There’s a lot of talk in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu about belts. In part this is because there are so few belts that people look at them as major accomplishments. For example, it took me 2 years to go from white to blue. Next month, I’ll have been a blue belt for 3 years, and probably only about 1/2 the way to purple at this point. So when someone gets a new belt, it’s a big deal.
But there are also people who talk about how the belts don’t matter, and you should just enjoy training. And there’s truth to that. If you’re in this for belts, you’re in the wrong martial art. An average person with a job that gets to train a couple times a week is looking at 10-15 years to get a black belt. That’s a serious commitment.
I didn’t get in to BJJ for the belts, truth be told I didn’t even know how many there were when I started training. And I don’t show up at the gym thinking “maybe this will help me get to my purple.” I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my belt color.
But something struck me this week. I had finished laundry and was packing up a bag for training this week. I threw in a gi, and a rashguard and a towel and then I realized I didn’t have my belt. So I pulled it out and as I did, I just looked at it for a few minutes.
That’s one end of my belt. Three years ago that was a nice, rich, blue. The left hand side there was a solid black bar that wrapped all the way around the belt. The left most piece of tape has been replaced a couple times now over the past 18 months. You can see the edge of the belt is frayed and the white is starting to show through.
As I stood there and looked at the belt I realized, for me, it’s not just a belt. It’s much more than that.
In the past 3 years this belt has been tied around my waste a few hundred, if not thousand, times. It comes off during a hard roll, and afterwards, I have to pick it up off the mat, wrap it around my waste, tie it in a knot and get to the next round of sparring.
Those frays represent hours upon hours of trying to get better. A lot of sweat, some blood, and a few tears (at least mentally.)
The disappearing black bar reminds me of the dedication it takes to keep training. It didn’t get beat up sitting in my closet. It got beat up, like me, by being out on the mats.
There’s no notches on my belt for people I’ve tapped (relatively few) or gold medals I’ve won (still at 0.) Instead, there are notches, wear and tear on the belt for every time I tapped and started over. For every 90+ degree day, covered in sweat I pulled myself off the mat only to walk 5 feet and start it all over again with my next training partner. They represent the days when I didn’t really feel like it, but still made it to the gym. They represent the reps with newer people, showing them why I love the sport. They represent people helping me learn from my mistakes.
Most of all, the represent hard work. Years and years of hard work.
And that’s why, for me, it’s more than just a belt.