The first two semesters that I did Waboku ryu jujitsu (Fall 2007-Spring 2008) I had pretty much no idea what Brazilian jiu-jitsu was. What I did know is that every Wednesday I would roll with Alex and Evan. One whose guard I could not pass, the other who I could not keep from passing my guard. I asked Mark how I could fix that problem; his advice pretty much summed up to “work on sweeps and passes”. Looking back, it was solid advice. So I tried to find somewhere I could work the guard during the summer when I was back home. I found this BJJ gym about 30 miles away from home (8 miles from work) so I started making the drive after work. July 2008 is when I officially started training BJJ.
Almost six years later and I’m finally a purple belt. That makes me pretty close to average (per Aesopian). I felt like it took forever to get the blue belt, so I’m pretty happy that I’m more or less back to par for the course. I don’t know why that matters to me, but it does. Maybe it’s the recognition that I’m finally “advanced”, maybe it’s because it gives me serious hope that I can get the black belt before I’m 30, maybe it’s just ego. I don’t know. I do think it’s really cool though, and it gives me a lot of hope and motivation to train hard for the next couple years to try to get to brown.
Before the test I kept wavering between super confident and super nervous. I wrestled the night before just to make sure I could do the takedowns that I’ve been doing for almost seven years; the takedowns I’ve had work in competition and class, and have never worried about before. As I phrased it to Thales – “I [wasn’t] worried about knowing the techniques. I don’t even need to think to pick out four armbars from guard. What I [was] worried about is knowing enough details for each of those techniques.”
I have this paradigm around the purple belt. Since the test is what amounts to the basics, but purple feels “advanced” it was super important to me that I be able to show the kind of details that you’d expect out of an advanced player showing armbar from closed guard. The difference between a blue belt and a purple belt to me isn’t that one can do a triangle from back mount where the other would only know the bow and arrow choke; it’s that the purple belt should know details about the bow and arrow choke – setup, finishing, breathing. Yes, you can make your chokes from the back better by breathing correctly. That’s the kind of details I was worried about remembering – get deep enough on the collar, bottom hand placement, remembering to stop and exhale, then take a big breath while finishing the choke. When you’re worried, panicked, whatever, you miss those. You just grab and choke and it works, but should it?
My prior experience with tests has been the X technique style tests. Testing with Wade I want to say there was around 76 techniques to know for your white belt stripes and then blue belt; 81 more techniques for blue belt stripes and then purple belt. At any point in your test you could be expected to know any technique from any previous curriculum. That means that for purple belt you could reasonably be expected to know over 150 techniques. To be honest, it’s not a bad way to learn. When picking my techniques to do, I looked at Wade’s curriculum and found those things which I knew a lot of details about. The only downside is looking at them and going “what is the Giant Killer from the back? I don’t remember what that means.”
Thales’ curriculum is far more open. Rather than seven very specific arm locks from guard, it’s four arm locks of your choice from closed guard. You pick which techniques you’re most comfortable doing. It’s a lot more about developing your own style instead of learning the style of your instructor.
Overall the test went well. There was only one point where I crapped out and couldn’t think of a technique because my fourth guard sweep was going to be a star sweep, but I forgot to ask my partner to stand up to break the guard so I just went with a scissor sweep instead. There was also a point when doing mount escapes where I couldn’t remember if I already did a certain escape. It turns out I had done unique escapes each time so it was fine, but I just stopped there in butterfly guard asking “did I already do this one?”. Time management was tricky – you need to go slow enough to make sure Thales can see the details of what you’re doing, but quickly enough to get all the techniques in before the next class starts.
There was no rolling component. I guess I was expecting it even though it wasn’t on the curriculum. Maybe it from the more sport-oriented background of the MCMBJJA schools that I was in before, but for a belt there was always rolling. Could you roll with a very large white belt – that is, have to learned to control weight? Can you roll with a blue belt about your size and control the positions? Can you roll with a brown belt and survive long enough or keep yourself from bad positions? Can you roll with a white belt half your size and keep from crushing them – are you a good partner for new students to work with? I also distinctly remember a certain purple belt test at Third Heaven where the two candidates had to roll with two people (each) at the same time. I’m pretty glad that wasn’t part of my test.