The Bluebelt blues and how to overcome them

I asked a good friend what they would like me to write about. This was one of his suggestions – dealing with the Blue belt blues. Truth be told, it has been a while since I thought about this. There are quite a few articles out there already on this, how would I deal with it if I was in that position again?


A quick definition for those of you that don’t know. The Blue belt blues is a phenomenon noted within the BJJ community. Often, White belts will put so much into getting their Bluebelt, then disappear from the mat, from their club, from jiu-jitsu, sometimes never to be seen again.

Why does this happen?

I don’t think I had the blue belt blues but I did end up taking a few years off (so perhaps I did).  Shortly after I got to blue, the gym shut. I was gymless. I was travelling with work a lot and couldn’t train much anyway. I tried a few other places but nowhere was the same, I missed the vibe. I decided to go and do some standup, I spent the next couple of years doing Muay-Thai and the odd Jits session here and there.  I like to focus on one thing at once.

Coming back to "why" in general

I think that people put so much into getting their blue belt, it becomes an obsession. People get very hung up on it, I get why though. None of us really like being on the bottom rung of a ladder, especially when the ladder leads to efficiently kill people.  Perhaps when people get there, they are just burnt out, they decide to take a little break, after all, they've earned it. That is when my next thought kicks in.

Perhaps for some, it is intimidating coming back to the mat and putting on that belt? There is a deal of unspoken ego in Jits, the aftermath of gradings bring out a lot of it I think.  Although I think it becomes less of an issue after purple belt.

For example, the white belts that didn’t grade to blue all want to prove to their instructor that they too are worthy of a look in next grading (this doesn’t influence your instructor's decision by the way [if it does, you are in the wrong gym]). The old blue belts have to defend their turf, after all, they have their eyes on purple and don’t want you showing them up (see the earlier bracketed point, basically no one cares who you tap or get tapped by). You, on the other hand, are wearing your big boy pants blue belt and need to let people know you are worthy of those pants.

My point? Knowing that this is what you might be walking into is intimidating (for your ego). Now if you add to the fact that you have taken time off after grading, coming back to the mats can look even more daunting.

How would I overcome this hump? 

Humility tap. Come again mate?

When I used to travel with work, I would try to visit different clubs in the country I was in (usually the US).  Walking into a new club is hard as a coloured belt. Everyone wants to test their wares, to benchmark, to see how good they are against a stranger. For a while, I fell into this trap and as usual, got injured. I don’t remember where I picked this up or if I just had enough and started doing it.

Every new person I rolled with, the first time I rolled with them, I tapped. Let them get it out of their system (if it is in their system). I call this a “humility tap”. After all, who is counting? Who cares that I tapped? I'll tell you who only MY EGO and perhaps theirs (but I'm not them).

I still do this now, I did it after I graded to purple belt, I will do it when I grade to brown belt and whenever I visit a new gym.  

The author checking his ego!
I have another ego check I like to do in the gym.  I ask my partner to pick a sub for me to start in then try and escape. I make no attempt to sub my partner, just get out of their sub attempt and reset. Or I ask what dominant position they want and go from there.  
I like this for a few reasons, it keeps my ego in check (we all have one but mine needs to be kept in its cage), it lets my partners work their subs and dominant positions and keeps me on point with my escapes.  Win:Win all round.  Don't take me wrong here, I still compete, I still try and escape.

Another angle to the Blue belt blues might be that you are a bit lost, you don’t have a direction to follow or take your game in. If that is the case, check out my article series on off the mat learning.   Secondly, this article by Matt Thornton has guided me throughout my journey and still does. 
Saying that, ask your instructor. What are your weaknesses? Ask higher grades for their insight and feedback? The beauty of Jits is not winning sparring (that is stroking your ego), it is overcoming weaknesses and learning to be efficient (in my opinion).

Final thoughts

Here's a brief summary of what I would do to overcome the Blue belt blues:
  1. Get straight back onto the mats.  Recognise excuses for what they are.  
  2. Shelve my ego.  Humility tap if needs be  
  3. Have a goal.  Having an area to focus on is a great distraction.  Seek out that problem, shelve your ego and try and solve it
  4. Relax bro, have some fun.  Like the Joker says "why so serious?" 


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