Last Night I Was a White Belt Again

~~Last night I had the honor of donning the white belt again.~~

White Belt Taekwondo

White Belt Taekwondo

Those that know me understand that I’ve been on a journey towards mastery in a martial art known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ.  BJJ is characterized by its distinct focus on technique over force and power.  The idea is to train your positional kinesthetic awareness such that you can simultaneously maintain personal safety and a clear focus and calmness in what would otherwise be perceived as a very precarious situation, i.e. a fight.  Many of the movements and techniques take place on the ground given that it’s very common in a violent exchange that someone will get knocked down or purposefully taken to the ground.  For the uninitiated the movements can look a lot like wrestling but the philosophies, rules of engagement, and techniques are very different.

For my part I started in mid 2006 and so Jiu Jitsu has been part of my routine “training” 2-4 time a week for the last 8 years.  My current rank is purple belt.  Jiu Jitsu has been one of the most rewarding and challenging things I’ve ever taken up.  I introduced my two daughters to Jiu Jitsu a few years ago and they are also active in training.  When I first started training I would often question myself, “if” I needed to use it, would I be able to execute.  Now I realize that if I had to protect myself I would react instinctually.

Last night was different.  See for the last few weeks I’ve been attending a Sunday open mat at a great Taekwondo academy, Champion Taekwondo near my home.  The instructor Jennifer is a black belt in Taekwondo but like me she’s on a journey of personal mastery.  She’s been learning Jiu Jitsu to add ground fighting techniques to her arsenal.  She also wants her students to be well rounded from a self defence perspective both standing up striking but also on the ground.  We agreed to a trade.  Jennifer will teach my family Taekwondo in exchange for me helping her and her students with BJJ.

So last night me, Isabella, and Sophia put on our white belts and stepped on the Taekwondo mat.  Immediately the tone of respect and reverence for their art was clear and appreciated.  We were totally comfortable given a similar protocol at our home Jiu Jitsu Academy, Gracie Barra, but the familiarity fell away quickly.  We bowed, acknowledged the instructor and started the warm up and beginner techniques.  We started with a series of striking blocks and parries with repetitions counted out in Korean.  We then moved on to kicks, followed by kicks to the instructor held pads.  Jennifer’s technique and instruction were excellent.  My movements though were clumsy and awkward.  I had a big smile on my face the whole time though.  I immediately recalled my first couple of weeks of BJJ and how completely bewildered I was not knowing where or how to position my limbs and weight, and not understanding the mechanics of the techniques.  I also remembered like anything new how quickly one can become “proficient”, while fully appreciating how difficult it is to master the skills.  I know that it was also refreshing for Isabella and Sophia to see me participating as a struggling student vs. an instructor helping them to fine tune their own technique.  We finished the sessions watching some of Jennifer’s more advanced students performing spinning back kicks and advanced combinations.

You see to learn anything an individual needs to adopt a beginner’s mind.  A mind that is open, experimental, and accepting of current limitations.  Then be willing to continually sharpen the axe.

As for Isabella, Sophia and me, we were all three relieved to swap out our white belts for our Jiu Jitsu gis and belts and start the next hour of Jiu Jitsu training.

Big thanks to Jennifer for opening up her academy to us and sharing her gifts.  It’s clear that this is how she approaches her art and it is evident by the rapport displayed between her and her students.

Photo Credit:  nmoria on flickr.com