After months of training I finally got my first stripe!
At the end a hard Saturday morning class, as we all lined up, I heard my name called. I ran up to the front of the mat to the applause of my fellow students and coaches, and my head instructor wrapped a little piece of tape around my belt, promoting me to single stripe white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It was invigorating, but uncomfortable and humbling. I remember still feeling so hopeless and ignorant, and like I didn’t really deserve it.
First stripe is all about getting over that conditioning phase, and mastering the very most basic moves, like falling down and getting back up. It is also about attendance, attitude, and commitment. It shows that you’ve dedicated usually somewhere between 20 and 30 hours of solid mat time in studying the basics, and you demonstrate a positive attitude and willingness to learn.
It felt like a right of passage. After class, receiving praise from all the other single stripe white belts, the other students who started around the same time as me, it felt validating to wield a marker of progress indicating I was comparable their skill level and dedication. It also felt cool, to not be at the very most bottom rung of the totem pole.
The hierarchy is not about intrinsic value of the individual, but about the amount of time spent and skill attained. Jiu-Jitsu is about quieting the ego, not emboldening it. Sometimes interacting with soft hierarchical structures, like something as innocuous as belt color and lineup position, can actually assist in the quieting of ones ego. You can always visually see who has mastered more than you.
But yeah, with my new single stripe of tape dangling from my belt, of course I felt a little cooler. I’m not gonna lie. I felt cool when I sewed my first patch to my gi too. They’re little visual markers of where I’ve been.
That promotion was close to two weeks ago now. In the time since getting my first stripe I’ve seen several students promoted to blue belt, which is a good reminder of how much I have left to learn. I’ve also seen several new white belt students join the school.
Tonight I was at fundamentals class and my training partner was a brand new white belt, only three days into training. He was still in that anxious, slightly overwhelmed stage we’re all at in our first few classes, and he was so appreciative of the time and extent I went to to help guide him through the moves.
Even though I feel like I know next to nothing, he felt like he knew less than nothing, and so our comparative skill level made me seem like an experienced old hand at this, which is ridiculous.
Joe Rogan said something about the way you progress in Jiu-Jitsu is not rolling with the biggest baddest guys in the gym, but rather the best way is to choke out people worse than you. I can totally see that, because teaching reinforces knowledge, and so when you have to walk a newbie through a move it’s a final challenge to see how well you know the move yourself.
In time we all become teachers. Teaching is an entirely separate skill though, and some people have it, while some people definitely do not. If you’re an anxious new comer to Jiu-Jitsu, when picking training partners find someone who is friendly, patient, and good at clear communication.
If teaching is not your natural role, try to be empathetic. Remember when you knew nothing, and keep your frustration in check. It’s your fault if they get discouraged and walk out. Everyone at a Jiu-Jitsu school is on the same team. Don’t fail your training partners and don’t fail yourself.
So anyway, here I am at my first stripe, not as concerned about when the second will come, but just enjoying the roll. Now that I have a base level of Jiu-Jitsu conditioning and I’m starting to understand sparring philosophy, I’m starting to roll at open mats.
When I was 13 skateboarding was my life. When I started though, for the first month I just practiced ollies on the carpet in my parent’s basement. Once I landed my first ollie on pavement I felt like I was an actual skateboarder. Even if I couldn’t do any tricks, I was comfortable pushing, riding, carving, and ollieing on my board.
First stripe felt comparable to the first time I landed an ollie. Second stripe would probably equate to the first time I landed a pop shove-it. The first time I dropped in on a half pipe was terrifying. I can’t wait to see what the Jiu-Jitsu equivalent of that is. Maybe my first competition.