Saturday, July 31, 2010

When You Seek It, You Can Not Find It

One of the most asked questions when people start out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tends to be "What do I need to know to get my _______ belt?"  People are always looking forward to their next belt and what they need to do to get it, or how hard they have to work to get it.  What most people fail to realize is that they need to focus on building on what they have already learned and refining it, to take them to the next level.

When I discuss our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu program to prospective students I explain the "good news / bad news" about BJJ belts when the topic of rank comes up.  I explain to the prospective student that there are only 5 belts (plus stripes) in BJJ.  Where in some traditional martial arts you might have a dozen or more ranks until you finally get to black belt.  I explain that the good news is you only have five belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but that's also the bad news.  You are obviously going to spend a bit of time at each belt and should not focus on the simple goal of reaching your next belt.  I can already see a defeated look in their eyes when I explain to them that it took me approximately 10-12 months to reach my blue belt.

Focus on the Journey, not the Destination

The title of this entry, "When you seek it, you can not find it."  is from a Zen riddle and is illustrated perfectly in the book Zen in the Martial Arts (I have referenced this book already, and often will.  I highly recommend it to everyone).   The book tells the story of a young boy who happens upon a Karate master:

The boy tells the Karate master "I wish to be your student and become the finest karateka in the land.  How long must I study?" 
"Ten years at least," the master answered.
"Ten years is a long time," said the boy.  "What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?"
"Twenty years," replied the master.
"Twenty years!  What if I practice day and night with all my effort?"
"Thirty years," was the master's reply.
"How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?" the boy asked.
"The answer is clear." said the master.  
"When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way."

How many times have we heard "stop and smell the roses," or that "life is about the journey, not the destination"?  If your sole purpose for participating in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to get the next belt, then you are going to miss out on all the great experiences and opportunities for personal growth our sport has to offer.  Of course it is everyone's goal to succeed at whatever they do and earning rank in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is no different.  However, we can not become so focused on the goal that we lose sight of the process of our learning and the way we actually reach our goal.

I referred to the learning of BJJ as a process... meaning that we can not go from start to finish, without experiencing all the steps along the way.  Think of anything else you've learned to do in your life, there is always a crawl-before-you-walk process that takes place.  This is only natural.  Like a house, a foundation must be laid down to build upon.

Too Many Masters, Not Enough Students

Nowadays there is no shortage of instructional material to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  There are books, videos, websites, tournament footage and an over abundance of videos on YouTube put out by anyone with a video camera and some mats.  Don't get me wrong, I am all for spreading the art of BJJ and the more people that are exposed to it, the better it is for all of us in the end.  However, all this information gives beginners a false sense of learning.  A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu white belt will watch hours of video and read all the latest books, and go the gym and try out the latest techniqes.  They may be able to surprise some of their training partners with their new moves, but what happens when their training partners are able to stop this new move?

For hundreds of years, martial arts was about a student coming to his master to gain knowledge and learning new skills and techniques as they progressed through the style.  Each day a student would practice a technique, and then build off of that technique for the next one, and so on and so forth.  However, in today's environment, everyone is trying to find the quickest way from point A to point B, without talking the time to actually learn and create a foundation with which to build upon.

In the next few entries to follow, I will discuss what a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student should expect for each belt level from white to black.  By understanding that we can not speed up the learning process in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is my hope that wherever you find yourself along the process, you will be able to keep both eyes on the way... and not just the destination.


  1. I enjoy reading your prospective on martial arts and life. You are definitely "dropping some knowledge" on us all. Keep up the good posts.

    Steve J

  2. Thanks Steve! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I don't know about dropping knowledge... I never claimed to be the smartest guy around :) Just sharing my experiences and what I've learned from trial-and-error.

  3. I loved the "karate" vignette.....very applicable to life and the importance of focus. Caique's saying is also fantastic. The way BJJ masters contemplate even the simplest aspects of life is an art worth learning at any level of training.