Experiencing the Last Step: Attending a Black Belt Ceremony

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the Faixa Preta ceremony for one of my coaches, Julio Lang. I use the word “ceremony” loosely here, as it was mostly just an intense ass-kicking by everyone who showed up to show “support.”

My day started normally enough: I woke up, got to the gym at 5:40am, stetched and went to 6am class. The week before, I had gotten my fourth stripe and was feeling pretty happy with myself. Julio taught class and it was pretty low-key. We did some one-arm positional drilling and had a lot of fun. There was laughter and an air of joviality on the mats – a nice way to start the morning.

Shower. Drive directly to work. Get off early. Two hours of traffic. Eat before getting to Texiera Jiu Jitsu in Covina, CA, led by Rodrigo Texiera. I don’t know anyone when I get there, but I’m fairly outgoing and talk it up with some other dudes in gis. Come to find out, a dozen people are all promoting — some to black, brown, purple and blue. As I’ve seen some other belt tests online (mostly from Roy Dean Academy), I was under the impression that each person would demonstrate a skill-set before being given their belt. Not so, grasshopper! I was very quickly educated in the matter: each student for promotion would have to roll with everyone present over a long duration of time, then they’d have to walk the gauntlet (more on that later).

Wow. OK! Let’s get to it!

We hang around a while and I make a couple of acquaintances. Julio shows up and changes. We say hello, but I really don’t want to cut into his focus, so I try to keep my space. We’re called to warm up and begin running around the mat.

At first impression, I can tell that this is going to be more like a wrestling warm-up (hell) and less like traditional jiu-jitsu warm-ups. The mat area is small, but the 60 people on it make do. We run; we carry each other (physically and mentally); we take penetration shots; squat jumps; we carry each other and do squats; we run some more; wall sits; more penetration shots; more running; more carrying; more wall sits; more; more; more.

By the end of the warm up (40 minutes later), I felt exhausted and excited. The walls began to close in on us and the heat increased like a pressure cooker. This is what my first days of grappling felt like, when we used to wrestle in one of the spare bungalows in high school and were unable to use the gym.

We stretch and then the insantiy begins. All of the promotion folks lay on their backs on the mat and everyone lines up around them. We proceed to roll in 40 second to 1 minute increments with everyone for nearly 2 hours. We rooted for each other, forced the game of each combatant – had our games forced, and build a bond of comraderie.

At the end, the black belts present also rolled with each promotion candidate, laughing as they kicked the hell out of each one. We clapped it up when all was said and done, then got ready for the gauntlet.

This next tradition was…. different for me. It felt like hazing but was done from a loving place. I opted not to wail on each guy because, honestly, I was a visitor and didn’t feel it was my place to throw my weight into this kind of beating. The non-promotion folks lined up on either side, down the mat. We all took off our belts and folded it in quarters. Each person being promoted had to remove their gi top and shirt, then put their arms above their heads and walk the gauntlet while being whipped with the belts of their peers. Sounds graphic, no? It was, but it was also like the last hurdle to be done before seeing all of that hard work pay off. I could go on about it, but I’ll refrain. It’s in our culture and it’s part of who we are as jiu jitsu players. Physical chess and mental duress.

Finally, the head instructor tied on the new belt, congratulated them and threw them at full speed. We cheered for each person, shook hands, made friends and took pictures. I was very happy I got to experience this kind of ceremony, as I know that each school handles promotions differently. For instance, the guys that recently blue-belted at our gym went through a test with their instructors, then were given their belts/certificates at a public ceremony.

That’s what’s great about jiu jitsu: we’re all different, but we’re all the same.

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