Achievement Unlocked: Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt

image of gracie jiu jitsu purple belt on a white gi top

If you stick it out long enough, it’s inevitable that you’ll be promoted to the next belt at some point. So when my professor pulled me aside to tell me I would be testing for purple belt in December I wasn’t too surprised. I was, however, completely freaked out!

I felt like my number had just been drawn for the draft and I was heading to war or something similar and my brain was like; ‘Quick fake an injury! Tell him you’re flat-footed! Tell him you’re flat-footed and fake an injury! Yeah that’ll get me out of it!’

Leaving class that day I realized that in two weeks time, I may never wear my blue belt again. I regretted not enjoying my time as a blue belt for as long as possible. Thoughts of doubt crept in, questioning if I was good enough, strong enough, to wear a purple belt. Had I EARNED the right to wear purple?

To me, my blue belt still feels new. So stiff and shiny, hard to tie, hard to keep knotted. Like I just got it yesterday, but it’s not new. It’s fraying in spots. And it’s soft, and the stripes are falling off. And it remembers to stay tied, most of the time.

When I think about it, there was probably an astonishing amount of time and energy that went into making it that way. Blood, sweat, and tears, literally! And more sweat, don’t forget the sweat. So much sweat.

That belt proudly displays all my hard work, frustrations, and love for jiu-jitsu. It’s a reminder of all the training partners and coaches that helped to get me to this point. It’s literally a monument to umpteen uncounted hours spent on the mat.

Maybe my belt’s ready, so why am I so anxious?

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Frank Herbert

I’m not ready!

Let’s be clear, I wasn’t afraid of testing for purple belt (I should have been, but I wasn’t. I’ll explain later) I was fearful of what was to come after.

When I think of purple-belts I think of guys that are in class 5 days a week. Guys who show up on weekends and holidays. Hit every open mat session. And spend time with their families only out of obligation, all the while mentally rehearsing “kimura’s” and “peruvian neckties”!
I view them as more seasoned, more experienced, more knowledgeable. They’re on point, and their game is smooth.

My game has holes. Actually it’s worse than that! I don’t even have a game. While they’re playing chess on one side of the mat, I’m playing tic-tac-toe on the other.

It’s probably irrational (I’m sure it’s irrational) but I wasn’t confident that I could live up to the expectations of wearing a purple belt. I wasn’t ready for that kind of lifestyle or commitment.

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”
Bruce Lee

Dig deep woman! You got this!

I had hoped to attend the testing seminar in good health, but alas, the universe, yet again, conspired against me.

My step-son flew in for a visit and little did we know, he was carrying some centuries-old, long-forgotten plague that brought the rest of the regular cast members of my family to the brink of extinction.

My step son’s sick, my daughter’s sick, my husband’s sick, and I’M sick!

I love my husband, but when he’s sick, he’s really sick! He’s how they came up with the term “Man Cold”!

But worse than his whining is his snoring! He’s all stuffed up, he can hardly breathe, and the sound he makes when he’s sleeping is like a pit of nasally rattlesnakes with the volume at a million! I’d get better sleep on a helipad!

Needless to say, I spent several weeks on the couch with little to no sleep.

Then I had a reaction to my new migraine medication. It’s not a good sign when your doctor can’t decide if you should wait it out or rush to the emergency room!

And last but not least, Aunt Flo decided to pay me a visit. Isn’t that just precious. Thanks, mother nature, way to really screw me over! (TMI I know)

With all of this going on I missed almost two weeks of practice right before testing. By the time testing-day arrived, I had just barely recovered from the achy feeling but still was struggling to breathe. And I’m not making excuses! Before anyone goes judging me, I know that if there ever was a situation where I had to defend myself it would inevitably be one of these kinds of days, where I was definitely at my worst, so what better time? But Come On!

Anyways, walking onto the mats that morning I feel like I should have been more nervous than I was, but for some reason I had a calm come over me. Like a neutral, detached sense of purpose that I would like to attribute to rising above my “blue belt insecurities” but was probably the cold-medicine-cocktail I had mixed myself half an hour before. So no anxiety, but I still couldn’t breathe. 10 minutes into testing day I was done! All of my energy already spent. Shit.

15 minutes and I was pretty much single-tasking.

Around the halfway point, my brain demanded I quit and test at another time, but my stubbornness kicked in. I was already here and damn it, I was going to finish.

By the time I was asked to demonstrate some self-defenses, I felt like I was going to pass out. My eyes were burning, my throat was burning, I was hot, couldn’t catch my breath, and I could barely stand. I was digging as deep as I could for any reserves of anything I had left. Thankfully my self-defenses are the one thing I’m confident of and take pride in. So I went on autopilot (like I had a choice), and trusted in blind muscle memory.

My husband was asked to be my demonstration partner and armed with a burning in my chest (literally), a thousand rehearsals, and a complete lack of sleep (which was his fault) I went to town on him.

Or so I was told. I don’t really remember. I think my unconscious mind was doing all the work. I do remember being a little more aggressive than I would have been with an average partner. A little extra twist to his wrist a little more pop to his throws. ‘This is for snoring like a sawmill! And this is for not taking out the bathroom trash! And this is for whining about how sick you are when I’m on my deathbed!’

It must have been impressive because my husband told me later that if anyone present had any doubts about me deserving my purple belt, they didn’t now. He also said this while looking at the floor, trying to rub out his stiff neck from a bad landing.

And then there was a striking/clinching portion to our testing which didn’t surprise me too much as I’ve attended a few of these testing sessions. However, I am not as good at this as I am my self-defenses and usually get by on exuberance, of which I had none. So gasping and coughing a very tired Andrea substituted with sheer stubbornness.

I remember even less of this part then I do the rest, except my head snapping back a couple of times from walking into a couple stiff jabs when forgetting to keep my hands up.

And then it was over. I didn’t know that however because my brain had totally switched off, after being pushed so far beyond its reserves, and I had excused myself off the mat.

Looking back on what happened I think I was having a panic attack due to not being able to breathe. It was scary. I was sucking in air but it felt like it had no substance and I was slowly suffocating.
Crying and irrational I asked a friend to get my husband. I must have freaked him out because he actually ran like a life and death emergency, and as far as I knew it was.

Turns out, all I needed was to stand outside, barefoot in the 30-degree weather and let the heat radiate off for a couple minutes. Lesson learned. You have more energy reserves than you think, but when you reach the bottom, it’s a bitch.

The Rubicon

I was able to get my poop in a group just in time to return and have a stiff new purple belt tied around my waist.

As Adam (our blackbelt) shook my hand I couldn’t help but take pride in myself. For some reason, I couldn’t remember any of my insecurities. I had overcome a lot to reach purple, even today. Somewhere, somehow, I had been able to tap into that warrior woman that pushes through and overcomes anything.

And I felt something else. Something different. Something that I hadn’t felt when I had gotten my blue belt. I felt like I was here to stay. Like I had passed the halfway point and it was probably easier to go the rest of the way around then to turn back. Like I was somehow home.

I thought about the purple belts that spend 5 days a week on the mats and I felt a sort of kinship and understanding. Who’s to say they love jiu-jitsu more than me? Because I love this art a lot. I may not physically be on the mats 5 days a week but my mind is. I write a blog on the subject for god’s sake! Maybe I am as dedicated as any purple belt. My professor thinks so, and my blue belt thinks so. We’ll see.

So as for now, it’s already happened. I can’t go back. No point in worrying about it anymore. Time to just rise to the occasion. Time to give my blue belt the dignified retirement it deserves and to start breaking in my super stiff purple belt with some sweat. So much sweat… and maybe a few tears.

“A black belt only covers two inches of your ass. You have to cover the rest.”
Royce Gracie