I Am Now at Purple Belt
Nice going, he was right, you will never be satisfied
Purple belt has been a rank that I’ve dreamed about a long time. I’ve written private notes to myself about what I would say if given the chance to speak at purple, searched many a r/bjj thread about “how did you know you were ready for purple,” and spent a lot of time trying to escape what many perceive as the “blue belt blues.”
I wrote earlier this year about promotion jealousy — a topic that I think should be discussed but is often considered taboo, because how could someone dare to feel bad about another person’s success? What I am learning is that now, the flip side of achieving success is that there is still a long way to go in this journey. At blue, my ego told me that I could avoid a lot of the “challenges” that came with that rank, but reality showed me otherwise. Here, too, in the first few weeks of being at purple, I am once again reminded that every part of the journey has its ups and downs.
When I am honest with myself, I realize — in the words of Hamilton — three fundamental truths at the exact same time:
I often have mixed feelings about a lot of things.
I often want those things to be either uncontroversially “good” or “bad”
Because of #1 and #2, I struggle.
You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied
I'm sure I don't know what you mean
You forget yourself
You're like me, I'm never satisfied
Is that right? - “Satisfied” from Hamilton
I remember one cold winter’s night at a retreat at the Christian Legal Fellowship when we were listening to a speaker talk about the 5 ways to not lose yourself before you turn 53 (or whatever the age he was at during the speech). I was expecting a whole bit of quoted scripture but instead I got some decent life advice. (PS - nothing against quoted scripture as being good life advice, too — I just wasn’t feeling it at that precise moment).
Among the things that he said was to “never be afraid to face yourself,” a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. In a lot of ways, I’ve struggled for most of my life to find the clear answer to things — a good move if what you’re doing is logical, like math or physics — but a lot harder when the circumstances involve a little bit of chaos and whole lot of emotion… in other words, the affairs of human beings. Jiu jitsu at its earliest stages to me felt like a logical activity, so that if I could do X then I would be able to accomplish Y, no problem-o. Yet the more that I delve deeper into this art, I realize that there is no exception to jiu jitsu and the practice of other martial arts that I’ve done in the past. Eventually you come to realize that it is not just about the “martial” part or the “art” side of things, but that everything that you do is a weird, confusing, but also beautiful mess, just like the people who practice in it.
As a child and as a protective mechanism, I needed to imagine a world where there were clear answers and rules, because my external circumstances were certainly not going to provide me with that. So in turn, I had to at least turn my internal world right side up, draw my own boundaries (however rudimentary or inexperienced), and do whatever was necessary to allow myself to feel safe. Things are, as my therapist likes to remind me, a lot different now. With more options, resources, and choices, I am not the person I used to be — but, it will take time to unlearn those ways of thinking and doing, since they are instinctive and thus can always take center stage if I’m not intentional.
Now, all this to say that this discussion on how the “art” is just as important as the “martial” should not be seen as an self-soothing attempt to make my ego feel better about my technical struggles and plateaus (although in the spirit of ambiguity, perhaps it is?!) Either way, I sure don’t want that to be your takeaway after reading this! Sound technique is always going to be important — especially in the context of sparring — but as for my feelings and outlook on the broader landscape of my experience, I would say that I feel a shift coming. Increasingly, I am finding that when it comes to jiu jitsu, there are no easy answers.
In fact, at this point in my journey, if the answer is easy, it probably signifies my failure to ask the hard questions.
I know the struggles that I feel here will be overcome eventually, and that more struggles continue to come. I’ve thought a lot about the coach’s comment during the promotion ceremony that our journey is never complete, and I’ve discovered it means a lot more than I initially believed. On the surface, the journey of learning jiu jitsu techniques is never complete — there will always be more to learn because the human mind will continue to invent new possibilities. The sport will continue to evolve under new rulesets and competitive styles. But I think a huge part of the neverending journey is not just in the techniques, but also in the act of self-improvement, -mastery, -discovery, -actualization, and -achievement for how you deal with emotional and spiritual adversity. The adversity will never stop and that’s why the journey will never end.
It is not a cause for despair but rather a cause for celebration, for it means that we will continually have an infinite fountain in which to make real, every day, our purpose and meaning.
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. - Rainer Maria Rilke