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Big Mike Vs. The Odds

(Originally published June 22, 2021)

Having recently earned my brown belt, I've been reading some articles and watching videos lately about what to expect as a new brown belt. And it got me thinking about my own personal road to brown belt.

I'm a bit of a nomad. I've been moving around my whole life. I was a Navy brat. Moved around every two to three years growing up. I joined the Navy and became a helo pilot after college and continued to move around for the next 20 years. 

Now that I think of it, College was the longest I'd ever been in one place.  Man, those were some of the best five and a half years of my life!

But I digress...

Moving around tends to hamper your progress in Jiu Jitsu. Ryan Young over at Kama Jiu Jitsu said in one of his videos that if you're one who moves a lot, you can pretty much figure you're not going to get any belts from anybody. It's just the sad fact of it.

What was that? A fact. If you move a lot, no belts. No blue belt. Certainly no purple belt. And a brown belt? Impossible!

His rationale was that it's not just about whether you can beat higher belts in sparring.  Your instructor needs to get to know you as a person.  And that takes time.

I suppose that explains at least in part why it took me so long to get where I am today. I attended my first BJJ class in early 2001. I actually started studying BJJ from VHS cassettes (anybody remember those?) and practicing with my buddies back in 1997. So either way you slice it, I've been at this for at least 20 years now. 

Despite all the moving around, I was awarded my blue belt in 2008.  Then my purple belt 10 years later in 2018. And now my brown belt in 2021.

I would agree that moving around definitely factored into my lengthy time between promotions. Sporadic attendance due to deployments, work ups, and hectic flight schedules didn't help either.

I read in another article at BJJ Tribes that only about 5% of BJJ practitioners ever get their brown belt. I wonder what the percentage is on nomads like me getting there.

If my story were about someone else doing something other than Jiu Jitsu, I'd say they were crazy. Why wouldn't you just hang it up? Move on. Find a new goal. Clearly you're not cut out for this. 

I'd love to say that my stick-to-it-iveness had something to do with my own mental fortitude. But that would be a lie. It's not like I ever thought about quitting and just decided to stick it out through grit and determination. I just love Jiu Jitsu. I need it. Almost as much as I need air, water or food.  

When I can't train for any period of time, I get a little cranky. Robin (my beautiful wife) notices. She lets me know. 

"You need to go back to Jiu Jitsu. You're being an asshole." 

Sometimes she says it with the most adorable smile. Other times there's no smile. But when life gets in the way and I have to take time off from training, she's always there to keep me in check.  And she's right.  I NEED Jiu Jitsu. I'm ADDICTED.

My name is Mike Gorski.  And I am a Jiu-Jitsu-holic.

At this point I figure I'm at least in contention for world's longest road to black belt. Yeah, I kind of stacked the deck against myself initially with that whole being in the Navy thing, but I know I'll eventually get there. Not because of grit and determination, but because I just can't help it.  It may be another two or three or even 20 years, but I'll eventually get that black belt.

What's my point with all of this?  I suppose what I'm really getting at is that if you're feeling frustrated by similar issues I just wanted to let you know that I've been there. 

I've been judged by the color of my belt when it in no way conveyed my level of skill and experience. I've been treated like a brand new white belt upon showing up to a new gym, only to mop the floor with blue belts, and give the purple belts a run for their money.  

As a blue belt I've had purple belts in multiple gyms go to the instructor in shock because this blue belt dominated them or even tapped them out. 

I've had multiple instructors over the years say that I was not your average white belt, or not your average blue belt. 

But Ryan Young was right.  Most of those instructors never gave me a belt. But then again, there were others who did.

Don't get me wrong. There were times where I really thought I'd never get promoted. And it was really frustrating. Downright disheartening at times. But eventually I did get promoted. 

Thanks to Papa John Gorman for understanding the plight of military guys who train Jiu Jitsu, and giving me my blue belt.  And thanks to Dax Razzano for giving me my purple belt, and then continuing to work with me after I moved away so that I could get to brown. 

And while 20+ years isn't the most ideal timeframe to receive those three belt promotions, I'll take it!

Pretty much not going to get any belts from anybody? Eat that Ryan Young! 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're experiencing anything like that, I've been there. And if I can get from there to here, so can you. 

Hang in there and keep training! Hope that helps.  


- Big Mike

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