Purple Haze: Episode 3: “All The Stripes!” Pt 2

Hello readers! I’m doing this a bit different and I’ve included the entire transcript this time for those more inclined to reading my content. For those who wish to just listen to the podcast, please click here. You can also find me on Spotify as I work to get on other platforms. Thanks for taking the time to read or listen, or both!


Welcome back!

I hope you found some value in Episode 2 where we discussed “White Belt Tom” receiving his first and second stripes as a White Belt all those four plus years ago; sharing my thoughts as a Purple Belt on what I thought was still true and hopefully giving some insight to any eager white belts listening in and hoping to earn that medical tape around the tip of their belt.

For this episode, I had originally planned to discuss three of my posts in depth, those being: BJJ White Belt: Third Stripe, BJJ White Belt: A “Green Milestone” and Into the Blue: Stripe Requirements. This time, we’re going to do something different and change the format a little. Instead of reading the posts at length, I’ll be highlighting certain sections that I believer would be valuable to you, whether they be things I still find true or things that need a bit of course correction based on how I see things now. Hopefully this will keep it a little more lively instead of you being tasked with having to remember everything I narrated to you from the entire post and then breaking it down.

So with the new format, let me know what you think as I’d love to get your input! I’m also curious on whether or not I should provide the entire podcast in written format on the blog. I’m providing the content in it’s entirety this time, so again, give me your thoughts!

So, with all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the Jiu-Jitsu journey as a Third Stripe, Green Belt and brand new Blue Belt!

The first thing I want to talk about is adapting your training to certain limitations, working with or around an injury, etc., as I mention this in the Third Stripe post and I feel this has some value. To give some context, I’d been having a terrible time with my right shoulder, some form of bicep tendonitis that made things extremely uncomfortable and nothing seemed to help. So after consulting a few professionals in the know, I’d made some adjustments to give my right arm a rest. Here’s the quote I want to share here:

From everything I have read, observed and come to understand about Jiu Jitsu, which is limited to my seven months of exposure, I’ve found that training can easily be modified to work on other things while giving a certain body part a rest due to injury. Also, if you are practicing a new technique or rolling, just let your partner know, “Hey, I’ve got some issues with my shoulders/knee, etc.” They shouldn’t have an issue being mindful of the problem area. If they do, change partners. …

I was determined to make a mindful effort to not use as much strength/force with my upper body, to slow down and focus on using my legs more. …

Taking this approach during live rolls gave me the opportunity to feel / observe / think and act/react differently than before. Having become very comfortable with my closed guard this gave me the opportunity to work the other guard variations like Open, Spider, X, De La Riva. Granted I’m not well versed in them, but taking what I’ve learned from my Coach, I had fun exploring and working those variants. It proved a challenge, trying to keep my training partners in those guards and look for other opportunities to deploy sweeps or attacks. I still used my arms but was shooting for about 50% utilization. As live rolls go, obviously I didn’t stay in guard the whole time but it was a good experience. This also gave my training partners and teammates a different avenue to train and work, namely passing these guard variations as well as watching out for me using my legs in different ways than I normally do.

During our rolls, I was able to see the opportunity for and deploy submissions that I’d not attempted before.

BJJ White Belt: Third Stripe

Other people in the community, especially experienced Jiu-jitsu podcasters have talked about injuries and working around them. A lot of them say similar things: adapt if you can, pay attention to your recovery, if you can’t train then at least come to class and take notes, put your recovery first.

Those things cannot be emphasized enough.

Here I just want to touch on modifying your training as well as working with certain training partners. First, you need to protect yourself and that even comes with training with the right partner, especially when you are injured. At our Academy, we try to pair the younger belts with the more experienced belts as much as possible, this is one of those “the tide raises all boats” kind of things. Lower belts get experience with upper belts, receiving their input and guidance, etc., and the upper belts get to work on the more cerebral part of jiu-jitsu when it comes to guiding someone through a technique. So, both sides actually level up in their understanding. Plus, of course, we have our Professor to help course correct either party if a detail is missed.

This is the first thing I would recommend doing, it sounds simple, but I have to remind you that nobody can read your mind, so the first thing is: Communicate with your Coach or Professor as well as your training partner.

Second, if you are a white or blue belt and you are injured, train with a more experienced Jitsuka. This can help to ensure you are training with someone who is more mindful of what they are doing during the instructional/repetition portion of class, and if you can roll, they will be able to be mindful of your injury and work around it. And if you are working with an injured teammate: be a good partner! Seriously though, you should be a good partner all the time, these things shouldn’t have to be addressed with adults, but such is life and human nature.

More on that a bit later.

Last, no matter what rank your training partner or the person you are about to roll with posseses: if they aren’t safe, if they don’t respect the injury, then don’t train with them. That is your right and responsibility to yourself.

As a side note: If you’re at an Academy where asking higher belts to train is discouraged and you’re left to figure things out on your own: find another Academy. If you’ve brought your injury up to the Professor and he/she isn’t doing anything to ensure a safe training environment for you: switch Academies. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Moving on, I do remember a couple times having to modify my training because my shoulder or knee was bothering me. Obviously, this limits certain things I can do on the mat, that can be a good thing. Purposefully limiting one limb forces you to think outside of the box, also since the particular limb that may be out of service could potentially be your training partner’s favorite limb to hit a submission on, it forces them to think outside the box and not rely on their “go-to” move. So, don’t get discouraged, you can still learn, grow and contribute to your team’s growth and success even when injured: just be smart about it!

So now, let’s transition into what I wanted to share from the Green Milestone post. This is something near and dear to my heart and has been ever since I’ve been able to help my teammates, my team at the Academy knows I like to help, that’s where my heart is and in that post I touched on it with this:

I like helping. It’s just something inside me, probably the “teacher” in me.

It’s odd, over the last few weeks, I’ve had teammates come up to me and let me know how much they enjoy training and rolling with me. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, “You know, Tom, I’ve really learned a lot from training/rolling with you today.”

Really though, I’m just following the example set by Coach Shane. … When I first started he’d actively coach me while rolling or while practicing a technique.

“What options do you have available here?”

“Your neck is exposed, you need to protect it.”

“Keep moving, don’t stop, you have to keep moving.”

“Do you see how I did this?”

“You have to pass my guard, don’t let me break you down.”

“If you lean back too far here, I can set you up for the sweep, so what you want to do is…”

Things like that, and more. And I repeat that pattern. …

Monkey see, monkey do.

But I enjoy that process. I really do.

This process also helps me retain and hone the skills I’ve learned already. If you can explain something in a simple manner, by and large that usually means you understand the content. I’ve also found that while explaining one technique, I’ll finally see the opening for another or how one technique works with another.

I also see doing this as a solid investment in the team. First, you are building rapport with your teammates. Second, and just as important, you are helping to retain solid people in your gym.

As long as you aren’t trying to put “your own spin” on what is being taught in class, you are being a force multiplier for your Professor and Coach.

Think about it.

Jiu-Jitsu is hard, it’s a lifetime process of learning, developing, analyzing and redeveloping your skills. You truly never stop learning!

Those first few months are hard. You are learning by immersion; baptism by fire. And for the most part, who really knew what the hell they were doing in the first few months anyway?

Do you remember your white belt days?

Frustrated with your performance, thinking you’re not getting it, every roll is just a fight to try and survive – which, really, that’s what us white belts are supposed to do, try and survive – but it gets frustrating… and then someone who has been there six, nine, or twelve months longer picks you for a training partner and is walking through things with you. He or She helps you “get” certain concepts down, you ask a question they don’t have the answer to and they waive the Coach or Professor over to ask clarifying questions and things click. Instead of feeling like quitting, things start becoming interesting.

To circle back to being a force multiplier, that small investment might have just saved a student from quitting. You planted a seed, the gym as a whole benefits from it and as the school continues to grow, that person in turn might just plant another seed because of the example you set.

BJJ White Belt: A “Green Milestone”

I really can’t expand on that further. I think this is still pretty spot on. Helping your team mates helps you, it helps the Academy and it helps the Professor. I think I should emphasize not trying to be “professor white belt” or “professor blue belt”. I think the difference is in the heart of the matter, how and why you approach helping your teammates. I enjoy helping, especially helping the new white belts have a good onboarding experience their first couple weeks. Don’t underestimate the value you can bring, as long as you are doing it sincerely and without hubris.

Now, before we go on to the final post, I wanted to address something you’ll find if you actually read the Green Milestone post. I’m speaking, of course, about the “Gauntlet” and “Break-In” tradition that I took part in. I’ve left the post up as it is a part of my journey and if you want to, you can see a video of me walking the Gauntlet and getting a few good raps on the back.

So, you may be wondering why I chose to bring this up at all? Well first off, we haven’t done this practice since my promotion to blue belt which was almost three years ago. And second, our Academy’s version of the gauntlet and break-in was always offered up as completely voluntary and nobody was ostracised or treated differently if they declined to do it.

Now, I grew up around these traditions so I don’t think much of them as long as they are done voluntarily and without pressure. However, under scrutiny, anyone with a modicum of critical thinking can see how easily things like this, under the wrong leadership and in the wrong environment can turn not just cult-like, but downright abusive and toxic.

If you put these traditions under the microscope and simply keep asking “Why?”, you won’t find reasons to do it that hold a reasonable, logical thought process as to what benefits there are. One could say: “It a form of initiation that builds morale and team unity.” – or something similar. However, while morale, Esprit De Corps, etc. are definitely built through hardships endured together; struggling together for some effort, getting slammed onto a mat or smacked on the back with a belt doesn’t really do it as well as as your team striving towards a large goal, like getting ready for a tournament. One could say: “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” or “My instructor did it to me, so now it’s my turn…” but, there really isn’t any logic there.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that while in my twisted little masochistic head, I miss those things – it’s really not needed at all. I’m for initiations, cultures across the world have initiation rites that help delineate going from one season of life to another and I think American culture lacks this in an embarassing way. That said, there are ways to initiate people into that new level or season of their life that doesn’t require mindless traditions. I’ll table this for a different podcast later, but I think it could be a valuable conversation at another time.

I guess the most important thing I am saying before we move on is this: if your Academy forces you to do these things or holds your promotion hostage to these things: leave. Just leave. Find a better Academy. If you’re in the Treasure Valley, Reign’s doors are open to you.

Moving on…

So, we’ve finally arrived at the click-bait titled post of “Stripe Requirements”. There are a few things I want to dive in to here. The first is that I would like to drive home the process of “guaranteeing” you get the next cheap medical tape wrapped around your belt and eventually get some cheap cotton dyed in a different color around your belt too.

In that post, I wrote this about your “guaranteed” path to stripe and belt promotions:

Trust your Coach/Professor.

From the small time I’ve been in BJJ, these elements make all the difference:

– show up

– put in the time

– take notes

– study

– be a good training partner

– get the reps in

– ask your Coach, your Professor and senior students about the techniques being learned

– practice the basics,

– don’t worry about getting tapped

– rinse and repeat.

Put the thoughts of the next stripe as far out of your mind as possible as you do this. Your Professor will be watching you and gauging your progress. When you are ready, when you are performing to that level, it will happen.

Trust your Coach/Professor.

I still get those thoughts from time to time, too. “Have I done enough? Have I earned that (first, second, third, fourth) stripe yet?” Put them out of your mind. Any time one of those thoughts come across my mind, I shake it out and remind myself that this is a long process of learning. I remind myself that while I might’ve been noticing my own growth, my Professor has been around MUCH longer and I need to just relax, focus on the training and trust him.

Into the Blue: Stripe Requirements

Now, I emphasized trusting your Coach or Professor a few times in there. Why? I’m not trying to encourage you to blindly follow along like some wannabe Cobra Kai cult. Again, if your Academy is like that: Run. Away. My main emphasis there is in trusting the process, the plan of instruction that he or she is putting you through (barring all cult like or toxic behavior, of course). Besides trusting the plan of instruction, if you listened closely, the first step is showing up!

Let me say those ten again with a little elaboration:

  • Show up – this is half the battle. Just show up and focus for that 60-90 minutes.
  • Put in the time – if you show up, this should be easy, but you have to stick with it!
  • Take notes – write down what you went over, questions you have after class, etc.
  • Study – there are some good resources out there, ask your Professor or Coach. If they are good, they’ll point you in the right direction towards some great resources.
  • Be a good training partner – don’t just lay there like a dead fish and don’t just resist like this is a roll or try to throw something unexpected at your partner. This could be a whole post and podcast by itself, so I’ll just leave it with: help sharpen each others tools, don’t be a tool.
  • Get the reps in – drill until the instructor says to stop. Do it until you can’t get it wrong.
  • Ask your Professor, Coach and senior students about the techniques being taught
  • Practice the basics
  • Don’t worry about getting tapped – seriously… check yourself
  • Rinse and repeat

Now, it is considered bad form to ask your instructor when you are getting promoted, especially if they do not have a specific testing schedule with who is eligibile for testing. So, here is something I’ve learned that could help you on your way:

Ask what you should be doing to perform at the level you want to be at and what your Professor looks for as far as a certain rank’s performance, what do they do, what does their game look like, level of understanding, etc. Now, this isn’t a “guarantee”, but I think any Professor worth their salt will help give you clear goals as to the level they like their Blue, Purple, Brown and Black Belts to operate at.

So, for all the white belts out there, or any practicing Jitsuka, I hope you’ve found value in what I’ve shared today. I hope it helps you grow while on your own personal Jiu-Jitsu journey. I’d love to hear from you, whether it be some comments on the blog, on the podcast or Instagram or Facebook. Let me know what you thought, give me your feedback, topics you’d like to hear about or anything really.

Thanks for investing your time.

I’ll see you on the mats.

4 thoughts on “Purple Haze: Episode 3: “All The Stripes!” Pt 2

  1. Interesting post, Tom.

    I, like many others, I suppose, considered looking into martial arts when I wore a younger man’s clothes, but never did for one reason or another. These posts kind of have me questioning that decision, even though I’m a bit long in the tooth and not quite as sturdy as I used to be.

    Anyway, good job. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks for reading, Rhyan, I appreciate that!

      Injuries, ailments and battle scars notwithstanding, I’d say it’s never “too late”. But I’d definitely emphasize finding the right school, regardless of the Martial Art, if it is something you’re like “What the hell, let’s give it a go!”.

      1. Finding the right school would be of the utmost importance because I believe I’m past the point of bouncing back after taking a hit.

        More like the type to curl up in a ball and scream, “Why me, Lord?” (kidding, sort of)

      2. Haha I feel ya, truly. May not be as long in the tooth, but I have to watch myself more and more, and check my ego when it comes to the young studs in my academy. Haha 🤦🏼‍♂️

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