by Samantha Schell
If every flower in the garden concerned itself with how fast others were blooming, its petals will never flourish. Not only excellent advice when it comes to progress in Jiu-Jitsu, but with life in general. Comparison is the thief of all joy, and if you’re constantly measuring your progress and success by scrutinizing those around you, you are never going to feel like you measure up. The sooner you can focus on your own personal journey, the more content you will be.
I say all of this because there seems to be a bunch of discussion lately around belt promotions and time invested. While the IBJJF does have a policy enforced on how soon the federation will recognize a promotion for each belt level, not everyone competes and therefore does not need to strictly follow these guidelines. The gauge for what it takes to reach each new belt can vary from gym to gym, as different instructors will all have their own opinion and requirements on what constitutes a worthwhile promotion.
When I first began training Jiu-Jitsu, I remember being told that it takes an average of 10 years to achieve a black belt with consistent training multiple times a week and often success in competition can accelerate those belts. Occasionally, some phenom comes along that achieves it in a much shorter timeframe, but that it wasn’t all too common. I tend to agree there because while I have seen several super fast promotions, I can think of only two I personally know of off the top of my head that unquestionably deserved it, as their skill and prowess far exceeded their peers at the same rank.
Gisele Bundchen has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as she was just promoted to purple belt by the Valente brothers after 2 years of training. People seem to be split over whether her financial means and amount of free time allowed her to rigorously train under the guidance of the best in the world, or if her rumored relationship with Joaquim Valente has unfairly propelled her to the advanced ranks. Who of us is to say really? None of us have rolled with her or know how much she trains. And yes, while it seems slightly suspicious, especially without world level competition experience, her coaches sure as hell know what that’s like, and I’m sure can accurately assess her better than strangers on the internet.
As someone who is now married to the head black belt instructor at their BJJ gym, not everyone promotes quickly. My first school wasn’t competition based, and there are several people who started 2-3 years after me that received their black belts this past month. After almost 10 years (9 years and 10 months to be exact), of consistent, daily training, sometimes multiple times per day, I just received my black belt this past March. On top of a full-time professional MMA career, and reaching the podium at every major IBJJF competition, including fighting my way to bronze at Pans one week after receiving my black belt, it still took me quite some time. Although I am sure some people would still say that it was too quickly even though I came to my husband’s gym as a brand new purple and spent both purple and brown at just over 3 years apiece.
Tons of belt promotions always pop up this time of year, seemingly always right before the new year, and I can’t tell you how many I have seen that personally caught me off-guard. I know that often times, gym owners and professors will wait a bit on new students who come to their gym from somewhere else, but lately I have seen a lot of people go from gym to gym chasing new rank, and it’s working. Not getting promoted fast enough for your liking at your current gym? Better go somewhere else and rub elbows with the right people to get that belt faster.
I keep saying throughout this article to try not to let these things get to you, that minding your own business is crucial to happiness. And trust me, I know how hard that is. People can clamor all they want about this bringing down the integrity of Jiu-Jitsu as a whole, which maybe it does. But it’s also probably a little bit of jealousy when compared to your own. Jealousy over others getting promoted faster, or envy over all of the hard work and wins you have put in only for someone else to be given that same rank without the same amount of blood, sweat, tears, and competition. Perhaps it has people thinking that others put them on the same playing field when it really was just a more lenient instructor. Who knows?
Thinking about how I have been at my now husband’s gym for almost 7 years, and trained pretty much 24/7, and knowing it has still been almost a decade to obtain that black piece of cloth, I have realized that it is a bit upsetting watching others, especially those many years after I began or else on their third, fourth, and fifth gym in a fraction of the years be lauded the same accolade. But if I allow those hurtful feelings to fester, all it will do is bring me down, and I enjoy Jiu-Jitsu far too much to let other people’s Jiu-Jitsu journey’s or athletic endeavors affect me for long.
Some instructors simply hold their students to a higher standard, some let their personal biases and relationships effect their judgment, and some just follow an attendance-based timeline regardless of actual progress being made. Who cares, really? At the end of the day, you know what you’re capable and the amount of work you put in. To let other people’s lives dictate your level of happiness is a waste of time.
Obtaining your black belt (or any upper belts), does not remotely equate to being a good person, which when it comes down to it, is much more important in life. As much as I love Jiu-Jitsu, and it being such a big part of my life, it is certainly not even close to being the most important thing in my life. I love competing, and working hard to earn my black belt, but even those who do it quicker or with more lenient coaches, do not have the life that I have, full of great friends, an amazing gym, a stable lifestyle, and the absolute love of my life who makes me incredibly happy day after day. Now that is something I would legitimately envy, as marrying your soulmate is a much rarer feat than being just a number of the many people earning a high rank in Jiu-Jitsu, no matter how quickly that takes place.
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