This post is about my journey from white belt to earning the coveted black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu "BJJ". However, in order to tell the story properly, Ill have to give you some background on my previous experience.
By the time I started BJJ in the summer of 2008, I had already been practicing martial arts of various styles and systems for well over 20 years. I had already earned multiple black belts in other arts based on striking and weapons techniques. As a martial artists I always looked at the wholes in a particular style and tried to fill it with another one that would put a check in that box so to speak.
I had wanted to study a grappling art for many years as a lot of my martial arts peers were getting involved. I just couldn't find the time in my already busy training and teaching schedule. I new of the value in such training but just needed to work a few things out in order to fully commit myself. My personality is very obsessive when it comes to training and learning martial arts. I commit fully when I say I do! I knew THIS would be a B-HAG! Big Harry Audacious Goal, as it takes in general, around 10 years to earn a black belt in BJJ.
June of 2008, I made the leap. I called Master Charles Gracie to ask him if I could train with him at his academy in Tracy CA, even though I was a competitor in the same business field as a martial arts school owner. Luckily for me, I found another like minded martial artists who has the same "shut up and train" attitude as me in Master Charles. Most academy owners don't want to teach other owners anything. I get that as well, and I told him I would understand if he said no. I could find another place out of town to train in in that case.
I walked into the academy on July 8th 2008 for the fist time. I signed up and purchased my BJJ Gi (The training uniform). When I came out of the office to go change and get ready for my first training session, I was shocked and surprised that there were no less then 4 other martial arts peers of mine that were school owners in other cities who were already training there. To this day we have become even closer friends and teammates through the vigorous training. The first training session was being facilitated by a man much larger then me (I'm 5'7" 150 lbs, so that's not saying much.) He was a blue belt. In the BJJ ranking structure blue belt comes after the beginner belt of white, and is followed by purple and brown and then the black belt. I thought, "ok, this wont be so bad, at least I'm not going to get smashed by the higher belts on day one!" It didn't matter one bit! I got smashed by just about everyone.
The class started out with a hard half hour warm up that included running, calisthenics and many new ways of moving the body across the mats that in time would become comfortable and useful once I understood what they were used for. Next, we started learning a few techniques from various ground positions such as how to escape if someone in on top of your chest while on your back (The mount position). The amount of details would escape me for the next few years and I would try to just learn as many techniques from every position as I could, both offensive and defensive.
Lastly we pared up with a partner, got on our knees, bumped knuckles and slapped hands and proceeded to try to choke and arm bar each other into submission for the next half hour with each of us doing our best to try to stop the other. 100% resistance. Rotating to a new partner every 5-6 minutes.
After class my old "new BJJ" friends and I would cool down against the wall and talk about many things.. BJJ related or not. Just a few exhausted brothers and sisters hanging out after battle.
And so it will go, class after class for the next two years. Killer warm ups, learning new techniques and often repeating old ones to sharpen the skill. Sparring or "rolling" round after round with your teammates. Doing your best to catch them in a submission as they do the same to you.
One Saturday, I received a emil from Master Charles with a list of names of all of the students who would be promoted in the next belt promotion about a month away. My name was finally on the list.... July 17th 2010, BLUE BELT!
After receiving the blue belt I doubled down my efforts. Training harder and even more consistently. I had heard that the majority of BJJ students quit training after their earn their Blue Belt. Most feel that they accomplished what they wanted (some skill on the ground) and they are not willing to grind that hard for another belt. That's just not me.
Over the next three years I had many many ups and downs in training. As well as my fair share of injuries. Blue belt to purple belt is by far the hardest level of training. Blue belts feel that they are now accomplished, and they are, it's just that there are people with these pesky Purple, Brown and Black belts around to foil all of their plans. White belts are trying their hardest to "Tap" a blue belt out so that they can feel as though they may someday soon be accepted into their ranks. Purple and above are still just out of reach to the blue belt.
March 30th, 2013 was one of the biggest days as a martial artist to me. I received my Purple belt. Now to the untrained or those from other martial arts styles, a color like purple doesn't seam to much to be excited about. However, to those who know... purple belts are beastly on the mats. They can handle themselves with just about everyone and can even "roll" with brown and black belts and not get submitted sometimes. Purple belts are considered advanced. Most classes are taught by purple belts in most academies. Purple belt in BJJ is also for the most part the longest belt. On average the time you will be a purple belt is 3-5 YEARS! However, most purple belts will become black belts. They have what it takes to continue the grind. They now have enough rank and skill that they are respected in any BJJ academy.
May 14th 2016, I was promoted to brown belt. The brown belt is a mixed blessing. You are the most senior of all the academy except the few black belts who are around from time to time (most are running their own classes), and at same time you have a huge target on your back. Everyone wants to "tap" you out. All of the white, Blue and purple belts want to make a name for themselves (in their own minds) and even the black belts are going to challenge you like no other as it it their job to get you ready for the black belt yourself someday. You can rest a bit with white and blue belts... you can pretty much have your way with them as they just don't have the amount of experience that a brown belt has. Purple belts however are dangerous and you must stay on guard. other browns and black belts tend to be some of the most fun "rolls". You all know what you are and can do. so most try to experiment with new techniques and try new more dangerous stuff. After all, if you get "Caught in a sub" you got caught by a Brown or Black belt.
May 4th 2019......... BLACK BELT!
Master Charles told me about two months before the actual promotion that I was going o be on the list. He stopped me on the way into the academy one day when no one else was there yet. "Shannon, come, sit down with me for a minute. I just wanted to be the first to congratulate you, as you are on the list for black belt". He then stood up and gave me a big hug and said "I'm very proud of you"! A feeling that you will have to feel for yourself to truly understand it.
The ceremony was large as many instructors from other academies brought their students to be promoted from everything from white through black belt.I was called up last and honored with Master Charles telling the story of how I first contested him almost 11 years ago and how he was proud to welcome me into his family. What a day. That day will live with me forever.
Now, the real challenge begins. Like the real challenge whenever you reach a goal or achieve anything. "Keep going"... That's the secret.... "Keep going"