Hey guys, Erick is back to tell you about my toughest belt in Jiu Jitsu. Recently Bernardo Faria, one of my FAVORITE Jiu Jitsu practitioners, did a video on what he thought was the toughest belt in BJJ. He came to the conclusion that for him, it was purple belt. This made me sit back and think. And for me, I have to agree. My journey through Jiu Jitsu has been…unconventional to say the least. You can watch the video here.
How did I get to where I am?
It was only six months into my gi training, and I’d been promoted to blue belt. Showing up to gi training I had a lot of no gi experience and some experience fighting in MMA. It was obvious that I wasn’t the next big UFC star but I could hold my own and all of my victories were by submission. Who wouldn’t be happy to get promoted to blue belt so quickly? Most of all I was happy because I was in Afghanistan when it happened. That one is called my “War Belt”.
After the war
I was only a blue belt for about a year when I found myself back in the states training at my home academy, Twin Wolves Martial Arts Academy, and found myself getting promoted to purple belt by a tough competitor and amazing teacher in Alexandre Bueno de Oliveira. GFTeam guys don’t just promote anyone and they look highly upon competitors. Getting a belt from those guys is tough. That said, I feel like my time at white and blue belt were easy. I was competing, winning and learning so many new things.
Which brings us to…well…now.
Here I am now at purple belt. For the last three years and almost 4 by this summer. At white belt, it was easy because I already had a ton of grappling knowledge but even so, it is a time where you learn how to swim. You’re learning to defend and how to stay afloat. Everything is so new and you absorb things at such a high rate. It is exciting! Jiu Jitsu is amazing and you can’t see yourself doing anything else and you fall in love. That’s the best part of white belt days.
It was fun while it lasted.
At blue belt, things were fun. Learning different aspects of different guard games and finding what your favorites are. Learning how you move and how you can feel your opponent’s reactions to determine your next step. Finally learning how to attack and reverse. How to defend things properly. You’re still absorbing new technique and getting to be familiar with stuff to the point where you’re proficient. Blue belt is still a hell of a lot of fun.
Zero fun sir.
Now, for me at least, purple belt has felt…stagnant at times. When you’re a purple belt, you’re at the point in your journey where you already have seen almost everything you’re going to learn. Yes, you’ll still learn new things but, you have gotten to a point where you have already formulated your style. You know your game. This, I think, is what makes this level the most exciting in some aspects. Seeing competitors and others come into their own. Seeing their personalities in their game and how they fight.
Why does it feel dead here?
It’s also where I feel the most, “dead”. It has been a time where, at least for me, it seems progression has come to a halt. I don’t feel like I’m getting any better. I don’t see the improvements like I did when I was coming up as a new grappler and chugging along through white and blue belt ranks. There is a large stable of legit, high level brown belts at my academy and I can hang with each of them. Sometimes, I get lucky and catch a submission. Most of the time though, it is a stalemate. It is frustrating. Absolutely frustrating. I feel like with as much training as I’ve put in, I should be able to catch a limb or a neck at a higher rate than I can. But, that just isn’t happening. So why do I think that the toughest belt in jiu jitsu is purple?
But what is REALLY happening?
Here’s the thing…I’ve been EXTREMELY successful at this level. Throughout 2017, I only lost ONE match. I lost to the man who would go on to become the Pan American Champion at super heavyweight. Of all of his matches, I was the ONLY opponent that he couldn’t submit. And it for sure wasn’t for lack of trying. I didn’t lose by a large margin of points, wasn’t disqualified, but only lost by merely a couple of advantage points. Which says a lot considering he submitted all of his opponents within the first two minutes of every fight.
Since that tournament, I had gone the rest of the year on nothing but W’s. I won three more gold medals throughout the year as well as TWO professional BJJ matches, BOTH by submission and then the highlight of the year, winning gold at the San Antonio International Open by flying arm bar. I’m over here thinking I’m not gaining any skill and I’m not improving. I’m feeling like everything is just repetitive. Like every day is exactly the same and yet…I was killing the competition scene.
That is what Professor Faria said that just hit me like a ton of bricks. He was the EXACT same at this level. At purple belt, he was winning his competitions. Killing it out there and he felt like he was stuck. I can totally relate.
What do I do then?
I think that is what makes it hard to be at this level. Feeling like there isn’t any upward or forward progress. It makes it difficult to stay motivated and inspired. To stay wanting to put in those hours on the mat and keep pushing. When you don’t see those stripes coming or you suddenly get to a point where it’s like everyone is even and you can’t get an upper hand. That isn’t you getting worse. It’s all part of the process. I think the point here is…I think purple belt is the toughest spot. Once you’re a brown belt, you’re honing and fine tuning your game and figuring out what kind of black belt you’re going to be. And you’re just waiting on that black belt. Purple feels like you have to be out there proving something. You have to start shining and if you’re not, you’re nothing. That is the furthest thing from reality as it could be.
Purple Belt is The Toughest Belt in Jiu Jitsu
For all my other purple belt brothers and sisters out there…hell…any belt level. Don’t quit now. Some days are worse than others. Some days you’re the hammer and some you’re the nail. Don’t let it get to you. Keep grinding. Keep going out there and putting yourself on the mats and get those hours in. Hit up competitions and test yourself. You’re getting better and better every day, you just don’t know it. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Every person’s journey is different. You are exactly where you need to be and you WILL progress. Don’t let the illusion fool you. See you guys on the mats.