Promotions: The Best and Worst Part

Promotions: The Best and Worst Part

Recently our gym just went through a promotion cycle. We upgraded a few children to grey belts, two blues to purples, and one purple to brown. As always, it's an awesome feeling to even be in the gym for that. There is such a profound admiration and appreciation for your teammates' work, you can’t help but feel good for them. You know how hard they work because you are working right along with them.

Promotions are a time of reflection and appreciation. The whole gym and community feels it. You can’t help but feel it, knowing the struggles they have gone through to get there. Personally, I prefer watching my teammates get promoted far more than me getting promoted. 

Luckily for me, I am deeply entrenched in the middle of my belt’s journey, months and months and months away from promotion. It was kind of nice to not feel the dread, excitement, or nerves when our instructor utters that “P-word.” Promotions feel great and well-deserved to everyone in the gym except the person actually getting promoted. For them, they're suddenly the small fish in a big pond again.

In our gym, we do a rolling gauntlet, where everyone in attendance that day gets a roll with you, no rest. In order of belt, and weight. So, you can literally feel that pond getting bigger every new person that enters. For many, their blue belt promotion is their first time in a gauntlet, which I always felt was appropriate. That's about the time you should be learning that every roll isn’t a deathmatch, honestly. It’s light and fun, because the odds are literally impossible for the person getting promoted. Everyone is laughing and talking trash the whole time.

But then, suddenly, you’re that next belt level.

The testament of getting that next belt is huge for everyone in the gym. It seemingly sets the levels. You know where you should be if you want to progress. As a white belt I remember thinking purple belts were ninjas, brown belts were wizards, and black belts were not even playing the same sport as me. Now, I can see my friends’ passage and figure out where my game is. A part of me is also selfishly glad to see guys get promoted because I was sick of them giving me hard, hard rolls and thinking “They cannot be blue belts?” 

Sadly, the only thing missing was promotions of white belts. This is always my favorite promotion to watch. The weight of jiu-jitsu finally hits them. It’s a horrifying, sticky, scary time when you realize you are expected to do things that resemble jiu-jitsu. You think back to the blue belts that seemed to be incredible when you started and compare them to your freshly tied blue belt. Suddenly, you realize maybe they weren’t the masters you thought. I frequently call the blue belt the belt of demystification.

But in reality, all promotions are just that. They are both a landmark in your journey and something totally dreadful. It’s just one of many analogies between jiu-jitsu and life. Both are full of duplicitous edges and moments of elation. A lot of times, these are the same thing. Promotions are the purest form of this balance and dichotomy: the joy and fear all wrapped up into one instant.