Becoming a Black Belt in Jiu-Jitsu

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If you love Jiu-Jitsu and plan on sticking around you probably have a goal of becoming a black belt one day. On average it will take someone 10-15 years to be awarded the rank of black belt. I don’t remember who I heard this from but it’s very true for me at least, there are two beginner belts… white belt and black belt. For me this journey to black belt took thirteen years and 22 years later I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for having been one of the first group of Americans to have received a black belt from Grandmaster Relson Gracie.


Having a white belt mindset is to me the best to have everyday on the mat or even in life. As a white belt you are thirsty for knowledge and you are curious and motivated to get better. With this mindset the belt doesn’t matter that much and this will keep you going forever. The goal of mastery is impossible to reach but still a worthy goal to strive for. The word mastery to me, is coming up with the most effective and efficient way of doing Jiu-Jitsu. This same process could be applied off the mat as well, learning how to learn is a skill that must be developed for the purpose of gathering general knowledge and specialized knowledge. Being curious will provoke the question Why? This in turn causes us to seek more knowledge and allows us to grow as a being. Find something you are passionate about and you’ll have an endless supply of motivation. 


I remember the first thought I had when I was awarded my black belt on January 17, 2009… now I have to teach this! I was questioning my understanding and ability to effectively teach. To put it bluntly, I was a terrible instructor… my classes were more like watch me do the move and then you do it. I would often say, “Don’t do it like that, do it like me”. I am a visual learner and if i see something, I can do it with a little bit of effort. My style of teaching would only work for people who learn the same way I do. That day I told myself I will learn to be an effective teacher for everyone.


Let’s keep it simple and focus on understanding why a position works and start asking what if this happens or that happens. Solving your Jiu-Jitsu problems and exploring different solutions is one of my favorite ways to learn and it also makes you develop expert problem solving skills. Teaching takes your understanding even deeper into the practice of Jiu-Jitsu. A quote by Aristotle says, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding” and it is so true. If you want to get better at Jiu-Jitsu, learn to teach it and see where that journey takes you. Who knows, maybe one day your passion will become your career. 


I’m so happy and grateful doing something I am passionate about,  impacting lives and making a difference in the lives of the people I share the mats with. Remember, two beginner belts… white is the beginning to learn belt and black is the beginning to understand belt. Jiu-Jitsu really does transform lives, what has Jiu-Jitsu done in your life? Let me know by posting a comment on what’s the biggest reason you train.


In the first installment of this online 1on1 Guard Pass series we will be focusing on the backside under hook guard pass. Remember, as with all of our positional training, it starts with the grip fight and establishing grip control.

When you are in your opponents guard, it is important to maintain control of the position. We do this by managing the grips (Grip Fighting 2.0) and neutralizing the attacks. Check out Jiu-Jitsu On The Go to get full access.

Train Hard, Train Smart

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Have you ever said something like this, “If I only knew this when I was younger I would have done it differently”?..I know I have.  Well listen up because I’m going to share with you a couple things I wish someone would have taught me as a blue belt.


First, not every day has to be a fight to the death!  The first two years of my training were hard, I would be completely wiped after training and would literally pass out on the living room floor.  The year was 1997 and I was a brand new blue belt under Relson Gracie. Being a “Houle” and young military man stationed in Hawaii, I was not exactly everyone’s favorite person. Training was grueling and hard but I kept showing up and kept getting better… I wanted to beat everyone!


The mindset I had didn’t allow for me to explore Jiu-Jitsu the way I do now.  Slowing down the game, playing out of the bad spots and having a curious mind allows your game to advance leaps and bounds. Don’t get me wrong you need these battles with your mat “nemesis” to develop your timing and mental toughness, just not everyday. Go hard or go home isn’t always the best idea when your training Jiu-Jitsu. When you train 100% every time, you either get hurt or you hurt someone else and no one will want to roll with you! 


Second, what you do today you pay for in the future. Training as a competitor is no joke! You are pushing yourself to the breaking point everyday, at least it was for me.  Training like that day in and day out for over a decade your body is going accumulate damage over time.  If you have ever met a guy like me, you know we look rough and have to “badges” of decades of grappling to show how “gentle” Jiu-Jitsu can be.  Mangled ears, hands that look like you had a run in with the mob, being young but moving like an elderly person…despite it all, I love the life Jiu-Jitsu has given me. I’m humbled everyday I step on the mat to teach and pass down this art. 


I will leave you with this,  train to discover and learn Jiu-Jitsu,  play in all the bad spots, do more light to medium rolling than “balls to the wall” and remember it’s awesome to get submitted because it shows you where you need work. 


Train hard, train smart and train safe!


Professor Steve