let's roll

The long road to purple belt

This is a long read in case anyone cares about my journey from white to purple and how I finally beat the blue belt blues. I hope it’s not too boring but it seemed good and cathartic to look back and reminisce a bit.

I began my BJJ journey in August 2009, at 25 years of age. I remember thinking I was gonna try to get my Black Belt in 10 years or hopefully less. I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, but it still seemed feasible. I had a great team, great teachers (we had 2, one more focused on pure BJJ, and another who leaned more towards MMA /grappling) and I felt like I was learning so much so fast. My fiends hated that I was constantly trying shit on them. ψ(ಠﭛಠ)ノ

I started competing almost immediately. 3 months in I went to my first competition, lost on the first fight miserably. Still, I was hooked! I went to every competition I could after that. On my 4th competition I broke the first fight curse: I injured my elbow because my opponent got me in a very tight arm bar – I remember the referee’s face looking at me like “What the fuck are you doing kid, tap!” – but somehow I managed to escape and turn the fight around.

From that point forward things started to progress faster and wins came more easily. I thought I was gonna get my blue in 2 years, even though in my team promotions didn’t come easily. I didn’t in the end. Getting a gold eluded me, I had plenty of bronze medals and some silvers… my teacher demanded gold though, so I had to wait a bit more for my promotion. I finally got my first gold on my third year as a white belt and ending up getting my blue belt in June 2012.

Things had changed a bit by that time. The team had split in two. There were some issues between one of the teachers and the team (Werdum) and things reached a point were thing got a but ugly between them. Those of us who were more focused on the gi left the gym (and Werdum’s team) to follow the BJJ-focused teacher, and those who were more into MMA stayed at the old gym with the other one. It was a sad situation but there were no resentment between former teammates and we’d see each other in tournaments, etc.

Blue was a different animal but still I was so motivated! I was still on my path to black belt. I was gonna work hard and make up for “”lost time”“ in white belt. I loved training, I loved competing. I just had to be consistent, endure and enjoy the grind, and nothing could stop me! My shoulder had other plans though…

One day training I was defending an omoplata. Went for the jump-over escape and my shoulder twisted in a baaaaad way. It hurt like a bitch. I figured I’d have to rest for a couple weeks and I’d be back. It stopped hurting and a few days in, I was lifting weights and my shoulder popped again, bad. This seemed serious so I went to the doctor and it turned out I had a torn labrum and had to get surgery. It was May 2014 (a couple months before graduation time) and right there I knew there was no way I was gonna get my purple belt in two years as I hoped I would.

I got the surgery in June and the injury was even worse than they thought it would be. They went in thinking I was gonna need 4 anchors. I ended up needing 8. The surgeon somehow never seemed to remember my face whenever I went to his office for check ups he would always be surprised when checking my record “Damn! 8 anchors!”.

Post-op and rehab was fucking miserable. Painful and slow. I ended up not being able to train for almost a year and a half because my mobility would not come back. I worked my ass off, did my exercises and all that, but my shoulder just didn’t want to improve as fast and as as completely as I hoped it would. Thankfully I found a new rehab doctor and after a single infiltration session (which my surgeon was opposed to because “it wouldn’t make a difference”) I regained all my mobility back.

I went back to training, and I felt like a white belt again. I knew what I had to do, but I was slow and clumsy. Again, I figured it was all a matter of time to get my jits back, and all I had to do was go to class and be consistent. However, the drive was simply not there anymore. The gym just didn’t feel like home as it used to. I’d miss a lot of class because of work and on those days I actually finished early BJJ seemed like the last think I wanted to do. I started questioning everything. Maybe I was one of those blue belts that just quit and never make it to purple? Had I lost my love for BJJ? Did I just lack the determination to make it out this rough patch? I really thought that was it for my BJJ.

It didn’t make sense though. I was still looking for technique videos all the time, and whenever I traveled I’d bring my gi and visit the local gym and has the best of times. My love for BJJ had clearly not died. It was training back at home that was a struggle.

I did some honest soul searching and found that some of the stuff that had been bothering me about our team, our training and our teacher, that I had decided to let slide I could no longer ignore anymore, and that was the real reason for my lack of motivation. So I finally decided that the best course of action for me was to talk to my teacher, tell him the truth, how I no longer liked training there, and I wasn’t even sure if I was gonna continue training at all. I did, and I’m not sure if he understood, but he told me it was ok and that if I wanted to come back I was welcome. I probably could have been a bit more blunt outlining what where the reasons that caused my dissatisfaction, but I didn’t want it to look as if I was attacking him and the school. After all I had been training under him for almost 7 years and I owe him and the team a great deal. I am forever thankful even if I no longer want to train there.

I was thinking on starting to take Muai-thai classes or something like that and forget about BJJ for a while… but some of my former teammates (one of them was my roommate at the time too) had left the team some time before I did and were now training with our other old teacher (the one that focused more MMA /grappling) and convinced me to try training there. I got to his new gym, had an honest talk with the teacher about my reason for switching teams, and he was super supportive. We had maintained a cordial relationship over the years and welcomed me with open arms.

My new teacher and team was just what I needed. His attitude and approach to teaching and life in general was a perfect fit. My teammates were very welcoming too and the attitude in general was way more laid back than at the old gym. Serious about the art, but much more chill about everything else.

I started only doing no-gi and limited training to 1 class, 3 days a week. No pressure if life got in the way and I had to miss class too. It felt good and helped put some mental distance with my former dissatisfied self. Eventually I went back to training both gi and no gi. To train more days and for more than 1 class in a row. To watch videos obsessively. I subscribed to Brandon Mccaghren’s site. Started planning my training sessions a bit more, trying to close gaps in my game, trying to have specific goals…

Graduation day was yesterday: June 24th, 2017, and at last… I got my purple belt!. I would have been fine if they had decided to keep me a bit longer at blue belt so I could go back to competing and try earning a few medals. Honestly. But I’m happy, grateful and humbled for receiving it. So grateful.

When I got my blue I knew where I where I wanted to be progression-wise when I got my purple. I had it all laid out in my mind: How long it’d take, how my game would have progressed, the competitions I wanted to win. The kind of dominating blue belt I wanted to be. But life doesn’t always have the same plans as we do.

I took a longer more tortuous path to get to purple as I hoped I would. I have barely competed, let alone won gold medals. My game still has many holes I hoped I would have fixed by now. But at least I now feel that i have the embryo of an actual game, instead of a set of barely related techniques, and mentally I think I’m ready to make up for lost time and fix all that for my purple belt. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m glad for the opportunity and the trust placed on me.

And man, most of all, I am elated for having gotten out of that rough patch and having found my drive and passion for the art back.