I have said many times that starting to train with BBJJ is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is a decision that has and continues to inspire the direction of my life in a positive manner. From training I have lost weight, gained confidence, gained focus and found a deeper well of compassion than I ever knew I had. Yet all of this is really the icing on the cake.
I’ve always felt a little separated from the crowd and as a result have looked many places to find where my puzzle piece fits. Because of this my life has been one of many interests and experiences that have taken me around the world and through many crazy situations. Throughout all of my experiences though I can definitively say: Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is where I have found a community that I am proud to be a part of.
These students are some of the kindest and most interesting people I have ever met. Here we can go from working with a three year old taking their first few steps in a gi to working with a 65 year old veteran that is pursuing a new kind of health in their retirement. And there is a lesson in each of these experiences. Some of these lessons teach you how gentle interaction can be. Some teach you that power and strength don’t come from muscles, but from your observation and focused effort. Some just teach you how to give and receive. Sometimes it’s just learning how to let go.
When I think about all of this in terms of commitment and black belt I associate it to marriage. Last summer I was lucky enough to be married to someone that shares, and in many ways drives my passion for physical learning. Sharing the training as we do has brought us closer and provided us with physical and mental tools to de-stress and positively approach most things. In marriage, you can’t just give up because you have a bad day, a fight, or a misunderstanding. A commitment was made to see it through to the end, so the obligation of the committed is to manage that possibility and make it so. The same can be said of training. When we first sat down to talk about the programs at BBJJ I was told “everyone’s minimum goal in the martial arts is Black Belt”. This makes complete sense to me. The black belt is like the wedding band that you wear for life as a symbol of the dedication to who and what you love. But I think of all the belts leading up to it as a courtship. As learning how to be the person that deserves to put a black belt on.
If I want to be a good partner, both in my marriage and in my training I have to keep one essential idea in mind: I have to listen. BBJJ is beautifully constructed to aid with this as everything we do is focused around how to listen: to the instructor, to the partner, to your own body. We learn better how to mold ourselves to the situation or person that we are dealing with. This ultimately comes from Shihan and all the Professors working so hard to be ambassadors of a cultural shift towards the positive. We are fortunate that this ideology is imbued into the training every day as it reinforces positivity within ourselves and our lives. It is very hard to stay positive in the face of all the criticism, cynicism and doubt cast by much of society, so this community in response becomes all the more precious.
But I digress. What I wanted to talk about here is commitment and why that is so important within the martial arts setting. There is something lost in the world when learning a trade is no longer valued. When the process of apprenticeship is cast to the wayside in favor of a quick fix or easy dollar. Martial arts training does not let one hide from being an apprentice, an uke, a kohai. Having a Shihan, Professor, or Sensei is far more than having a teacher. It is having a mentor that helps you to become a better you. This process to me is one of the central aims of my life, and thus one of the most important processes to approach intelligently. The commitment to black belt is the commitment to these mentors, to your process of self actualization. I would no more give up on this training than I would give up on being married. You have to be committed to see the real value to what we are doing. You have to be willing to face hardships, doubt and challenges…because on the other side is triumph and understanding. Real value that is immeasurable and immaterial.
So how am I preparing to be a black belt right now? I am taking small measured steps, trying to see where I can give more, how I can better be of help, what I can do to better understand technique and its application, and where it is that I am still blind. I’ve heard it said that “you don’t really deserve your next belt until you have helped someone receive theirs”, and I think that there is some real truth to this. What kind of black belt would I be if all of my effort was just focused inwards? If I never took the time or consideration to work with someone rather than against them? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out either. Thus far the gains made by learning how to give far outweigh any “gains” I have ever seen by being selfish. Black belt is, to me, about learning how to better be selfless. Every day it is my hope to have given something more than the day before. To have inspired someone just a little bit more on their path to black belt in the hopes that one day I can live up to the responsibility of wearing one around my own waist.
I thank all of my fellow students and staff members. I thank the Professors. I thank Shihan. I thank this community for inspiring the best version of me to come into existence…and I will see you all at black belt.