Saturday, April 11, 2009

Musings On Being a New Blue

I had an inquiry from a reader interested in how I developed my competitive mindset and wanting to hear about what it was like to be a new blue.

So going back in time to just over three years ago to talk about myself as a new blue...

I was promoted by Royce Gracie at a seminar only 6 months after I had started BJJ. At the seminar were two other girls much bigger than myself who had been training much longer than I had. I am convinced that I only received a blue belt then because they were in line to receive theirs and I tapped both of them that day. It made me very, very uncomfortable to accept that belt. If I could have given it back, I would have. Even my instructor told me that he didn't think I should have it, but Royce gave the belt to me so what could we do?

I absolutely hated BJJ after I got my blue belt. I really truly hated it. I can't begin to describe the despair I felt every single practice before, during, and after training. Nothing I tried seemed to work and I was hurt constantly and covered in bruises from spazzing white belts, desperate to prove they were better than any blue belt. They needed to show that they deserved the blue belt more than I did. But I didn't want to complain too much because I didn't like calling attention to the fact that I really was weaker and smaller than the guys. 

Sometimes though you really DO need to be protected, it's just really, really, really hard to say so. Actually, I didn't learn how to say so until after one of those spazzy white belts succeeded in snapping my neck sideways so hard that it resulted in a stinger (spine and nerve injury) that was so severe it kept me out of training for 2 months in the winter of 2006/2007 on doctor's orders. 

I didn't really learn how to protect myself when rolling with super strong, spazzy guys until after my shoulder surgery in 2008 because I was so afraid that even the gentlest movement would re-injure me. Now I know that it is more my job to protect myself than theirs, even if it means I tap when they do something that would never work on someone their size, or if I have to accept an inferior position because if I fight it I could risk injury. Don't get me wrong, it still frustrates the hell out of me when I have to do that, but accepting it and being frustrated is much better than nursing an avoidable injury.

I don't know if my story will help you deal with yours, but at least now I know I'm with a coach who won't promote me before I am ready. If you have faith in your coach's perception of your abilities, then you shouldn't be worried about deserving the belt. If you doubt your coach's perception, you may want to seek a new coach.

Please do not promote your females too soon. An appropriate gauge is not winning a tournament or two. Please protect us from being injured by an over zealous, anxious to prove his self worth, male white belt. Expect from us the same technique and precision of movement that you would expect from a male. It doesn't help us to be promoted before we have demonstrated that proficiency. For the love of CHRIST make us TAP to arm bars when we try to stand up to escape them, teach us to defend correctly or we will end up with a broken arm at a tournament. Do NOT let us get away with crappy technique because some of the guys are afraid to put down too much pressure.

New Female Blue Belts,
Protect yourself from that overzealous male white belt, do not expect him to be gentle on submissions, tap early with him. Do NOT cry in class when hurt or frustrated or embarrassed, if you must, go hide in the bathroom until you are done. Say something to your instructor if someone is truly dangerous, but do not whine when your sparring partners put pressure down on you or accidentally drop you too hard on a take down. (If he slams you though, make sure the instructor knows to have someone beat the ever-loving crap out of him.) If you feel you were promoted early, focus on your training and aim to earn that color around your waist. Know that although you will always hit plateaus, the peak is just around the bend.


  1. Hi Jen! Interesting read. Hope I wasn't one of those spazzy white belts, haha. Congrats on winning the PanAms! Will you be competing this weekend in NY?

  2. Thanks, Joon Oh! Yep, I'll see you in NYC!

  3. I've had some of the same problems as a man dealing with guys who spaz. Since I am over 200 lbs I often have to pair up with the largest guys in class even if they outweigh me by 50 or 60 pounds.

    I am currently sitting out due to a knee injury as a result of a new guy putting his entire 265 lbs on my knee joint while I had it chicken winged between us. During drill we worked on an advanced guard pass which he picked up very quickly. It required the person on top to press forward and stack the opponent while trying to pass. The problem is that he knew nothing else and went nuts trying to use it.

    There were many things that went wrong that night but what I really learned is that I need to protect myself. I realized that I can't perform certain types of moves and techniques without risking injury so it would be best to avoid them. And with new guys or 'spazzers' I have to either refuse to roll with them or request that we roll at 50% or to go light.


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