inversely related to success and at best unrelated to life success. Other commonly held misconceptions such as social intelligence, IQ, health, wealth and social standing were also unsuccessful predictors for success. The two components identified as key, were Grit and Self Control.
Grit is the ability to stick with a goal in the face of opposition; not for an hour, or a day but years. It is this determination, combined with self-control that allows children and adults to identify long term life goals and undertake the arduous road to making that future a reality. Professor Carol Dweck has dubbed this focus as a 'Growth Mindset'; a belief that our ability to learn is not fixed, and that with effort, failure is not a permanent condition.
BJJ provides an environment where these precepts are reinforced to students daily, and are in fact essential to progression in the art. Unlike other martial arts, the testing of techniques against a live, unwilling opponent is central to BJJ practice. This 'live' training environment ensures that every time a student rolls, failure is part of that experience. It is through a belief that failure is not a permanent condition, that students and their coaches can use failure to identify weaknesses, focus effort and progress in the journey of BJJ. The axiom, 'a black belt is just a white belt that never quit', couldn't be more true than in the case for BJJ.
BJJ students develop self-control through their daily exposure to bigger, stronger and more skilled opponents; and the dominant and uncomfortable positions these encounters inevitably lead to. The ability to stay calm amidst this discomfort and think through the situation is essential for a student to develop successful responses to their opponent’s attack. A loss of temper, the use of strength or an incorrectly applied technique will all inevitably fail, forcing a student down the correct path. The willingness to fail and persevere through that experience is the same self-control and grit that Angela Duckworth identified as essential for success in all aspects of life.
When a child understands the effect that challenge has on them, they are more likely to persevere when they fail. As parents and coaches, it is our role to help guide children through this learning process. The BJJ club provides an effective environment for this learning; however, without the right encouragement and a safe learning environment within which the student is allowed to fail, the discomfort of failure will be too much for some students to cope with. Students in this situation will quit because they are unable to accept failing or train in a manner to avoid failing. Some of measures I've observed include the use of strength or favoured positions when rolling, avoiding difficult (stronger, heavy or more technical) opponents or avoiding rolling all together by feigning injury or leaving class before the rolling commences. Encouraging students to accept and battle through failures is essential for getting back on the mat and by placing an emphasis on learning not winning, we have an opportunity to not only develop better BJJ students, but individuals that are better equipped to meet the challenges of life.
If you are interested in gauging your student's 'grit', self-control or mindset levels to help facilitate club discussion, you can find:
Grit Scale here:
Self-Control Scale here:
Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset test for individuals, teachers, class and schools here:
Both Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck's books are also available from their websites and Amazon.
About the Author: Michael Armstrong is a BJJ instructor at Redback BJJ Canberra Australia, as well as an author and artist.
Duckworth, A., 2016. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Simon and Schuster.
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D. and Kelly, D.R., 2007. Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), p.1087.
Dweck, C.S., 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.