Purple and Brown Belt

The last time we looked at belt promotions, we focused on Blue Belt. I like to describe Blue Belt as an elite average person. You know the basic positions, and have a good idea of what to do from them. Your identity in the gym is well established. In fact, some newer people might be asking how to deal with you. Don’t worry. I will do my best to help them beat you. It’s not that you know everything, it’s that you know how to learn.

Purple Belt is the beginning of the elite belts. You have an established opinion about the things you have tried in all of the basic positions. If a Blue Belt knows how to learn, a Purple Belt knows how to master something. I want to see at least one thing at Black Belt level. You have a thorough understanding of the finer details of how your best position works, how to get there, where it can lead, how to counter it, and have the ability to answer the common counters. This proves to me that you have a template to build the rest of your game. By this time, you are in total control of the direction of your progress. I love asking purple belts what they’re working on. They have an enthusiasm about describing exactly how their current project is unfolding. As a coach, I try to withhold my opinion on a lot of things unless there’s a safety issue. Instead, I try to be ready with strong fundamental answers to the sticking points we all encounter when developing these things. Specific questions tend to be well thought out at this stage. Obviously, covering all the positions can take some time. By now, everyone knows not to slop through the process and try to get promoted to Brown. Take some time and enjoy being good at mastering pieces of the game. You can learn all the cool things if you want, but be careful about depending on tricks at this stage. Also, this is the last point you are allowed to not know the fundamentals. Don’t be the Brown Belt who can’t throw an armbar from Closed Guard!

Brown Belt probably seems obvious after reading the last paragraph. There is one more thing, you can’t try to become a Brown Belt. While you were exploring the game at Purple and refining your tendencies, you started doing correct thing automatically. Unfortunately, that’s because Purple Belt can really hurt. When you’re refining higher level techniques at Purple, some mistakes come at a price. You will quickly get out of places that could hurt, and it should become second nature. Pain as a teacher sucks, but it’s not really bad forever. This pulls most of the stops out of the decision making process, and you should catch yourself missing details. It’s a great time to explore what matters and why. More than just knowing the details, you can categorize and prioritize them.

Notice that I didn’t mention being able to beat anyone in training or competition as a prerequisite. Training and competition are tools to help us, not an accurate measure of progress. I purposely tapped more right after getting my Purple Belt. You will want to understand how tapping makes you better. That said, it’s going to be impossible to meet any of these objectives without doing at least a little winning. I say this to clarify that you will not get promoted just for tapping people. Nobody is born knowing anything, and these promotions are a recognition of a deliberate effort to learn and progress.

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