Stopping at Blue

It seems the two most common times to stop BJJ are at white belt and at blue belt. White belt makes a lot of sense. You get a lot of people who want to try it out, realize it’s weird to be in such close contact with a stranger, or see that BJJ is much harder than Jacare makes it look, or find out it’s just not their thing. In some ways, it’s like everything else. Get in, try it out, see if it’s for you.

The second belt that people often quit at is blue. This one is a bit harder to understand. For most people, by the time they get to blue they’ve put in a couple years (I had around 500 hours on the mat by the time I got my blue. So it wasn’t a small investment.) But at the same time, in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty early on.

I got my blue a little over 6 months ago. A day I will remember for quite some time. It was after a lot of hard work, and literal blood, sweat and tears (and I’m not even talking about the test.) I was pumped. I had been able to accomplish something.  I was moving up.

However, over the past couple months, I’ve started to see a bit more about why some people stop at blue. Now, as I’m typing this, I have no plans of quitting, so it’s nothing like that, but I can begin to see why some people would. But over the last 2 to 2.5 months I’ve been out of the gym twice for 2+ weeks. The first time I had ringworm on my arm, the second time we were moving. In addition to those extended absences, I also missed days here and there as we had to go look at houses on a gym night, or I had to skip a lunch time class because a client came in to our office.  During those times, I reflected and took a cue from OJ and thought “I’m not going to quit, but if I was, here’s why…”

Progression

The first reason I could see for stopping at blue is progression. When I walked on to the mat the first time, I didn’t know anything. I left at the end of that class feeling exhausted, but also excited because I had learned the steps to my first arm bar.  The next two years had lulls where I didn’t leave class feeling that way, but those days were often met with the reminder that I was getting close to my blue belt.  However, at blue belt, the wave of euphoria over learning a new skill is often gone.  I still pick up things all the time, but they’re little now.  I catch myself watching the technique thinking “Does the hand placement matter there? How important are those grips?” And so I try to notice those details, but overall the knowledge isn’t coming in huge leaps and bounds like it was at white.

Finding Where You Rank

The next reason I see people leaving at blue belt is realizing where you’re really at. It’s amazing. You just got your blue. All the 3 and 4 stripe white belts look up to you, thinking “Is it almost my time? I can’t wait.”  The 4 stripe blues and above reminisce about when they got their blue.  It’s a real feel-good time period. That lasts about a week. Then you find yourself back in sparring and you realize quickly your blue belt didn’t give you any extra powers. The same stupid mistakes you made last week in sparring, you’re making this week. That 2 or 3 stripe blue who mopped the floor with you last week? He’s mopping the floor with you this week.

In fact, in some cases, those higher belts are kicking your butt even harder than they were before. You see, when you were a white, they didn’t have to work as hard. They didn’t have to be as crafty. Now though, you’re getting better, and so they work harder which means they enjoy beating you that much more.

Time to Purple

Not only do you realize where you fit in the food chain, but you have another realization as well. Purple is soooooo far away. In fact, right after you get your blue, purple might as well be black. You have to actually be good to get your purple, whereas you might just have to be ok to get a blue.  So while you’re getting your butt kicked by the same guys, you don’t even have the luxury of looking forward to getting your purple, because it’s going to be quite a while.

Time Involved

Finally, one thing being out of the gym showed me is how much time I spend at the gym. I got home and it was still light outside. I was able to eat supper before 8:30 or 9pm. I could sit down, relax and take a few breaths, and it wasn’t already bed time.  I missed the gym during that time, but I’m not going to lie, it was nice having some nights off.  As you near blue belt, it seems to consume you more, you spend more time at the gym. So when you have a night off, it’s even more of a break than a normal night off. That can be seductive to some people.

Like I said, none of these are reasons for me to quit, but I do understand how any one of them, or a combination of them, could see someone stop at blue belt.

2 comments

  1. John L Hansen

    Nate,

    I agree with you, but I’ll add another.
    The Build Up and the Let Down.
    To many people, and I realize you touch on this, Blue belt is blown up to be this very great deal (especially in the system you and I are under). There’s THE TEST and the legends and omens that come with it. There’s the fact that so many blue belts are so far salty that compared to a white belt they seem almost godlike. And there’s the fact that White belts know less than nothing, so finding someone who knows how to actually do things makes them seem ridiculous good.
    After you’ve had your blue belt a while, you realize ‘WTF? Everything I thought this was, it isnt. Everything I thought I could do, I can’t. There are so many people better than me.’

    As a white belt, much of your time is spent rolling with other white belts and blue belts. You rarely see action from Purple – Blacks, for a number of training reasons, and if you do, they are never playing to their level. They’re playing with you, for you. Now that you’re a blue belt, and you’ve reached the top of the hill, you see the first mountain. You can’t even imagine how to climb that. And off in the distance there are heights unfathomable that also must someday be climbed.

    That let down, IMHO, can be difficult on some to handle.

    This is my experience. I never had a blue belt, so I can’t speak to it, but had I, I believe that’s how I would have felt.

    As always, great work. Please keep it up!

    John Hansen.
    Rodrigo Vaghi Black belt.
    Axios BJJ.

    • admin

      Yeah, I was thinking about that. At white belt you don’t even know THAT you don’t know, much less WHAT you don’t know. It feels like at blue you start to have a revelation THAT you don’t know a lot of things and maybe, just maybe, you start to realize some of what you don’t know.

      That can be a big shock, and disheartening. But if you look at it the other way, it’s an opportunity to learn. Both about BJJ and about yourself.

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