The Way of the Black Belt

In October, I will have had my black belt for 30 years, so I wanted to share with you my opinion of what it is to be a real black belt. I remember that day as if it was today; that moment when I received my belt from Master Jacaré’s hands at his small gym in Ipanema.

It was not a common event, in fact, it had never happened since I was the first black belt to graduate from him. The feeling of that achievement at 19 years of age was something unforgettable – it was the realization of a dream and certainly my greatest achievement until that moment of my life. I actually felt ready for that moment; I had been teaching for a while, I had a good technical level and great results in competitions – yes I was a black belt. But of course how much can a 19-year-old really understand about what it actually means to be one. And so, I decided to share with you here my understanding of what it is to be a real black belt after I have almost covered this entire journey.

Going back to the beginning when I received my belt, technical evolution was my priority, and I thought being a black belt meant knowing the fundamentals and “all” the techniques of Jiu Jitsu. What makes that more difficult today is there are so many more techniques to learn, and it is impossible to know all of them, but we must get as close as we can, and in order to make that possible, we need to always be open to learning. The black belt is not an arrival but rather a “way”. You have to master the techniques to the point where you can pass them on, whether you are a professional teacher or not, sharing knowledge as I understand it is a must for every real black belt.

When you teach there are two very important things to think about, the first is your example, don’t give me this talk of “do what I say….don’t do what I do” your student tends to mirror you so be responsible, and always be a good example. Your attitudes will always speak louder so watch out!

The second thing is: respect – understanding that people have different abilities and goals and to be able to respect their differences. Making Jiu Jitsu part of their lives for as long as possible should be the real black belt mission. For you to pass on knowledge, you need to have lived the experience. How will I understand my student if I have never been there? This goes for championships and many other experiences that Jiu Jitsu can bring you, for example: have you ever trained with your finger injured? no? so how can you tell a student to train or not in this situation? Accumulating experience and passing it on is what you expect from the black belt. Allow yourself to live the challenges that come your way, throughout the process seek victory but understand that it is not the most important – being TRUE is.

Keep yourself eternally open to learning, never pose as the owner of the truth, you are not, and if you do I can guarantee you will be a lie. Jiu Jitsu has taught me all these years that different people do techniques differently and there is no right or wrong, but what works and what doesn’t. To be real is to keep training even though you understand that you won’t be that fighter of the era. Maybe you’ll lose your explosive power, maybe strength, certainly reaction time – all of which will compromise your performance…. so adapt. Don’t hide behind your belt, train with everyone who invites you to train; with those you can win against, with those you lose against, and with those that really test you. Do it no matter what their rank. This black belt “chat” where less graduated students can’t call you to train, is typical of those who are not real. This has nothing to do with respect.

Being a black belt does not make you better than anyone else; respect everybody in the same way on the mat. You know that situation where the black belt bumps into another duo and demands them to leave their space just because they were less graduated? This is typical of a black belt living a lie.  Carry the image of Jiu Jitsu everywhere you go, and with everything you do. Practice kindness all the time, aggression most often denotes insecurity, seek that peace within you. Have a lot of opponents but don’t cultivate enemies when the fight is over or sometimes be grateful for that rivalry period which makes you train harder and with more dedication. This will make you better than what you were before.

Understand that in Jiu Jitsu, no one is ever good enough, and having a black belt around your waist doesn’t make you automatically someone of TRUTH – this is built daily with our actions, remember we are all on a journey. Make your attitudes a reason to be proud of when you look back. If you get it wrong, accept the mistake, apologize and keep evolving.

And remember, it’s never too late to become a real black belt.


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