Like most long-term endeavors, there are few significant milestones. In a sport like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where the journey from white to black belt only has 3 intermediate steps, the milestones are literally “few and far between.” In my case, with 13 years in the making of 2008 black belt promotion, simple math will tell you just how far those milestones were set apart.
Much of our time working though intense athletic effort is filled with small challenges, victories, incremental growth, and setbacks. Even if you train 4 times per week, go to every seminar and open mat available, and compete regularly, you will find long periods of time where getting over the smallest obstacle will challenge your resolve to continue the journey ahead. The harder you train, the more likely you will get injured. The more you cross-train with others, the more likely you will find someone who will kick your butt so regularly and with such domination, that you will likely wonder if you can ever get past them. I remember being a white belt, completely sore and beaten up from my previous training day, afraid to face the mats again, wondering if I should return for another brutal work-out. Of course, I returned, but was faced with this constant question for months. The sport is insanely challenging. Everyone you meet on the mats sees you as fresh meat. The target is on your back every single day. As your rank progresses, this target gets bigger.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu rewards people who can get past these big obstacles. The rewards are not just rank, but a knowledge base of skills that are broad and deep. I remember a karate sensei of mine 20 years ago, in a moment of self-absorption, was boasting about how at his skill level, he could simply toy with his opponents “like a cat playing with a mouse.” I was simultaneously disappointed that he shared this with his students and intrigued that a level of skill that advanced was attainable.
Rather than boast that I’m the biggest cat in the jungle, this promotion is a time to remember how many phenomenally talented athletes are in this amazing sport; many of them commanding a skill level that I can only hope to attain in my lifetime. I also hope that I have the ability to translate this wonderful sport into words capable of inspiring my students to stay on the long road. Don’t focus on the milestones. Focus on the gifts that come from the hard work, every day you are on the mats: friendship, fitness, and the skills of a cat just a little bit bigger than it was yesterday.