Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What it Means to be a Black Belt

Old School
I am honored to have received my black belt from Master Carlos Enrique "Caique" Elias.  When people use the term "old school" in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they might as well include a picture of Caique.  Caique was not born with the last name "Gracie" and he didn't start BJJ until his teen years.  A childhood friend of Relson Gracie, Caique tells the story of how he and Relson were surfing buddies and after a few "scuffles" on the beaches of Brazil, Caique decided he wanted to learn whatever it was that Relson was doing.  Caique was known for being one of the toughest students under Helio Gracie.  Caique would go on to train under legendary Rickson Gracie and receive his black belt from Rickson and Helio Gracie.

When we go to tournaments with Caique I'm in awe of how many of the "big names"of BJJ come over and always give him respect and listen intently as he speaks or gives his views on anything related to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  In one of his first interviews when not many people outside of Brazil had heard of Saulo Ribeiro, Saulo was quoted as saying that he "molded his Jiu Jitsu after Caique."  To me, that speaks volumes of Caique and what it means to be a black belt... Having people really interested to hear what you have to teach, and take your advice and teaching to heart and make it a part of their lives.  As if he needed more validation, Caique recently received his red/black master belt from Rickson Gracie himself.  That my friends, is "old school."

It's Not Old, It's Not New... It's Just Jiu Jitsu
A few years ago Caique made some shirts with this saying on it.  This was around the time that all these new videos and instructionals came out claiming to be the newest. latest and greatest in Jiu Jitsu.  Caique and some of the older teachers took offense to this and Caique made shirts with the saying on them as a way to subtly stand up against what he felt was disrespect to the black belts of his generation.

Even though Caique is from the old way of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, his techniques, thinking, and teaching have not stayed in the past.  He is constantly adding to and changing the way he teaches even the most basic moves of his curriculum.  Above this, he always has an answer for whatever question we have about a new move that seems to hit the tournament scene.  Caique doesn't hide behind "basic" techniques and he has developed a strong team of competitors.

Being a Martial Artist
My respect and admiration for Caique deepened about a year ago when Caique was conducting a seminar at our school, Warrior Way.  Caique started the seminar in a different manner than usual, and gave a small speech.  Caique talked about how it's great to compete and that may or may not be for everyone.  However, Caique went on to explain that it doesn't matter what we learn or can do in the gym if we go out in the world and are unable to defend ourselves (god forbid) or loved ones on the street.  His tone became more serious as he looked at the line up of students and said that no matter what else, we are 'martial artists' and being a martial artist has it's responsibilities.  We have the duty to teach those around us that we care about how to live a healthier, stronger life and, if the need be, defend themselves.

For so long I felt that getting my black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a selfish goal.  I had to become the best I could be, and that meant that I must be better than everyone I competed and trained against.  Obviously, I knew being a good teacher was part of that goal, but I never looked at the big picture of how much it really meant to "be a black belt."  After hearing Caique's talk before that particular seminar, I took a step back and made the decision to live my life like a black belt.  Winning tournaments, and being a better athlete is definitely a goal to strive for, but I feel the true measure of a black belt is how we effect those we come in contact with and how we can help them live a better life.

We get people of all walks of life at our gym.  Some might be a former athlete looking for a good workout.  Some have dreams of becoming a professional fighter and begin their journey by learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and/or Muay Thai.  Then there's another unique group.  This is the person who might have never played a competitive sport in their life, or maybe even worked out regularly.  They may happen into our gym by chance, or perhaps they are a friend-of-a-friend and come in just to observe.  Eventually however, they stick with it.  They may get tapped out more times than they tap anyone else out, but they just get up off the mat with a smile, shake their partner's hand and quietly go back to training.  It's nothing to take an athletic, muscular, former athlete and teach him some techniques and make him a force on the mats.  It's the meek and timid who need our guidance and attention, for they are the ones that our instruction and guidance will have the most positive effect on.

Our head instructor, Harvy Berman, gave a speech once where he said that BJJ is for everyone.  He explained that we are all "fighters" in life and have our own goals and obstacles.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and martial arts should give people the confidence to face whatever battle they may face.

What Does it Mean to You?
Please take a moment and leave a comment below and share what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu means to you and what you hope to get out if.  I'd love to hear how our sport has made a difference in your life...
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