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.