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Starting Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) can be an overwhelming experience. Even coming from other martial arts backgrounds such as karate which has some throws and joint locks. If you’re reading this and feel completely lost some days, let me help you understand the process a little better.

Imagine being dropped off in the middle of the wilderness, you have no map, no compass, no tools to help you survive. As a jiujitsu white belt you must first begin to explore the terrain to gain your bearings, learning everything from which way is north to potential dangers. As you explore the boundaries of this wilderness, you will find safe places that can help you weather the storm of the early days at white belt. The more familiar you become with the area you begin to see common threats or dangers; on the mats these would be submissions or bad positions. Over time you will know how to escape these dangers and even learn to avoid some of the attacks by upper belts.

As a blue belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, you are still exploring but have begun to map out the area. This phase involves a lot of exploration of new techniques and ways of navigating the map. Although to a beginner you seem to be an expert in survival, there is still much left that you must learn. This is where you will begin to explore all the positions and techniques BJJ has to offer. Some of these will be instant game changers, some will not fit your body type or attributes, and some will be put away for later. This can be the most frustrating time in your journey as you know where you want to go but aren’t always sure of the best way to get there. The key is consistent training and lots of repetitions to reinforce everything you’ve learned about this wilderness that is BJJ training.

By purple belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, you have mapped every major feature of this wilderness. You know the most efficient way of exploring your map and know the way points of each positional exchange. Everything you do requires significantly less energy, and you’ll spend this phase learning and building your future black belt game. As in the wilderness, you will still run into unexpected challenges, but your experience will allow you to find solutions and overcome them. It may take some time to find these solutions, but this will also allow creativity and help you find new ways to setup or finish a move.

This was my favorite time in training. Most sessions were built around solving the problems I ran into rolling the previous day. Keep mind mind that you’re still learning, and you will be tested regularly. The lower belts are trying to catch you while the upper belts turn up the intensity as you know enough to push them as well.

Brown belt in Brazilian jiujitsu is considered an advanced rank. By now you know every inch of terrain on your map. You’ve developed short cuts and are setting your own traps. You are now the threat in this environment that the lower belts must be aware of. Your BJJ game is nearly complete at this point, and you will spend this time polishing your “A” game while filling in gaps in your weakest positions. This may be when you re-explore those moves that didn’t quite fit into your game at blue belt. When rolling, you may find yourself on autopilot. Seamlessly navigating through the round and hitting things without realizing what you’re doing. You are still challenged by black belts, but you may notice that you can keep up with them when in your best positions. As you improve, you will begin to shape the landscape around you to force others into your game.

The Black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu has mastered the map but continues to explore. You will begin to look at new ways of doing techniques that you already know. You will realize that there is no end to this journey and there will always be a better way to hit the most basic sweep or submission. You will also be there to guide others on their journey as proof of what the human mind and body can do through disciplined training and perseverance.

If you have read this far, know that you are not alone in this journey but yours will be unique. Everyone will have good and bad days on the mats but remember that these are all an important part of your development as a martial artist. It’s easy to become complacent at each belt level, always training with the same partner or playing a specific game against everyone but to really understand yourself, it’s good to be tested as often as possible. Tournaments are a great way to step outside your comfort zone or going to seminars or open mats to mix up your training partners. Ultimately, these challenges will help shape your map and make you into the best version of yourself. Remember your coaches and teammates are there for you and want to see you succeed.