Imposter Syndrome, Entitlement, and Curricula

Imposter syndrome is how you don’t feel like an expert in a field in which you really are a relative expert. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who are so much better than you, or you’re at that point where you’re aware of what you don’t know, or you have this vision in your head of what someone with a given title should be. You question your belt because others with the same belt are doing better, or you feel like you should be able to do that sweep, or you have this mental model that someone of the next rank should be able to handle any situation. When someone says they don’t feel like they deserve their belt or they don’t deserve the promotion they’re up for, it’s usually this phenomenon. They’re fully qualified, but they don’t feel like they are.

Pretty much the opposite is entitlement. Someone who feels that they deserve something, that they are entitled to something. Maybe it’s because they’re surrounded by people who they can tap, maybe they can do some techniques more smoothly than others, maybe they have this model of themselves that’s greater than their actual skill. Maybe they’re right and they really do deserve the thing.

I was an entitled shit as a whitebelt. I always felt like I deserved another stripe or to have my blue belt. I was so confident in my abilities despite getting so easily destroyed by purple belts. Of course, purple belts are gods. They know grappling inside and out and so well that they should be able to beat me. They’re advanced, but certainly I’m intermediate, right?

As a blue belt I felt confident, but like I was always learning – pretty much until it got to the point where I was getting ready for my purple belt test. I was nervous. The test got moved up by almost a month. I spent two weeks going to as much judo, wrestling, and BJJ as I could and tried to roll as much as possible to make sure I had practiced everything I was going to have to do. I probably over prepared. I had in my head that purple belts needed to know and be able to show all of the details. I was super happy with how I did on the test, and having the purple belt felt like recognition.

Fast forward a bit over two years. I have one stripe. I know which positions I suck from and where I keep getting caught, but I don’t know what I need to work on or where I’m supposed to be trying to go. There’s no curriculum. Gains in skill are much harder to come by. I took my shitty leg lock game (that I thought was awesome) and made it okay; I can’t get better without teaching more people how to defend leg locks because what I do now just works (though I know it could be better with the right practice). Passing is slowly improving, but only a couple of guys have really good open guard games for me to test it on and they’re highly sought after rolling partners so I get to roll with them maybe once a month. Guard is… odd. I still find myself trying to just get to the top rather than trying to submit from the guard. Maybe that’s not a problem, but I should have enough dominance as a purple belt to setup an armbar from guard at will, right? I shouldn’t feel like I have to do a sweep instead. But repping feels natural and I don’t have problems when the moment arises – when someone gives their arm.

I have no idea how to get to brown belt, what I need to do, what “ready” would even mean. I just know that I don’t feel ready. I know that I want to be able to go to a tournament and at least win two matches. I don’t know why. It’s kind of an arbitrary number. You have to lose two matches to be out of the double-elimination bracket, so if I win two, then I’m breaking even? Like, if you’re not at least at 50% of the skill of those at your rank, you can’t go to the next one? In reality I know some guys who are really good and never competed, so maybe that doesn’t even matter and it’s just my arbitrary reference point to make myself feel better. I’m going to keep blaming my ankle and my shoulder because they’ll keep hurting and I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel up to competing again anyway. I’ve already counted judo out aside from refereeing. This is just ranting now…