Road to black belt: the white fun
This is a series of posts on my personal journey towards being promoted to a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Romania’s jiu-jitsu pioneer, Tudor Mihaita. In the 12 years it took to get here, I’ve learned a lot, adjusted my expectations a great number of times, almost quit, got injured, got married, had a child, started teaching, and I am still here, on the mats, at least every other day. If you are a jiu-jitsu practitioner, maybe my thoughts and memories will help you in some way, maybe you’ll identify with some of the things I write or maybe you’ll simply enjoy it from the side lines, as a spectator.
I have stepped accidentally into my first BJJ training session. I had no prior martial arts experience, was coming from the gym and a guy I knew convinced to come to his kickboxing class. It took place in a small room, there only 4 guys, but Tudor was just officially relaunching his BJJ classes in the same space, so I ended up doing that because the kickboxing guys were too advanced for me. One of the first things I remember was asking a guy who seemed my age how long he had been training. He said it was his first day, and I was stupefied as I was under the impression that martial arts/karate (I had no idea what BJJ was, although I had recently seen an UFC tape) were a practice you had to start at most when you were 6 or 7 years old. There were at least two or three other guys in the same situation, with no martial arts background, everybody seemed nice so I went back. And back, and back again.
I slowly learned about jiu-jitsu concepts and the best thing about the gym was that everybody seemed to learn together. Some of the guys had already trained in some form of ground fighting and were constantly kicking my ass, but I was also able to submit some of the others, which felt extraordinary and, in retrospect, was also one of the things that made me stay. Tudor was only a blue belt and he grew with us, even though he had a pretty good head start.
I attended my first internal competition in a couple of months, where I managed to take someone’s back during my first fight, from closed guard, but crossed my an ankles and got submitted with a leglock that gave me a double ankle sprain. I knew leglocks weren’t allowed and I had missed that technique because I was too far away from the coach when he showed it. Back in those days all sorts of guys used to come and train with us. Bouncers, interlopers, other martial artists, bodybuilders, strippers, nice guys, bad guys, even a couple of a girls. It was a very heterogenous mix, with a small core of people that persisted up to this day.
Some of the things that I learned and managed to do during those days are still incorporated into my game today. I am still a closed guard player, for instance, and have always been. But some are gone for good, and most are refined and turned into completely different techniques.
If I had to define the white belt, which took about two and a half years, from what I remember, I’d say this is when you get really addicted to jiu-jitsu and you truly realize the power that lies within you. The things you can do with your body, the pain that you can inflict, the pain you feel, these are things people rarely speak about, and yet they are such an important part of the sport.
Back then, when we only had one blue belt and everybody else was white, regardless of how much they knew or how good they were, and that meant promotions weren’t important. We all trained and learned together up to a point, and evolved in similar ways. And we were so eager for knowledge we looked for information everywhere, discovered stuff on Youtube on a daily basis and tried everything. It was fun. And that’s probably the word that defines it the most: FUN.