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Car Talk

My husband and I have a lot of our best conversations in the car. In fact, if you ever showed up at a special class at our dojo, enrolled your kids in our summer camp, or were the victim of one of Matthew's "why carbs are bad" lectures, you have benefited from our car talk. And if you see me all bleary eyed on Saturday morning, chugging coffee like it is orange Gatorade after the Super Bowl, it is most likely from our drive, not some wild party. For some reason we often pick 10:30pm Friday night, on the FDR Drive, to start a debate about religion or quantum physics or, I don't know, the meaning of life. It is not unheard of for us to still be talking at midnight.

Hey, at least we still like each other. 

Yesterday, while driving home from the dojo, I suddenly felt compelled to make this shocking admission:

"I think I have reached the point in my jiu-jitsu training where the idea of someday being a BJJ black belt is not unreasonable."


Did I just say that? Me, the person who is always whining about how unbelievably hard this sport is, how tired I am of people trying to choke me with my clothing. The person who never wakes up without some part of her body aching. Did I just commit myself to rolling around on a mat with big, sweaty dudes, for, well, basically forever?? 

(Normal people probably see a black belt as some magical, near-impossible accomplishment. But career martial artists like us just see it as the natural result of a lifetime of training. Not that it is easy, by any means. Just that if you don't quit, you will someday get one.)

Still, it takes a looooong time to get a black belt in BJJ. Much longer than the five years it took me to get my first degree rank in karate. That is an awful lot of triangle chokes.

When I was first awarded my blue belt a year and a half ago I felt a bit awkward. Even though I had been training for over 18 months, there was still only about two people in the entire room I had any chance of submitting. I admit that I had gotten better at the drills in class, and was starting to get some sense of how to move from position to position. But I certainly wasn't advanced in any way. 

It took me over a year, but now I think I finally feel like a blue belt. 

Rank in karate, at least in the beginning, is mostly about the techniques you know. So a karate blue belt can do x number of kicks and blocks. She remembers her 4 katas. She can spar a few rounds without passing out. BJJ is more complicated. When I say that I feel like a blue belt, it does not just mean that I know a few moves from each position. It also means that I occasionally notice my partner's mistakes and use them to my advantage. It means that I can sometimes string moves together. It means that I will often find myself instinctively moving into a position without knowing quite how I got there. It also means that I can roll slower, am more in control of my body, than a brand new white belt. (There is nothing more amped up than a brand new BJJ white belt about to roll! Don't worry though, we love you guys anyway.) 
New white belt right before the round starts.
Matthew is a BJJ purple belt. So I ask him,
"What does purple feel like?"

I'll save that answer for another post. Lets just say that it is not only about learning Berimbolo. 
For him, anyway.

To me the martial arts world is like browsing through a giant library. I imagine I will be doing some form of it forever. So right now I am reading one of the karate books (A really, really long one, I guess. Like the War & Peace of karate.) And one of those cool BJJ books. Perhaps next I will check out a Judo one. Or an Iaido one. (I have always wanted to walk around with a big sword!) 

So when I say that I can imagine myself as a BJJ black belt, it does not mean that I really care about the rank, per se. It certainly does not mean that I am chomping at the bit to get promoted. On the contrary, I don't care if the journey to purple takes me 2 years or 10. No, all that bold statement means is that for now anyway, this jiu-jitsu thing seems to be a keeper. 

I'm gonna have to renew the book.
A lot.

I'm also gonna need some Epsom Salt. 
And a really good masseuse.

And a lot more car trips.


  1. I remember being a white belt and feeling like I will never ever get even to blue belt. To be fair, I trained for nearly a year with zero stripes, so I felt justified in feeling that way - just spinning my wheels like a hamster, seeing everyone else get better and me just spinning.

    Then I got my blue belt and was like "whaaaaaat???" and sometimes I do feel like I've done an excellent con job. Other times I realize, shocked, that I have been now training for nearly 10% of my life! What is THAT about? This year I realized I might actually have a purple belt within my grasp in the next 1-2 years. Amazing.

    I do now feel like a blue belt - yes, I make dumb mistakes, no, I'm not always consistent, but I can control my speed and weight, I can sometimes exploit mistakes, and I have a MUCH better sense of balance. I'm curious about what your hubby thinks about what being a purple belt feels like.

  2. Its funny about belts. I have had conversations with training partners who judged themselves based purely on who they could beat in the room. So if you can tap most of the white belts, you must be ready for blue. As a 5'2", 108 pound tiny person, I have never been in that position. :-) There are plenty of white belts who can still beat me. So I usually look at myself compared to myself 6 months ago, or a year ago. Am I more in control now? Can I string some moves together? Do I see openings I did not see before? And so on.

    I think rank can be a very individual thing.
    FYI, My husband has always said that part of being a purple belt for him is that he can now anticipate what his partner is going to do and set up moves that way, instead of just think out his own game. I am so not there yet! :-)


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