So I took a trip back to Bloomington Indiana last week to visit my instructor, Dax Razzano. I wanted to give him a chance to roll with me so that he could give me an honest critique on where I'm at, and what I need to do in order to progress to that next level.
My sincere apologies to all of my non-Jiu-Jitsu friends in the area. I didn't contact anyone outside of the academy while I was there. This trip was all about Jiu Jitsu. Nothing else. I trained, ate, and slept. I'll have to hit the rest of you up on another visit. I hope you'll all understand.
It was a six day trip altogether. Minus the two travel days gave me 4 days, boots on the ground for training.
And boy, did I get a lot of sparring in while I was there. A LOT of sparring! All I can say is, thank God for Motrin, Yoga, and the Hotel swimming pool! I can only imagine what these old bones would have felt like without them.
It was good to see all my Razzano Academy friends again. Some of the white belts I used to train with are now blue belts. Some of the blues are now purple. So on and so forth.
And Dax has a reputation for being notoriously slow to promote people. So you know those blues that made purple are no joke! I couldn't just relax and play around with them anymore like I used to. If I let down my guard for one split second they would capitalize!
Which brings up an interesting phenomenon in BJJ. I had an old Calculus professor in college who put it like this, "I know for a fact that I'm getting smarter. I study. I learn. I must be getting smarter. But I feel like I'm getting dumber. And I think that the reason I feel like I'm getting dumber is that I'm finally getting smart enough to realize how dumb I really am."
While you're progressing, everyone else is progressing right along with you. If you've been training for 6 months you may not feel like you're getting any better. You may even feel like you're getting worse because you're getting smart enough to identify some of the mistakes you're making.
You don't realize you're getting any better until a new guy comes in who knows nothing about the ground game. And then you can finally give better than you get. Then you realize that hey, maybe you really are getting better. Maybe this Jiu Jitsu stuff actually works!
But in a little town like Montrose, you don't have a steady stream of new white belts coming in. That can make it tough to gauge your own progress.
To make matters worse, lower belts tend to improve faster than upper belts. When you start your Jiu Jitsu journey, you make progress in leaps and bounds. You're learning new moves and concepts every class.
As you get better, the progress is more like an inch here, a millimeter there. You refine and tweak things as opposed to learning new earth shattering moves and concepts every class.
When you're one of the top dogs in your gym, you're still progressing, but not as fast as a brand new white belt.
So if you're gauging your progress based on how well you do against everybody else, it can feel like you're getting worse. As the blue belts approach purple, and purple belts approach brown, it gets tougher to submit them even though you're getting better every day.
Which brings me to the last day of my trip. I really wasn't sure what to expect. I tried to go out there with the motto of accept, don't expect. Don't expect anything out of the trip other than an honest critique of where I am, what I need to work on over the next few months, and a plan as far as how to work on it. Stripes or a belt would be icing on the cake. A happy surprise.
Still it was hard not to fantasize about getting some sort of promotion the last day of class. It would be a big class. All my buddies would be there. Everyone would congratulate me. Shake my hand. Lots of pictures, etc.
But the last class came and there wasn't a big showing. Just me, Dax, and a white belt. Dax tried to organize a special class just for me, but everyone was busy. Hey, it happens. I had already trained more than I thought I'd be able to this trip.
No matter. We rolled for hours and had an blast! Afterwards, the white belt left, and it was just me and Dax.
Then he got that look on his face. Like you get when you're about to break the bad news to someone. Then he said, "Well...," in that voice you use when you're about to break the bad news to someone.
Now I've always been my own worst critic. And for the most part, I've figured out how to harness that and use it as an asset. It drives you to work harder. Study harder. Find new and creative ways to improve both on and off the mat.
But at that particular moment in time my inner critic went into overdrive... "Crap. Was I that bad? Have I not progressed at all? Have I gotten worse? Developed bad habits?"
I thought I'd improved. I thought my open guard game had really blossomed since I left Indiana, It felt like that two months of only armbars really improved my submission game. Granted my leglock experiment never really took off due to the broken toe, but playing on my back due to the injury gave me a chance to improve other aspects of my bottom game.
Was he unhappy with the direction my game was developing? What could it be?
Dax continued. "I guess we'll have to do this kind of unceremoniously."
"Well, I ordered you a belt. But it hasn't come in yet."
"... um... A purple belt with more stripes on it?"
Dax laughed. "No, a brown one. But it's not in yet. I'll have to mail it to you."
We went out for a few beers afterwards. We sat there and talked for hours about Jiu Jitsu. About running a gym. Teaching classes. How to progress when you're the top dog at your school. And a whole slew of other topics.
In the end he told me the brown belt was an easy decision. And that's a huge compliment in my mind. Because like I said, he has a reputation for being notoriously slow to promote people. He wouldn't give me the belt if I hadn't earned it.
All in all not a bad trip! I got to roll with my old Razzano Academy friends. And I achieved my goal of earning that brown belt!
Oh yeah... by the way... I re-broke that pesky toe of mine. But honestly, I think the whole experience was worth it. If I had to do it all over again, I'd still re-break that toe if it meant getting to roll with everyone and get my brown belt!
Take care, and keep training!
- Big Mike