The journey from zygote to larvae (or white belt to blue belt) is long and arduous. The moment we step onto the mat, we’re birthed anew in this strange and glorious world of strength, technique and mental prowess. At first, it is a daily struggle to survive. Individuals are faced with their own fears of suffocation and claustrophobia; unable to use their own body, the zygote must learn how each appendage functions and – more importantly – has to learn about new muscle groups, new joints, new movements. Not only is it a reintroduction to the known, but a complete immersion into the unknown. We, the zygotes, are thrown this way and that, susceptible to chokes, armbars, triangles and, in my case, the Americana. All of our opponents are hungry and devouring; we are the lowest on the food chain and all the world can see it. We are the mat-slappers, the groaners, the eyes-clinched-tight-in-hopes-of-finishing-this-badly-executed-guillotine. We are not yet at the point to say that we have holes in our game because our game is being built; we are the scaffolding of a building to be; we are but blue-prints in the mind. Like the pure color of our belts, we are empty canvases for our instructors and our training partners.
As our belts become sweat-sodden, stained with blood and turmoil, we learn how to navigate warm-ups; that water-breaks only take time away from training; that you must first learn how to defend yourself properly in all situations before you can begin to attack; attacking in jiu-jitsu is but the last step of the zygote before transforming into larvae. While still a beginner, the larvae should be able to defend thoroughly, to attack when the openings become apparent and even to defend while attacking. However, getting to the point of attack will take time, patience and humility. There will be soreness; there will be injury. We will dream of the mats; we will mentally go over positions until even our minds are stiff with fatigue. Our loved ones will grow tired in our stead, for they will become weary with the talk of grappling; the incessant videos; the banter amongst fellows-in-arms; the need for more gear.
While the journey is difficult, it is not without reward. We will build relationships unlike any previous: for while friends are made throughout life, your training partners become comrades and confidantes, all born in the fire of combat. The zygote does not only learn about its self, but it is transformed into a purer, better version of itself because of the tutelage of his instructor, the pain of extricating hubris, the payoff of undiluted resolve. In learning about, then defeating the self, we must first acknowledge our ego and then abandon it at the mat’s entrance. We believe in the beginning that we want to be fighters, but this is not true. We want to be men – or women – of courage, of discipline, of honor; grappling is only the avenue down which we trod – or the fire into which we fling ourselves – in order to be courageous, disciplined and honorable.
A year and a half ago, I thought I knew myself; I was under the impression that my wrestling training from a decade previous would be enough to walk in, walk over people, and walk out. How wrong I was! Not only has this journey taught me that humility must come before hubris, but confidence and cockiness do not mix. These stripes on my belt represent the continued effort of the zygote, walking faithfully down the road of self discovery, self annihilation, and self preservation. While the road is longer than I originally anticipated, its rewards have been more valuable than words.