Thursday, September 6, 2012

Belts, Awards, and Two Inches of Your Ass

Royce Gracie is credited with the statement "A black belt only covers two inches of your ass; you have to cover the rest."

Jiu-jiteiros everywhere take this to mean that a belt does not make the grappler.  The grappler makes the grappler.  No matter what color is around your waist, fighting and winning are on you.  Your skill, your character, and your resolve are what define you on the mat.  The belt is just a piece of fabric.

Is it though?

As much as we tell ourselves that belts and stripes don't matter and that only skill is important, we are never being completely honest with ourselves or with our training partners.  A belt has meaning because of what it represents.  A belt is a symbol of skill and training time, but we too often forget that there is more to it than that.  Skill is not the complete story.  A belt is a connection to a community.  A belt says, "Someone recognized greatness in me and cared enough to show me that they believed in that greatness."  A belt also says, "I am part of something greater than me.  I am a part of a team, a family, and a tradition."  Belts matter.  They matter a lot.

In truth, any sort of award or recognition serves this purpose to some degree.  Something as simple as a stripe, a dirty piece of tape wrapped around the end of a belt, can carry a great deal of meaning.  A quick compliment too can resonate if said with sincerity.  Even though these awards in themselves do not make us smarter or stronger, they do fuel our spirit, and that's important.

Recently, I was honored with California University of Pennsylvania's Young Alumni Award, an award that is given to young graduates that have made significant strides in their careers in a relatively short amount of time.  Though most of the people in attendance could not help but raise an eye brow when my biography was read and the content of my books was described, knowing that individuals that I respected had nominated me for an award was both humbling and inspiring.  As a physical artifact, the Young Alumni Award is useless.  It's a piece of engraved faux crystal.  It won't feed me or protect me.  But as I accepted the award and saw my mentor and my fiancee looking up at my from the crowd, I realized just how much it meant to me and that the feeling was not familiar.

It felt like receiving my blue belt.  It felt like receiving my purple belt.

Since having this realization, I've been experimenting with giving out awards every day, to my students, to my training partners, and to the people that I care about.  I may not be able to promote someone or honor them with a piece of engraved faux crystal, but I can pay them a compliment.  I can tell them that I've seen improvement in their technique, that they have progressed a great deal since they started training.  I can tell them that I can see that they are working hard, and I can tell them that I respect their dedication.  After a few months of doing this in the gym, I can see the difference it has made in my students.  Sure, they're covering their own asses every time they step on to the mat, but that little bit of recognition seems to make a difference.

It is worth trying.

Completely unrelated: how I sometimes feel when I hang out on the mat and talk with my teammates after training.

Note: the Facebook app that I used for my comments suddenly died, so everything was lost.  I will be using default Blogger commenting from now on.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree Marshal. That's exactly why I wrote the fifth lie in BJJ article. In all honesty, I don't quite understand the whole hoopla. Celebrate the belt and move on, instead of creating this whole "you want it, but you shouldn't and I won't endorse you caring about it but I will make a big deal of giving it to you". It all reeks of "you must abhor lust in this life but if you're a really good boy I'll give you 70 virgins in the next life!"

    Great article Marshal and many MANY congrats on your blue belt, purple belt and achievement award :)