Home > Brazilian jiu jitsu, Life > I’m blue.

I’m blue.

White to blue.

White to blue.

About a week and half ago, I was promoted to blue belt in jiu jitsu. Each time I pack and unpack my gym back and see my new blue belt quietly coiled up, I’m in disbelief. Each time I pull my new blue belt out of my gym bag and tie it in a square knot around my waist for practice, my brain has a hard time registering the crisp, bright fabric that’s replaced my grimy, worn white belt. Is this really mine? Am I really allowed to put this thing on? I’m a blue belt? How the heck did that happen?

I started practicing jiu jitsu in December of 2010. Or maybe it was January of 2011. Something like that. All I remember is that when our judo club moved locations to our current home in South Philly, our head coach started a jiu jitsu program. My coach is an advocate for cross-training and wanted the opportunity available at our club. Since he needed to build the program, he reached out to some of us who were strictly judoka. On a scale of 1-100, my interest in jiu jitsu was about a five. I did not like ground work. I liked throwing. But I also liked my coach, so I began showing up to jiu jitsu.

I tried to be a good student. I really did. But an hour and half on the ground was so boring to me. I spaced out constantly. I imagined myself throwing as our instructor guided us through sweeps and transitions. I never understood what we were doing. I had to be shown techniques 62 billion times. I felt awkward and stupid on the ground. I did not like jiu jitsu. I’d come to class a few times a week for a while, then not go for two months, go three classes, stay away for another month. Every class felt like my first class. I was just a body in a room, with no goal to compete and no vision of myself ever wearing any color belt except for my old judo white belt. It took months of hounding from my coaches for me to sew a black patch on my belt for stripes.

I hated sucking at jiu jitsu, but more than that, I hated hating jiu jitsu. I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t understand it because I refused to like it. So maybe around 2012, I decided to like jiu jitsu. I was going to learn. I was going to love groundwork. I was going to love that you couldn’t win a match with a pin, that you had to rack up points or submit. I was going to embrace my remedial learning and view jiu jitsu as a really long, rewarding math problem. And it worked. I found myself asking questions in class, curious how certain techniques might apply to different scenarios. I started to look forward to class. I was bummed out when I had to miss practice. I think around that time, I wound up with two stripes on my belt. I was making progress. Still, I never imagined myself competing and I was pretty sure those two stripes were the roof on my jiu jitsu house.

In January of 2013, I was stressed out. My job was really challenging me and I was feeling weak and sick a lot. Sticking through judo practice until 10:00 PM, getting home near 11:00 PM, and falling asleep around 1:00 AM was starting to grind me into nothing. I didn’t want to cut training out of my life. I didn’t want to be away from my club. So I decided to make jiu jitsu my primary focus for a bit. The work was easier on my faulty hip flexors and since class was done at 8:00 PM, I could get some sleep before heading to work for a day of crisis management. Although I felt like I was cheating on judo, I was having a lot of fun. There are more girls in the jiu jitsu program and we have a handful of light weight guys, so I connected with training partners that were good for me. Last spring, one of the women asked if I wanted to do an all women’s grappling tournament with her in Washington, DC. Huh. Compete in a jiu jitsu tournament? But I said I’d never do that. My new buddy really didn’t want to be the only one to go down and compete, and the tournament seemed like it would be a great event. I decided to jump off the high dive. I registered for the tournament. I had an amazing experience. I even won two matches. I officially loved jiu jitsu. Between May and October of 2013, I competed in three jiu jitsu tournaments after vowing I would never compete in any. Suddenly, there were four stripes on my white belt.

As February approached this year, my jiu jitsu club was getting ready for the IBJJF New York Open. There was a big push for us to compete and get ready for the fight. After some second-guessing, I registered to compete. When we heard a week or so before the tournament that we were going to have a promotion night, my buddy kept saying to me, “Oh, you are SO getting your blue belt!” She was excited. I was nauseated. I earned four stripes on my white belt, but I did not see myself as a blue belt. I did not fee like the other blue belts I worked with. I preferred to stay where I was. Then tournament day came, and I lost my match. I was the only one on the team who didn’t win a match and get a medal. That kind of performance certainly didn’t seem blue belt-worthy. I couldn’t make up my mind if I was happy or sad about that.

Promotion night came. My coaches talked about how well our team did at the New York Open and how proud they were of us as a club. I was thrilled for my teammates, but a part of me felt ashamed and disappointed by own performance. On one hand, I know I try, but on the other hand, my results don’t reflect that. It was time for promotions. My coaches handed out stripes. Then it was time for color changes. Our head coach pulled a blue belt out of a bulging envelope. “Who’s this?” he murmured to himself. “Oh, Lori,” he answered himself. I stood up in slow motion. I thought was going to fall down. Or cry. Or fall down and then cry. Although I didn’t have to speak, I was pretty sure I went mute. As I walked over to my coaches, my head coach said that promotions are not always about medals. He said, “Sometimes, promotions are about bodies of work, and no one works harder than Lori.” That killed me. It took all my stubborn, stoic Irish Catholic pride not to cry as he handed me my new blue belt.  I still felt the sting of my recent loss, but with the support and recognition from my coaches, I let a little bit of pride creep in.

While I trust the judgement of my jiu jitsu coaches, a part of my brain thinks I shouldn’t be walking around with blue belt in my gym bag. Any time I’ve gotten promoted in judo or jiu jitsu, I never thought I was ready. So I have to make myself ready. If I’m wearing a blue belt, I have to make myself be whatever I think a blue belt should be. It’s time to focus. It’s time to work hard. It’s time to register for that all women’s grappling tournament that my friend and I want to do in June.

It’s time to be a blue belt.


New stripes and new belts, 04.17.2014, Osagame Martial Arts and Fitness.

New stripes and new belts, 04.17.2014, Osagame Martial Arts and Fitness.




  1. AnthonyR
    April 27, 2014 at 16:42


  2. April 29, 2014 at 13:15

    I always feel that way even about stripes. I recently got another one and I don’t feel like I deserved it at all but I always think the same way you do. I use it as motivation to be what I think a person at that level should be.

    Oh and if the opinion of a friend who loves training with you matters, I think you definitely earned that blue 🙂

    • April 29, 2014 at 21:01

      It’s comforting to know we are on the same page. And it is definitely reassuring to know that you believe in my blue! I can’t wait to see you get to purple.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: