Monday, July 9, 2012

The Map of BJJ Belts and the Journey Across Judo belts

No, this isn't it. But the journey of Alexander the Great across the known world proves apropos

Found a great article that attempts to map the journey across the belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Give it a read.
For those who haven't noticed, I enjoy looking across both details for certain specifics but general outlines and perspectives about the path in Jiu-Jitsu in a much lager, macro rather than micro type of view.
Give it a read.

Judo and Jiu-Jitsu have their crossovers, but I'll go over what I now see as various stages in Judo development based on the belts I went through across 3 clubs of which I was a member/part:

White - You show up to class. You buy a Gi. You think you want to play Judo. You will probably quit as most players do before Brown and Black. But you are interested and you begin to show up and are exposed to the basics of falling, of introductory throws, of the very, very basic body mechanics which will carry you through to black belt. You will probably not throw nor submit anyone against their will at this stage. You have no idea the amount of patience, perseverance, and damage your body will take across Judo if you are a steadfast club player and/or competitor. But, welcome to the club.

Orange -You have shown dedication enough to come for a few months. You are attempting things that incorporate the basic body mechanics. It is unlikely you are throwing anyone with timing, precision, finesse, and control.

Green - You are becoming more aware of how your body works. You begin asking questions about the finer details of mat work or a particular throw. You are likely watching specific players on the internet. Looking for players who have a similar style to your own. You have the Judo bug. I would liken this to the new or fresh blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Many at this stage will still quit before the next belt, but for a time at least, Judo will consume much of your free time and waking hours on the internet.

Brown Belt - for those unaware, the brown belt is divided across 3 stages in Judo. Many tournaments divide below brown and brown and up in separating novice from elite level players. Often, in the below brown belt divisions, arm bars are not allowed, but this varies by state and tournament.
Brown belt often means you are now officially part of the upper belts at tournaments. This also means that the armbars will come at you faster and the game in general takes on a much higher level of risk.

My coach who gave me my black belt described the Brown belt as the belt of being selfishness and no mercy. That is, this is the belt where you hone your tournament game and your handful of specialty techniques. I do not abuse less skilled players, but my focus each and every practice is to better my repertoire of throws, transitions, mat work et cetera.My job even when working with new or inexperienced, or lighter players, is to occasionally land my specific throw with as little energy as possible and use as much finesse as possible to land it. I should begin to really delve into one or two specific throws and various set-ups, or steps, or footwork patterns to land my throw against various styles of player, various gripping counters, grip breaks, et cetera.
You are also an enforcer and a hunter. Your job in many ways is to look at every single possible set-up, variation, version, different whatever way of doing your handful of chosen, tokui waza's or "pet techniques", that is your set of specialty moves. The moves you have honed across different tournaments, players, body types, aggression levels et cetera.
When someone comes from outside, you pit your game against their and trust in what you have learned. You are looking for the holes in your game and for new ways to counter what it is that YOU do best.
Should a larger, or a new player come to the club and step out of line or abuse the inexperienced, you are likely trusted (one player in a club) to enforce the rules and expectations of the club. Perhaps, it only takes a nod from your coach. Perhaps it is a stated or rather an unstated obligation. But, it was my role as I became a 2nd or 3rd Brown belt and it is a learning experience unlike any other.
The Brown belts (as in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) in my experience are some of the most fun to watch. They open up their games. THEY WANT THEIR BLACK BELT. They wage war with other brown belts and while they may lack or intentionally forgo playing a tighter game or a safer game, they are in terms of technical skill  comparable to those at their rank and above.

1 degree - Brown belts begin adopting a more aggressive game. They are building the belief in their techniques that makes them more dangerous than before. They are ready to no longer play with the lower belts at tournaments. They will now likely begin competing only in the elite divisions/upper belt divisions, and will have to move up in weight with the upper belts should they want to do a second divisions at a regional level tournament. You will still likely depend on more physical exertion than necessary to win or to score with throws, but your aggression and likely physical conditioning will carry you through tough randori (free rolling/sparring) sessions.

2 degree- The Brown belt is finding success as a brown belt. Their competition record shows they not only can hang with other brown and black belts, but they are trusting in their chosen techniques and finding success with them against equally and/or higher skilled players in tournaments.

3rd degree -The 3rd level of brown belt is again finding more and more success against equally ranked and/or higher ranked belts. The 3rd level of brown belt has continued refinement of his game across the lower brown belts and now is almost ready if not already prepared to wear a black belt. A brown belt has come to understand the variations in a tournament setting between time remaining and aggression, how to use the points and the interplay between being ahead or behind when winning matches. Knowing that the player who is behind on points must open up his game and will be more vulnerable as time winds down for example. Or, perhaps, using mat work to run down the clock against a dangerous thrower over which you hold a lead in points. The Brown belt at this stage is showing the flashes of brilliance and not thinking but finding "the zone" in which his/her style of Judo manifests itself in a largely unconscious manner.

Black - teaching and coaching and being trusted to mentor other lower belts is now my responsibility. I am a part of imparting both perspective, opinion, belief, and enforcing the expectations of the the club/team over lower belts. I am trusted to not only teach, but to coach, referee, and shape the games and attitudes of younger, less experienced players. I compare notes with other black belts and absorb what I can from my fellow black belts to shore up my knowledge base and be able to teach the beginnings, or the basic, classical version (and some competitive versions) of the Gokyo (catalogue of throws). My knowledge of other players, famous and local, as well as my ability to discern what works and what doesn't (and why) is why I am trusted as a black belt.

- Let me qualify the above: this was my experience in 3 different clubs of which I was a part of Judo from white to black belt. In Japan and other places, the black belt really only signifies that you can defend yourself on the mat and that the referee is no longer there to protect you in many ways. You are one of the big boys (if even that) and your knowledge of the basics in gripping, transitions, throws, body mechanics are relatively sound, and NOW your pursuit of knowledge in Judo may truly begin.

I will probably come back and redact/amend/edit/update/modify some of this information in the coming year, but as for now, I think this suffices for some of the beliefs about the belts in my personal experiences at various clubs and in talking with the black belts who mentored me on my path to Black Belt.

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