I had a fair amount of nervous energy before belt testing. It was the unknown, so I had little point of reference. The night previous, I managed to get some last minute training in, rolled with some close friends and then got home to spend time with my wife, whose been a constant support. All of that said, I still didn’t know what the instructors would be looking for, so I had lots of space for anxiety. Tried to sleep and just… couldn’t. When jiu-jitsu is the subject at hand, it’s like a vice grip on your mind.
The morning of the test, I woke up early, had some breakfast and got to the gym about 30 minutes early. A few guys were going over technique covered on the test, but I opted instead to just hang out, stretch and converse with some friends. It’s always nice to be communal on the mats, even if you’re not rolling. There’s something special about that space: it invites a playful violence and serious relationships (not like that, clown!). Always nice to be on the mat.
As the black belts began to arrive, we all went over and checked in at the desk for belt testing, then said hello to the instructors. At this point, I began to key up for the test, finding the tingles in my fingertips, almost like those pre-competition jitters. Luckily, I was with guys I’ve trained with for over a year and a half and we were all together, all experiencing the same thing. Tinguinha, the head of the jiu jitsu program at UFC Gym, split the 11 of us into 3 groups — each group would be tested by a different instructor, making it easier to get through all 11 tests, but also alleviating a lot of the stress of the guys on the mat. One of our foremost questions was about how the test would be scored, since many of us train with a different instructor and have learned multiple concepts different ways. As a result, we were mostly put with our primary instructors, so they were familiar with our style (as, by and large, it was also their style). I was in a 4-man group made up of myself, Ben, Dwight and Tony. Ben and I are of similar size (sort of) and Dwight and Tony both heavyweights, so it worked out pretty well. Somehow, I was under the impression that Joe would be my training partner, but he ended up in Tinguinha’s group. Before beginning, we both wished each other a quick word of luck, bumped fists and got into it.
Kenric is a great instructor, going over minutae that’s necessary to perform the technique flawlessly and he didn’t let up on us during the test. (Something I’m happy to report.) Most of the time, I got through the technique on the first try, but sometimes – if my order of operations was out of line, or I was missing the grip on the belt, or should have gone 4-fingers into the lapel – all minor things – he’d have me re-demonstrate or, as he saw fit, also show an additional technique. My group was the last to finish because of how detail oriented he is, but honestly, it was a relief to know how much he has our backs. I can’t really explain it, except that his quiet confidence in us bred that same confidence in ourselves; when he asked for more detail, we knew it was so that we’d be the best blue belts possible.
When the test ended, we went to grab a protein shake and a sandwich, talked about the experience and just hung out a while. Ceremony wasn’t for another hour and a half or so, so we had some time to kill. My wife got to the gym and we talked about testing a bit, internalizing the things that were positive as well as the gaps in my game that I saw need work (top of side-control, for instance.) We cruised back to the gym, I got her a chair to sit down and then I got into the octagon for the promotion ceremony.
Of the 11 white belts testing for blue, we all made it! The sense of community at the gym is very strong and I really felt like an integral part of our team, which was reassuring and pretty great. As a new team, we new blue belts are some of the senior students of the program. We talked a bit about the responsibilities that entails, that the journey is just beginning, that the work is paying off, etc. Didn’t get home until around 2 pm, so I was at the gym for nearly 5 hours, making it a long day.
The achievement is still sinking in, but here are some photos from Saturday.