100 things you should do before becoming a black-belt

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With a gi, a can of spray paint and an idea in mind, the GRACIEMAG team put together one of the best-selling issues in the publishing house’s history in 2007. The cover story was a compilation of 100 things practitioners should do before reaching the coveted rank of black-belt.

Based on the experiences of well-established teachers, the article offers the boldest of goal outlines for unconditional Jiu-Jitsu lovers.

At the behest of GRACIEMAG.com readers, we re-edited the article, updating some points and revising others. Read it, reflect and have fun.

Regret isn’t one of the more pleasant things in life. Overall, we suffer a ton when we think about the past and regret having done or not done something or other at a certain point in our lives.

That is how, in a somewhat philosophical manner, we decided to chase down 40 Jiu-Jitsu instructors and ask them: If you could go back in time, what would you do differently in your career before reaching the rank of black-belt?

“I regret not having followed a good diet. I only started worrying about that now, and I’ve seen how doing so yields extremely positive results,” André Galvão answered. Keeping in mind that Galvão was already an impressive athlete at purple belt, imagine if he’d kept to a sophisticated dietary regime that would have made his performances all the more spectacular.

Breaking down in detail each instructor’s response, GRACIEMAG made a list of 100 things you should do before making it to black belt – and 20 more you shouldn’t .

At no time did we harbor the pretext of creating a universal decree, a recipe book. Each athlete shall take the path he/she wishes to, but with a script based on the experiences of established fighters in hand we believe that, as the path comes to an end, you will have a greater chance of feeling satisfaction when looking back on your past.

If you’re already a black belt, the list still counts as a career checklist and even as stimulus to create your own list of goals to complete before receiving your red belt.

1- Like Jiu-Jitsu.

2- Love Jiu-Jitsu.

3- Respect Jiu-Jitsu.

4- Learn to balance force and technique so as to fight as long as you can without tiring.

5- Understand that the belt is not the only objective, but the result of effort and learning. One whose only objective is to get a new belt limits his own potential, which is always enormous and unknown. Rather than focus on that, concern yourself with developing technical aspects of the fight.

6- Know the entire program of basic classes inside out and back to front.

7- Study self-defense techniques in depth. Or do you plan to be the kind of black-belt that despairs at just having to get out of a basic choke?

8- Have a grueling training session with your own master.

9- Make a lot of close friends at the gym.

10- Enter a tournament — and return home with a gold medal.

11- Fight in the absolute division.

12- Realize that deep, deep down, points and the clock do not exist, while nothing is more real than those three taps.

13- Participate in a seminar conducted by your greatest idol.

14- Learn to speak English. The way the Jiu-Jitsu market is going, you’ll have to get around in other continents.

15- Learn to perform a flying armbar.

16- Compete at a World Championship.

17- Invent a hold or move.

18- Give the move a really creative name like “the flying butterfly,” “get-that-sucka” or “fireball,” for example.

19- Try out a variety of different diets until you find two or three that really work to stimulate your body, before, during and after competitions.

20- Do at least a year of judo — if intense throw training isn’t common in your gym.

21- Learn to lose.

22- Learn to win.

23- Find the brand of gi with the cut that best suits your body.

24- Brush up on your surfing, as you have yet to participate in a Black Belt Surf Championship.

25- If surfing isn’t your thing, work on another outdoor activity to invigorate you on those days you’re not in the gym.

26- Learn to teach. This includes knowing how to conduct an entire class, plan the warm-up for that day’s specific session, pair up the students properly and cool the students off before heading home, among other things. “At brown, the promising athlete may teach a class under a black-belt’s supervision, as though it were an internship, a test,” suggests instructor Raphael Abi-Rihan.

27- Read the IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu rule book.

28- As the black belt promotion approaches, participate in MMA simulation training, commonly known as “slap” sessions. A training session involving real-life fighting situations is extremely important to sharpen up your self-defense, by learning to time takedowns and brushing up on other aspects.

29- Shave your head, even if just once.

30- Try to take private classes — these are vital for refining your technique and learning tricks from your teacher.

31- Offer yourself as your master’s sparring partner, especially in private classes, as you, too, will learn a lot.

32- Put together your basic bibliography on the martial arts. The more books the better.

33- Fight with all your might to keep whatever that nickname they gave you from sticking.

34- If the nickname sticks, live with it.

35- Come up with a good nickname for a training partner.

36- Encourage a child to start learning Jiu-Jitsu. After all, they are the future of the sport.

37- Gain self-control.

38- Use your technical abilities and stamina to get out of a bind. Adventures are a part of every black-belt’s story.

39- Don’t let your Jiu-Jitsu go to your head — keep yourself well grounded.

40- Learn to react. There’s no precise guide for reacting properly in every situation, but Professor Carlos Gracie Jr has a classic lesson for you. When someone’s bothering you, in the cinema, on the plane or anywhere, think before you react: what if this person were Brock Lesnar — what would you do then? For hours you’ve felt the need to intervene, or just say something to the bugger. But do so politely — without going on the offensive. It doesn’t matter if the person is a little old woman, a bunch of teenagers or a UFC heavyweight champion.

41- Don’t forget to practice the basics, or how to defend against basic moves.

42- Get yourself a physiotherapist buddy who after every appointment gives you that discount when some new little injury crops up…

43- Have a favorite açaí recipe.

44- Find out when the best time of the day for you to train is, figuring out whether your body responds better to training hard at night, in the afternoon or early in the morning.

45- Send a message of praise to GRACIEMAG.

46- Send a message lambasting GRACIEMAG — or at least suggesting an article you want written.

47- Study your sport’s basic history, and know who Jiu-Jitsu’s pioneers were and what they did.

48- Every white-belt has seen them a hundred times, so don’t you be the one not to re-watch them: watch, every now and then, the primordial and glorious fights featuring Jiu-Jitsu in the ring — know of the achievements of Royce, Rickson, Renzo, Ralph and Minotauro, for example, and understand just how far Jiu-Jitsu has come.

49- After so many years of injury, find out one hold you will not tap out to by any means — a foot lock, a guillotine…

50- Be flexible; discover your favorite stretching routine.

51- Get your bottom game on par with your top game — or at least close to it.

52- Face off with athletes from other styles, like wrestlers in submission grappling tournaments, judoka friends and so on.

53- Have a lot of talks with higher-ranked athletes and old masters.

54- Forget about steroids.

55- Document the best shape you’ve ever been in in photos. Besides serving as a record, this will motivate you to keep in shape, even as the years — and belts — go by. You will also have a beautiful photo to one day show your kids and grandkids…

56- Go on an unforgettable trip to compete or train Jiu-Jitsu with the team.

57- Represent well and promote our sport abroad.

58- Test your knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu theory in written exams, like the ones held at Escola Leão Teixeira in Rio or at University of Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego, among other schools.

59 – Get used to discomfort. After all, as Wallid Ismail would say, “It’s stormy seas the whole time.”

60- Get turned down by women because of your ears.

61- Pick up women because of your ears.

62- Go through at least 17 gis before turning black-belt. If you don’t, you haven’t gone through enough cloth…

63- Donate your old gis to the needy and social-benefit projects.

64- Understand how your body works; after all, each body type adapts to Jiu-Jitsu differently. Your game should be in tune with the type of body you boast.

65- Respect the white-belts. And the blues-belts, and the purple-belts, and so on. 

66- Develop your mental flexibility. At any tournament anywhere in the world, it is not unusual for you to end up competing later, earlier, have arena changes before the battle… “In these cases, relax and accept it. Not being uptight allows you to get the most out of any experience and to evolve,” advises coach and trainer Martin Rooney.

67- Absorb whatever new technique you are taught, even if it doesn’t become your specialty. It very well could be your opponent’s.

68- At least once in life, decide to compete in some tournament at the last minute. Remember, there is no such thing as the “perfect” moment to compete; just get out there and do it — and who knows? It might just turn out to be the perfect moment.

69- Tap, tap, tap and tap, over and over again. And, who knows? Maybe even pass out from a choke. That’s part of the game, and it’s all a learning experience until you’ve been decorated with the highest honors.

70- Do a no-time-limit fight (at least in training), to the finish.

71- If you have friends in other academies, visit new environments. “I would like to have trained more with other athletes to have tested my Jiu-Jitsu without the pressure of doing tournaments. I feel I missed something for not having trained with Amaury, Libório, Roleta, Cachorrão and Pé de Pano,” reveals six-time world champion Saulo Ribeiro.

72- Be somebody’s hero — even if it’s just your little brother.

73- Explain Jiu-Jitsu philosophy more than once to a number of friends, and don’t lose your patience when you hear back, “But fighters are all kind of stupid, aren’t they?”

74- Get invited to help bounce at a friend’s party, even if you politely decline, despite the proud feeling inside.

75- Have a favorite Gracie.

76- Lend a hand at a social-benefit project a black-belt friend of yours is involved in in any way you can.

77- Make Jiu-Jitsu a lifestyle and make the most of it. In so doing, you should understand that the art is not just a sport.

78- Discover what persistence is firsthand — after all, it’s almost a given you’ll have to spend some time on ice due to injury. Even so, don’t get discouraged.

79- Take a deep dive into the Graciemag.com archives.

80- Decipher what curious expressions in Portuguese like “nó-de-porco,” “creonte,” “calçar a bota,” and “amassa-pão” mean.

81- Every once in awhile, add a “bro” to the end of a sentence, and know that it never goes out of style.

82- Find out what motivates you before a training session and what makes you feel better after a bad day at the gym — be it music, reading or positive thinking.

83- Develop your own style as a fighter.

84- Develop your own style as a teacher.

85- Understand that a practitioner gains nothing from a scuffle or street fight, and that so doing represents a step back in Jiu-Jitsu’s struggle for recognition. As Saulo says, “I have never given a black belt to an unscrupulous person, or better yet, that person would never train with me because I wouldn’t have it in me to teach him.”

86- Find a way of deriving pleasure from the big and little things in Jiu-Jitsu, from warming up to even the bad days in the gym and the losses.

87- Learn CPR.

88- Learn to deal with the fear, insecurity and anxiety we all have in us, some more, some less than others. That is why competition is one of the best environments for us to get to know ourselves not just as athletes.

89- Understand your responsibility as an advanced athlete. “If the guy intends to be a teacher the responsibility is even greater, as you are the role model others will mirror. Jiu-Jitsu does not only serve the function of creating good fighters, but of making men who are capable, dignified and honorable to carry forth Jiu-Jitsu’s flag. That is the greatest responsibility a black-belt can have,” teaches Robert Drysdale.

90- Reflect on your mistakes.

91- After growing from those mistakes, cast them from your thoughts.

92- See the black belt as the beginning, not the end of the road. “I improved my game a great deal after reaching black belt,” recalls Marcelinho Garcia.

93- At least from brown belt onwards, do no-gi competition as well.

94- Innovate when exercising.

95- Realize as quickly as you can that the gym is not a place to compete, but a place to practice positions. “Only by hitting and working on your weaknesses will you become a well-rounded fighter. This business of ‘winning a roll’ is silly and limits a student in learning,” Saulo Ribeiro reminds us.

96- Experiment with breathing techniques, Ginástica Natural and yoga to improve your performance as an athlete. Although shunned in the old days, these days these resources have been largely accepted by the greatest..

97- Prepare your speech for the ceremony when you receive your black belt.

98- Write up your own list of 50, 100 or 200 goals you WILL meet before becoming a black-belt.

99- Apply the principal law of Jiu-Jitsu (“Minimum effort for maximum efficiency”) to your own life. Face challenges in the simplest way possible, as this will certainly be the most efficient.

100- Get off the computer and go train!

*20 commandments before reaching black belt

1-   Thou shalt not stall.
2-   Thou shalt not wimp out.
3-   Thou shalt not skip practice for silly reasons.
4-   Thou shalt not drink alcohol excessively.
5-   Thou shalt not partake in excessive slamming.
6-   Thou shalt not wear stinky gis or neglect your higiene.
7-   Thou shalt not whine about refereeing.
8-   Thou shalt not be a “creonte” — respect your master and gym.
9-   Thou shalt not heed orders that go against your values.
10- Thou shalt not be rude during training.
11-  Thou shalt not make a trophy of your mangled ear.
12-  Thou shalt not succumb to cupcakes, candy bars and the likes.
13-  Thou shalt not show off . Be discreet. After all, the more exposed you are, the greater the target.
14-  Thou shalt not talk too much smack or cause discord between training partners.
15-  Thou shalt not take cheap shots.
16-  Thou shalt not take Steven Seagal films seriously.
17-  Thou shalt not count advantage points.
18-  Thou shalt not delay in letting go of your opponent when he taps.
19-  Thou shalt not take the stress of life out on training partners.
20-  Thou shalt not steal training partners’ flip-flops.

The emotion of changing belt colors. In the photo, the tears of Lúcio Lagarto. Photo: Gustavo Aragão.

>> Written with the collaboration of: Alexandre Paiva, Alexandre Ribeiro, Amaury Bitetti, André Galvão, Fabio Gurgel, Helio Gracie, Hermes França, João Alberto Barreto, José Mario Sperry, Leonardo Santos, Leonardo Vieira, Marcelo Garcia, Martin Rooney, Raphael Abi-Rihan, Relson Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Ricardo Libório, Rickson Gracie, Robert Drysdale, Roberto Gordo, Rodrigo Comprido, Rodrigo Medeiros, Roger Gracie, Ronaldo Jacaré, Royler Gracie, Saulo Ribeiro, Sylvio Behring, Thales Leites, Vinicius Draculino, Vítor Shaolin, Wallid Ismail.

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