Last Saturday I received my blue belt in Behring Jiu Jitsu, which is a big fat deal. You see, jits hurts. It hurts a lot. It takes most people at least three months just to learn how to breathe instead of hyperventilate (you can always spot the newbs, because they grunt and get kind of purple when they aren't being choked). It is bone on bone contact. Your body has to harden. Skin gets pinched, you take unintended knees and elbows to all different parts of the body, and you learn really quick that rolling around in a gi is like wearing a sauna suit. It is rough stuff for a while, but it does get better.
I never thought it would, but jiu jitsu did get better. Apparently, my coaches think that I am better as well.
In the sport everyone starts with a white belt. After the white belt the rankings go like this: blue, purple, brown, black (there are some variations on the black belt that eventually lead to red, but that takes an eternity and I don't feel qualified to explain the process). I have trained for two and a half years, that is why it is a big deal. The amount of people that actually make it to the first belt is small, and the amount of people that stick around after that is even smaller still. I reached the first milestone. My coaches think that I have enough skills and have put in enough time to be a blue belt. It feels really good.
Grand Master Flavio Behring tied my belt on. The belt that he tied on is custom with "Chillpack" embroidered on it. Ben couldn't make the seminar and he had the belt made as a surprise. I almost cried when I saw it. After the belts were awarded (some of my very deserving teammates were also promoted to blue belts), Pedro gave me a photocopy of a handwritten letter from Ben to read in private at the front of the gym. I didn't almost cry at this point. I cried.
After I wiped my eyes and walked back onto the mat of sixty-five or more athletes, the Gauntlet ensued. The Gauntlet is the rite of passage that requiress you walk through the middle of your teammates who hold the same rank or above. Those teammates take off their belts, fold them in half (or if you're a real asshole, as many times as possible), and they flagellate you. Yup, they whip you as you walk through. I personally don't understand this part of the ritual. I don't see the point and I can't help but feel repelled by this weird hazing ordeal, but it felt great afterwards. The rush was truly unparalleled.
On the journey to this first belt I have learned a lot more than basic bjj. These are the things I feel jiu jitsu has taught me:
1.) One thing at a time. Don't become overwhelmed by the entirety of any given situation, just focus on the immediate threat. If you can survive the first onslaught of anything, you have a chance to survive to the end.
2.) Small victories. Sure, maybe you don't choke someone every round, but learn to define your success in alternate ways. Many rounds are chalked up as successful when I get to the top once or I don't get submitted. Life and jiu jitsu are hard, and sometimes the reason we fail is because of our definitions of success.
3.) I am strong. I am physically and mentally strong. I can grapple with big, strong, skilled fighters and hold my own, because my body is more powerful than I ever could have dreamed. I was so terrified to start the sport, because of a fear of having my neck touched that I literally had to be tricked into it. Now, that mental barrier, that weakness, has given me a wicked choke defense. I guess 3a.)your weaknesses can be transformed into strengths if you try hard enough.
I have learned so much, but so little. I have a long way to go, but for the first time since I started I have finally realized that I am part of the way there.