Two or three weeks into my BJJ journey, I showed up to my Wednesday beginner’s class. I was the first one there so I was talking to the teacher, Scott. (Charles teaches on Mondays and Scott teaches on Wednesdays.) He was telling me that he was heading to Chicago that weekend for a tournament. I think that might have been the first time I realized you could compete in just BJJ. At the time, Scott was a blue belt, and so I asked him where he thought a blue belt from our school ranked overall. Were we close to being purple belts, were we glorified white belts, or were we actually blue belts. What he told me is, “You never take off a Vaghi belt.”
Rodrigo Vaghi is a pretty bad dude when it comes to BJJ and that’s who we’re affiliated with. What Scott meant was, if you go to another school, they respect Vaghi and know what your skills are. Some schools, however, wouldn’t have that recognition so they’d make you start over. For example, if you said you trained under me, they’d say “Who? Here’s your whitebelt.”
That lead us to a quick conversation (all before class started) about how our gym views belt promotions. Scott told me that he had been doing BJJ for about 7 years and was a blue belt. (He got his purple in October.) The way Mid-America works is that there is a lot of close interaction with the coaches, they see you progressing. They know where your weaknesses are and where your strengths are. They can tell if you’re dedicated & working or just there to hang out. As a result, there isn’t a lot of testing (in fact between white & black belts, there are only 3 tests at Mid-America.)
Scott also told me that this allows people to move at their own pace. I’m not the only one at the gym who does not have a wrestling or judo background, sometimes it feels like it, but I’m not. I was told there might be people who come in after me and get promoted faster than me. But the point was driven home several times in this conversation: Jiu Jitsu is about you. It’s about your body style, your fighting style and you’re abilities. If you are a stud, you’ll advance faster than normal. If it takes you a bit longer to pick up, that’s okay too.
This entire conversation lasted no more than 5 minutes. It was now 5:30 and I was still the only one in class. So I had a de-facto private lesson. A lot of the time was spent on the armbar from mount. For the drill, we start with our hands on our partners chest, exposing our arms. At the start of class, I asked Scott when someone’s hands would be up like that. And he showed me an instance of when (trying to push off) but he also showed me what would be a more likely scenario to get the armbar from mount.
I think he also showed me the Americana and Kimura from side-control.
To be completely honest, I don’t remember much of my “private” lesson from a technique standpoint. But I do remember the conversation that we had before & after class, about not feeling pressured to keep up with other people.
That has really helped me. Brazilian jiu jitsu is a pretty humbling experience. Everytime I spar there is a room full of guys better than me, who can demonstrate it by making me tap early & often. The simple fact of knowing that each person moves at their own pace helps. If I didn’t realize that, I might not have the enthusiasm, because I’d just assume I wasn’t “a natural.” (Which I’m not by the way.)