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New Belt, New Goals, New Stress

Promotions are awesome. There are few things more exhilarating than a fancy new belt tied around your waist. I mean look at those kids over there! Look how happy they are to be junior black belts! All that hard work, all those days of promotion, finally over. And now they get to come to karate class every day just like they used to except they get to line up somewhere different, and people call them "Senpai" so and so, and oh my god they also get to put on a BLACK BELT! Every single time they take class!! (Those of you who have been there understand what I am talking about. That belt. It is yours now. Forever. And not only do you get to keep it, but you get to WEAR it. In class! Its incredible really.)

When it comes to karate, I have been a black belt for so long that I rarely think about promotions anymore. I still take class because I enjoy it. And because I need to teach this stuff and I cannot teach things that I never practice. But if I am being perfectly honest, most of my karate training is simply because it is my job. I do not necessarily mean my job as a dojo owner, although that is also true, but because it is my job as a fifth degree black belt to keep on working on karate. I have no interest being that Sensei who doesn't train, that black belt who no longer spars. There is always something new to learn out there. But I am never training for my next rank.  At this point another stripe on my belt just seems silly.

I was a BJJ white belt for a year and a half and a blue belt for more than three years. At the school where I used to train promotions were a surprise and I was often unclear on what the criteria was. In that kind of environment it is hard to use your next rank as a motivator. In fact, the only time I ever really thought about my next belt was when I was miserable and frustrated and needed a reason to not quit. As in "well you should at least get your blue belt first".

Whenever I take a BJJ class now I get to tie on a beautiful new purple belt. It looks good with every single one of my gis. It matches my pedicure. It brings out the highlights in my hair. But in addition to being an awesome item of colorful clothing, my new purple belt has come with all kinds of angst. The kind of angst that makes me want to train a lot, all day, every day. Knowing that I worked my ass off and earned that belt does nothing for the feelings of insecurity that come with it. I suck at this. There are new white belts who can tap me. I don't know enough submissions. I can't escape triangles. I am too tiny. I am not strong enough. And so on and so forth. My frantic desire to feel worthy of my purple belt means that I have taken almost every jiu jitsu class my schedule allowed in the past three weeks. I made my husband roll with me for 45 minutes on Saturday. My brain says "Get better, get better, do it NOW!" It wants to be training all the time. My body is trying its best to keep up. (Hold on buddy, just a sec, let me get some water. Ok, go ahead, go to class again, if you must. )

I know this stress is all in my head. Sure I have known a few judgmental people, the kind who see others get new belts and gossip about how little they deserve them. Small minded people. People who don't understand that there is more to training than how many people you beat up that day. People who have probably already quit jiu jitsu, or who will quit after their first injury or the first time they realize they aren't the alpha in the room. I am not the alpha in the room. But none of the folks I currently train with seem to care. They respect me for my skills, my experience, my hard work and because I am actually a nice person who tries really hard to be a good training partner. 

Tell that to my insecure brain.

Of course I am sure all this excitement will wear off eventually. I will stop feeling like I have something to prove to myself and just get to be a plain old boring purple belt. Hopefully when this happens, I will have come up with a whole bunch of projects to work on. Guard passing. Back takes. Sweeps. Whatever. But not belts. My next BJJ rank is so far away there is no way it can be a reasonable motivational tool. It it like sitting in a little rocketship here on Earth and saying wow, I cannot wait to get to Saturn. Some day, some day.

Do I want to be a BJJ black belt? Of course. I would be lying if I said I didn't. But right now that path is so long and twisted that I can only see the part that is currently right in front of me. The part that says go to class today and work on your half guard. A lot. 

As for the next step? I guess I will figure it out when I get there.


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