Yesterday after a seminar a fellow white belt and I were talking. He was remarking that one thing he hates about being a white belt in BJJ is that people don’t typically understand how long it takes to get a colored belt in BJJ. For example, I had a former coworker who got a black belt in Tae Kwan Do in 3 years. I’ve met guys at our gym who were white belts for 3 years (or more.) So when the average person hears that you train a martial art, and they ask what belt you are, and you tell them white, they start to think about their neighbor/niece/cousin/friend that has been doing “karate” for 2 years and is already a brown belt, they think you must really suck at this “jiu jitsu” stuff.
And that is in deed annoying.
However, as I was thinking about it today, I realized that it’s actually good for me that there are only 5 belts. I think back to college. I typically did pretty good in classes, and would often do well on tests. However, when I was graduating and doing interviews, I’d get questions about designing a circuit that does X or they’d draw me a circuit and ask me what kind of output that circuit would have. I’d often have little to no clue (or at least I felt that way.) For me, there was school and testing and then there was application. I could do well in the academic, but wasn’t as quick to get the real-world applications. It’s not that I can’t get the real world applications, it just doesn’t seem to come as fast as the academic side.
I’m seeing some of that with jiu jitsu as well. For example, within 3 months of me starting BJJ, I had taken and passed the “white belt stripe test” as Mid-America. That meant that I could execute one or two specific moves from each position (for example, I knew the proper technique to two separate mount escapes, against a non-resistant partner.) Then I went to my first sparring class, and realized very quickly that “knowing” the right technique and “executing” the right technique were two very different things. It was back to the class-interview dichotomy for me.
So what does this all have to do with me being glad there are only 5 belts? The way I look at it, if there more belts, I’d be constantly working towards the next belt, and specifically the next test. I could drill the moves, or names, or whatever else was needed for the next test, and completely miss out on learning the art. So with the realization that I will spend at least 2 years at white belt, I have the freedom to relax and actually LEARN BJJ.