My time as a white belt

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My first day on the mat was less than stellar. I’ll be honest, if it hadn’t been for my husband I never would have gone back. To keep it brief, the first half of the class was great. The problem came in the second half when they put me with a purple belt to walk me through the process grappling. Yeah, that’s not what happened.

He was rough, demanded that I move when I didn’t know how. Told me to do what we just learned, except I couldn’t remember what we had been doing. I was completely overwhelmed and my partner was not helpful in the least. I found out later that my partner was an ex-MMA fighter and the last person I should have been with.

If it weren’t for my husband, I never would have gone back. Being manhandled by a guy who was supposed to have self-control was frightening, but my husband promised it wouldn’t happen again, and it never did. When I returned to class later that week, I was placed with a female who had been doing jiu-jitsu since she could walk. That brought its own challenges.

The teenager

I admit that guy was terrifying. Since that day, I have avoided him and my instructors are aware that I’m not comfortable with him. Now that I think about it, he hasn’t been partners with a woman since that day (at least not that I’ve seen).

At the time, our school offered MMA to adults and teens. Many people in our jiu-jitsu class were training for amateur MMA, both men, and women. A lot of them were really into the competition aspect of jiu-jitsu. If you’ve ever gone with someone who is doing this specifically for competition, then you know they’re a different breed from those who do this for pleasure.

Due to the limits in training partners (mainly because they were too aggressive for most women), my first year was spent with a teenager; we’ll call her Sarah. She is absolutely amazing, the type of kid you know is going places, and naturally gifted at this sport. We had a lot of fun that first year, and a lot of frustrations.

For all the great things she has going for her, the only fault she has is the need to win, even if she wasn’t really winning. She liked to just pin me to the mat and then sit there. Doing nothing. I would struggle and attempt to implement what limited knowledge I had, only to end up nowhere. There were a lot of nights where I wanted to quit out of frustration.

After several talks with my husband and the completion of a full back tattoo, I decided to go to privates while my tattoo healed. I started working with a purple belt (we’ll call her Hope) who would later become my friend, personal trainer, and private instructor.

Building confidence with private instruction

So Hope is amazing. She’s been doing this since she could walk, petite, and lots of fun to be around. We sat down and I explained my frustrations with Sarah and my confusion with putting moves together. Basically a brain dump of the past 6 months of jiu-jitsu difficulties. She cracked a lot of jokes and came up with a training plan. Since I wasn’t able to roll, I substituted my private class for the group class.

We covered everything in the white belt curriculum up to purple. Nothing was fine-tuned (that comes with time), but all the basics were there and I had finally learned how to flow. I started going to her day class twice a week when I went back to the group classes. She had us play silly jiu-jitsu games to help us learn to slow down and think about our next move. Most importantly, I learned what type of person I wanted to be on the mat.

I’ve discovered that there are two types of people: those that mirror (match your aggression level) and the tranquil(invoke a sense of calm). While I can be a firecracker off the mat, on the mat, I’m not very assertive. I was trying to meet everyone else’s aggression level, but that’s just not me. I’m in the latter group. I can’t mirror my opponents, it’s just not in me, however, I did learn how to bring them down to my level; how to calm their aggression by being slow, smooth, and cracking jokes.

When my husband and I discuss our experience with a particular person, our experiences are drastically different. He’s a mirror, so people tend to get rowdy with him, but that same person will roll with me, and they’re relaxed and joking around. It’s probably because I’m a woman, but it doesn’t matter, really.

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Attaining blue belt

I never did catch Sarah, and I had a lot of amazing lessons with Hope.

My emotions ran the gamut of excitement and happiness to inadequacy and frustration. Through all the struggles during my white belt, I learned that I had a long way to go, and still do.

In the end, Sarah pushed me to be better; to take the frustration and struggles I was having with her and channel it into something productive. I have a lot of fond memories of her and the silliness that ensued as I improved under Hope’s guidance. Rickson Gracie said it best.

In the fight, only one person can be comfortable. Your job is to transfer the comfortable from your opponent to you.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about receiving my blue belt. Most of my friends distinctly remember that singular moment. All I recall is being called to the front of the class with the other students and having Royce Gracie tie my blue belt around my waist. The only thought I had was, “I’m not ready for this”. While the other promoted students displayed their excitement quietly off the mat after the seminar, I didn’t say anything. I felt so undeserving of my belt.

Now, 3 years after the promotion, I finally feel like I have earned it.

Looking back

As a white belt, there’s a lot of information coming at you and at the time, I didn’t know the flow of our instructor’s teaching style. Even now, I have days where I can’t quite put the entire sequence together or figure out where a move fits in with others. I feel this will always be difficult for me, and for some, it gets easier.

The first year or two were the hardest, at least that’s what I thought, now as a second stripe blue belt, I realize the hard part has yet to come!