The Jiu-Jitsu Gods Above
I do not know the reason why this particular image of when I was a white belt has stuck with me. I do remember, though, the feelings associated with it. I felt awe. I felt small. I felt the desire to be as powerful as that towering blue belt across the mat. His name was Lionel Perez, and Lionel had what seemed to me to be a perfect-form knee-on-belly on someone. Lionel nearly upright, above us, but you could feel the knee driving into the torso of his poor partner. I was a few feet away. I was rolling with someone else, but, for a brief second, I caught site of what I wanted to be in jiu-jitsu but felt so far from being. Then, I probably got tapped out.
Currently, I hold a brown belt at an American Top Team school in Connecticut. Lionel has since received a black belt from Relson Gracie. The image of Lionel stuck with me even after I stopped training for awhile because I moved across the country for a Ph.D. program at Berkeley. I resumed training in jiu-jitsu when I came back to the east coast.
The image recently resurfaced a few weeks ago. I was rolling with someone, and there was a white belt who is older than me sitting off to the side, resting. I chained a few moves and attacks to tap my partner with a bow-n-arrow, and I heard an emphatic “damn, that was smooth. I wanna be like Aiseop when I grow up,” followed by chuckles at the joke. I laughed, too, and was grateful, but what I was thinking about were the errors I made. I rushed through the mount. Someone like my friend Steve, who’s incredibly good at recovering guard, would have put me in his half; and my other friend, Travis, would have escaped that choke because my initial grip was too low. What they saw versus what I experienced couldn’t have been further apart. Yet, I understood for that one moment, I was Lionel to that white belt.
As a white belt, you may feel like I felt: that blue belts are awesome; purple belts are lethal; brown belts are gods; and black belts are the Titans, the beings that were here before gods existed.
As a blue belt, you may feel that white belts are lucky to be white belts; that purple belts are awesome but have some holes; that brown belts are incredible; and black belts are gods.
As a purple belt, you may feel that white belts are spazzes; that blue belts are the best belt because you can still make mistakes; that brown belts are incredible but sometimes slip up; and black belts are still gods.
As a brown belt, whites are the best belt; blues are the best belt; purples are the best belt; brown is the worst belt, and black belts are still gods above, and you fear any promotion consideration for another ten years, because you need to work out the massive holes in your stupid brown belt game.
I won’t try to imagine what black belts feel. That’s sacrilege or something. Think about how someone like red-belt Grandmaster Relson Gracie thinks of all the belts. I dared not put a “coral” or “red belts” slot because I cannot even fathom a language for them. They are the Watchers, outside history and place.
Granting a more-than-human aura to those above us in skill and experience is obviously something not limited to jiu-jitsu. Freshmen students see seniors as kings of the campus. As an intern at a corporation, you may imagine the manager as a noble of some sort. Jiu-jitsu borrows from this key error in human perception. Time is forgotten when comparing two persons. Then, powers are superimposed on the greater skilled whose origins are mysterious. Yet, truly, the only real thing that separates the ranks is simply time. Sure skill and talent and genetics may have a role, but nothing really works like time on the mat, especially with something so intricate as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There are no shortcuts and there are no superpowers.
In Spanish, there’s a pertinent saying: más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo. Translation: The devil knows more because he’s old than because he is the devil. Age and experience are the simple ingredients that grant us superpowers. With the proliferation of information, the idea of a sacred scroll containing a secret martial art technique seems a remnants of a by-gone era. I remember when I first started training how difficult it was to get information about techniques outside of your school’s curriculum. The best objects were books and all you could do was hope Barnes & Nobles was carrying them. Today, one can subscribe to Marcelo Garcia’s or Andre Galvao’s website and become a virtual student of their jiu-jitsu a minute after reading this article. Has this significantly and magically improved anyone’s game overnight? I doubt it. You still have to get on the mat. You still have to roll. You still have to put your time in. And in time, you may even hold someone under a knee-on-belly and be that singed, early iconic, image of the power jiu-jitsu holds for a new jiu-jiteiro watching you.
Thank you for reading!
This blog post was written by Aiseop
Aiseop has been practicing jiu-jitsu and judo for 7.5 years. He holds a rank of brown belt under Luigi Mondelli of American Top Team. He lives in Connecticut with his two boys, aka future grappling buddies. He is proud to join the WBBJJ team as a blogger.
(Aiseop and son)