The Blue Belt Blues

At the year-end academy photo and promotions day your professor called you up to the front of the class and tied a brand new blue belt around your waist. Congratulations! Your now have some color around your waist that represents your technical level and commitment to training.


….Now what?

There is a surprising rate of dropout following the promotion to blue belt.
These premature retirements have a few factors. I call these the “Blue belt blues.”

1) Let down following achieving a big goal
10830712_747104342044126_6415253313693847317_oAfter pursuing a significant goal for a long period of time (up to several years in the case of a blue belt) there can be a sudden psychological letdown once the goal has been achieved.
Stories after the early manned space flights to the moon reported that many of the astronauts suffered severe depression following their return to earth. They had spent their entire lives in pursuit of that major achievement and then had a huge gaping hole in their lives after it had been completed.
After reaching a certain milestone, it is important to savor the accomplishment, and then set new training goals to renew your motivation and focus.
How about deciding to focus on developing your butterfly guard or concentrate on your escapes?
How about asking your professor what they would like to see you develop in the coming months of training to improve your game?

2) Increased pressure
I asked a newly promoted blue belt how they felt with their new blue. They had a grave expression on their face and answered “Lots of pressure!”
1017029_514755175269324_431228084_nThis is common and not altogether untrue – especially in a newer academy without an abundance of colored belts on the mats. A blue belt may seem like a big deal!
I tease some blue belts and call their blue belt a “target.” Hungry, striped up white belts who themselves are eager to get to their blue belt, see the blue belt as a way to measure how far they might be from their own blue.
If they can tap out a blue belt, then it follows that they deserve one as well?!
I explain that this is part of the competitive nature of the art (especially among the younger competition oriented students). When you get your purple, the blue belts come after you…and so on.
Most of that pressure is entirely self imposed and exists in your own mind.
You may look at using that as motivation to fuel your training efforts.

10497263_759772724101946_2279172071424214640_o3) Feeling undeserving
You would be shocked at how many new blue, purple and brown belts confide in me privately that they feel undeserving of their new rank.
They may be mat monsters with a high level of skill, but inside, may view themselves as a pretender.
One new blue belt said that they felt like a fake walking around with the new belt and that it didn’t feel real to them.
While humility is a virtue, too much is not helpful!
Fortunately, these feelings soon subside and the student psychologically adapts to the new level.

To these students I ask them if they think that the other students around in them at the academy are deserving of their ranks?
“Of course! He/she is a killer!” These are the training partners you roll with every week on the mat and you share that standard of skill along with them.
I remind them that the instructor has a high standard for belts and if the instructor awarded them the new rank, that they were indeed deserving and should wear it proudly.
_MG_4902Your path in bjj contains many obstacles and challenges. It is important to pause and enjoy your successes.
Remember that your blue belt is something that can only be obtained one way: hard work, persistence and developing your techniques.

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ