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Times Change

The Green Belt, from my understanding about Professor Moura’s association, is meant to distinguish those White Belts who’ve put in the time, applied themselves, aren’t afraid to experiment with new techniques being taught and most importantly look to work with the newer white belts; to help them along, be an example and show them the way. Green is a milestone; a recognition of being on the right path.

BJJ White Belt: A Green Milestone

The above quote was from the post I wrote when I received my green belt. If you are one of those precious few who have been reading my Jiu-jitsu posts since the beginning, you know that our Academy has adult green belts in their ranks.

Times change and we adapt and evolve, we get better and improve. As an example, for newly promoted belts we no longer do the voluntary “break-in” ceremonies – a Judo throw and a gauntlet of belt slaps on the back – though, I do miss that rite of passage. Recently, in our Academy’s continual evolution, our Professor made the decision, for the time being, to move away from the adult green belt rank and be more in line with the IBJJF Belt system. He didn’t demote the current green belts and require them to don their white belts again, he simply mentioned that for the time being, there wouldn’t be further promotions to green.

Later, one of our green belts was talking to me outside and away from the academy about their thoughts and feelings regarding the change and I felt it would be a good fit for the kind of content and value I am trying to bring to those who read my posts, especially the Jiu-jitsu centered pieces.

And yes, I did get that teammate’s consent to write about it.

My teammate had some challenges when they started Jiu-jitsu and like many Jitsukas, this art has a way of bringing things to the surface that you need to deal with and overcome. Sometimes it is things like an inflated ego, sometimes it is things like claustrophobia or close interpersonal interactions. I won’t go in to what my teammate had to overcome, but my Professor and I, and maybe one or two others witnessed this teammate face and overcome these very personal obstacles on the mat. So when that teammate was awarded that green belt, it meant a lot more than just a milestone on the path to blue belt and beyond.

The news of the elimination of green belts moving forward left that teammate feeling a bit discouraged and thinking that they were a fraud; wearing a “fake belt”. They felt and thought those things because that belt represented many things that they had overcome since starting the Art. And that is precisely why I told my teammate to hold their chin up when wrapping that green belt around their waist every time they stepped on the mat. And here is where I get to extrapolate and meander on the point a bit.

Traditions and Meaning

I’ve made a practice of folding my Gi after class. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this, let me try to have a “Yoda” moment here. I’ve gotten looks, received some friendly ribbing by a couple teammates and such. I mean, I am folding up a sweaty Gi after all. I’m not “stinky Gi” guy, but more often than not by the end of a class my Gi is sufficiently moist, to say the least. Now this folding isn’t anything special in and of itself, countless Jitsukas and countless students of other martial arts do something similar with their uniform. I remember I started doing it very early into my journey after seeing my Professor and the assistant coach do it a few times.

In one form or another, whether it was a Tae Kwon Do “Do-bok” or a Jiu-Jitsu Gi, I have been wearing a Martial Art uniform off and on for 36 years. I say off and on as there were a few dry spells in there, young adult life, new babies, etc. The folding reminded me of the old days and the old ways when I was practicing martial arts as a kid and as a teen. So I started doing it, out of this nostalgia-like feeling of the days way back I was a kid.

I remember back in the day being taught the “old school” / “traditional” stuff, things like:

  • never wearing your uniform outside the school
  • never let your belt touch the ground (it is forbidden)
  • make sure your uniform is always clean, spotless and ironed.

Though I will wear my Gi pants to class more often than not as a convenience factor, the old school in me still cringes occasionally when I do it. I don’t iron my Gi, but I’ve been tempted to.

Looking at the simple “why” regarding those rules, they teach the important of cleanliness and respect, not only respect to the Art and Association you were affiliated with, you could venture deeper in that taking care of those things could help instill respect for the process of learning, and for the lessons you are learning while wearing that uniform and belt. An even deeper meaning would be learning respect for yourself in creating a habit of being presentable. Too many people give zero fucks about their appearance now, taking the whole acceptance idea to a ridiculous level. Like it or not, it is hard to take a grown-ass man seriously in a store when he is wearing Spongebob pajama pants. Anyways.

Now, what is funny about that is even though it taught these things, there was also a prevalent old school, magic martial art ju-ju, cult like thought process revolving around the practice of never washing the belt. Apparently, your belt holds all of your knowledge and skill and is the original anti-microbial, anti-fungal, germ resistant garment. It was a weird blend of mysticism and traditional “tales” of the “origin” of a white belt becoming a black belt: the white belt who began training and as the years went on, the sweat, blood and effort; the wear and tear all contributed to the changing colors until it was black and he was a “master” or something like that.

We know better now. Nobody wants a Staph infection so, wash your damn belt already.

From a Martial Artist view, I think the meaning or symbolism behind that tale and old school traditions are better than trying to pull out a dogmatic interpretations and then instituting unquestionable and ridiculous traditions like not washing your belt because you are washing away all your experience, martial art ju-ju magic, etc.

Regarding the tale of the white belt who witnesses the color of his belt change over time, the meaning is beautifully simple: The black belt is just a white belt who never gave up.

It is You

I have chuckled to myself when folding my Gi sometimes because I hear in my little mind something similar to the first lines in the Marine Corps “Rifleman’s Creed”:

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”

Rifleman’s Creed

This is my Gi. There are many like it, but this one is mine…

A bit humorously dramatic, yes?

When you boil it down, the Gi and the Belt may just be died cotton, made with cheap labor in a foreign country, with a huge mark-up compared to the cost to manufacture them. And the stripes are merely cheap medical or electrical tape, again made with the same parameters as the Gi and Belt. So, you could look at them in that way and not really care. But, even my teammate knew this about that green belt they put around their waist, yet it still meant more.

Because it isn’t the Gi, it isn’t the Belt.

The Gi and the Belt do not hold the knowledge and experiences of my teammate, but they are representative of the journey that my teammate has taken.

It represents the sweat, the tears, the blood, the aches, the pains, the constant drilling and months of feeling like you aren’t improving, the wins, the moments things click, the aha moments, the woah moments, the crucible like pressure when you confront things deep inside that have come to the surface, the times you’ve wanted to quit and kept going, the times you failed yourself but stepped back on the mat to do better, the moments you were able to help another teammate out of a funk you had been through… all of it. And more.

It represents the ways that (hopefully) you’ve allowed the art to improve you as a person and brought out and polished the higher things from within you.

It represents you.

Nothing can take away all the time, the training, the sacrifices and the growth you’ve put in and experienced while wearing that Gi and earning that belt around your waist. It that which cannot be taken away.

Sure, you could say, I can say that since I’m no longer a green belt and it was eliminated from our program after I’d become a Purple belt. Sure, I guess. But I still have my green belt. It sits there, between my white and blue, a representative of the journey I’ve been on. It was worked for. It was earned.

And this is why I tell my teammate: Wear your Gi and Belt with pride.

See you on the mats.