On the Edge of Black Belt
The road to one’s black belt in BJJ is long and fraught with a seemingly endless array of challenges. Let’s look at some commonly agreed upon statements or even cliches about the journey to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt.
First, an extremely small percentage of people who walked into an academy the very first time will stick around and make it to this coveted belt. Though there is no real, conclusive demographic data, it is safe to say that it is much less than 10% of people and probably less than 5%. The reasons people don’t make it are varied.
So if you look around at the next class you attend and let’s say there are 30 people on the mats. It’s a pretty safe bet that less than 5 will stick around long enough to earn their black belt. Some will move and decide not to continue. Some will get new jobs and maybe their schedule will make it more difficult. Perhaps some will become involved with a significant other or spouse that is not a fan of their BJJ training and for this reason will drift away. It is a sad, but true fact of life in jiu jitsu. It is the 3-5 who stick with it through all of life’s ups and downs that will finally achieve that belt.
Secondly, the amount of time it takes to earn the BJJ black belt can vary, but there is a commonly held ‘range’ of around 10 years that gets thrown around a great deal. Occasionally, you will hear about the people like BJ Penn or Gordon Ryan who achieved their belts in a much faster time, but it must be remember that these guys with all of their athletic gifts have also taken advantage of their ability to train as much as humanly possible. People like this train more in a day than the average practitioner trains in a week or more. At the end of the day, it’s all about mat time.
Any activity that requires the length and degree of commitment as BJJ can demand, can get impacted by random life changes, i.e. work, family, school,, etc. Does this mean someone can’t work through these changes and pick up their journey in a new town? Absolutely, but a lot of times it doesn’t and people drift away.
After a number of years and probably thousands of classes, you will find yourself eventually moving into the world of the ‘higher belts’ most notably brown the last stop before the black belt. Once you’ve achieved the brown belt, it’s safe to say that you have been training at least 5 or more years and know yourself a bit of jiu jitsu. Most likely you are well past the “maybe I’ll quit” phases that can plague some of the other belts. You’re in it for the long haul, but the question that remains, is what now? What should you be focusing on in your BJJ to achieve that black belt? Now that you’re on the edge of black belt, what in the heck do you need to do to achieve that next step?
BJJ Fanatics spoke with long time grappling and MMA competitor, who also recently was awarded the third degree on his black belt, Tom DeBlass and asked him what he would tell a brown belt to focus on. This was the first thing out of his mouth.
“The Brown Belt’s Guard Cannot Be Passed.”
Okay, got it. Wait, is that it? What does that even mean? In typical Tom DeBlass fashion, an extremely complex idea is boiled down to the most painfully honest brand of simplicity you will ever see. This won’t be easy, but here’s the game plan to move from brown to black.
One of Tom’s favorite brands of guard is the half guard. He has utilized his powerful top and bottom half guard game on some of the biggest stages in grappling. With a framing system that can seem to support a tractor trailer worth of weight and conversely a dynamic top half guard game, Tom takes his guard game very seriously. To learn more about his half guard system, check out his best-selling instructional “Half Domination” power packed with 4 volumes worth of techniques and secrets that will have you dominating your opponents from the top and bottom half in no time.
“Positions must be solid”
For DeBlass, brown belt is the time to ensure that all of the foundations are solid and if they aren’t, they should be worked on non-stop. For him, having one’s guard passed should ruin their day. This is how serious one must take their jiu jitsu. The guard is the defense from all subsequent submission. If you are able to control your opponent in your guard and keep them safely within the confines of the game plan you’ve designed, then you will be successful.
Today’s practitioners take someone passing their guard much too lightly, so this goes far behind simply having the skill to stop someone from passing their guard. It has to become a philosophy and a way of life to attempt to have perfect jiu jitsu. Allowing someone to breach your first line of defense is not perfect jiu jitsu for DeBlass and being okay with it, is an approach that doesn’t sit well with him.
By taking the notion of having one’s guard passed as one of the worst things that can happen on the mats, whether it is a friendly after-class roll or a competition, you will develop a mentality that keeps the game where you want it be. For DeBlass, jiu jitsu has a place for everyone on the mats, but our goal must be a impassable guard and the quest for perfect jiu jitsu.
Submissions must flow
The brown belt must have a variety of submissions available from each of their established positions and be able to move back and forth between them. The opponent or training partner may be able to defend the initial attack, but the brown belt will have the tenacity and fortitude to keep attacking and eventually secure the finish.
The brown belt should have multiple set ups from various positions and be able to execute each with great accuracy and success. This belt should be a time of refining the knowledge, rather than focusing on amassing more knowledge.
When a dominant position is achieved, the finish needs to be secured
For DeBlass, the brown belt must be able to finish when they have achieved a dominate position. There will be little room for escape from a brown belts dominate position for DeBlass and the submission or continued domination through the use of the position, will be maintained.
Don’t forget as well that if you find yourself caught in a dominant position, you need to escape and escape quickly. Tom DeBlass has shared his favorite “Submission Escapes” with BJJ Fanatics in this 4 volume instructional jam packed with all of the essential techniques which will have you out and launching your own offensive attacks in almost no time.
In closing, do everything in your power to be one of the less than 5% of practitioners who eventually earn their black belts. The common denominator of every black belt’s individual journey was simply stringing class after class, continuing to learn and improve and enjoy the ride. Once you’ve gotten to that last belt before black and found yourself on the edge of black belt, there are some things that Tom DeBlass thinks you should focus on.
By treating your guard like your life depends on it, by making your foundational positions as formidable as you can, and by developing a smooth and varied submission game, you will be working to make yourself a well-rounded brown belt who will eventually earn that coveted belt from your instructor and coaches. And don’t be in a rush. It’s not how fast you finish, it’s that you get there.
A final important aspect to the BJJ game that can sometimes get overlooked, is the role of healthy weight and fitness. Tom DeBlass has also covered that area for you with his “12 Weeks to Ripped” program that includes the complete fitness and diet regimen he follows as well as extensive recipe list to make things ultra easy to get you in the best shape of your life in three months or less. The video instructional and accompanying book will clearly map out your game plan and take the guesswork out of achieving your goals.