by Arlo Gagestein
I had the honor of spending last Saturday at Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas for a belt test and promotion ceremony. Several of my teammates were testing and a handful of us from Utah went out for the festivities. Witnessing the test brought back a flood of memories from my last promotion a couple years ago. After successfully demonstrating proficiency on a wide range of techniques, each person being promoted has to roll for an hour straight.
Now for those of us who frequently roll and hour or more, this might not sound too bad. The catch however is that you get ZERO rest, and every two minutes a new opponent jumps on you with the primary goal of breaking you down and wearing you out. If you notice the number of people in the above photo, it should be no surprise that there were plenty of fresh, well-rested opponents to keep those testing fighting to catch their breath.
As I jumped from one body to the next, I remembered the despair of being 30-40 minutes into my test with a seemingly unending supply of energetic teammates attacking me over and over again. You are exhausted, it hurts to breath, your limbs are useless, and you are repeatedly being beat by people with years less experience than you have. Let’s start you fighting for your life against the black, brown, and purple belts, then let every blue and white belt in the gym kick you while you are down. Welcome to purple. It doesn’t take long to begin questioning, “What am I doing here?” “Do I really want to continue suffering through this?” “How bad do I want this belt?”
There is a Rickson Gracie quote that I absolutely love and that defines Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for me.
“Where there’s discomfort, there’s fear, in these very tough positions, you’re in a little piece of hell. And through this daily suffering, you learn to survive in these situations. You have to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. You have to be able to live in your worst nightmare. Jiu-jitsu puts you completely in the moment where you must have complete focus on finding a solution to the problem. This trains the mind to build that focus, to increase your awareness, your capacity to solve problems. Sometimes, you don’t have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing.”
“Sometimes, you don’t have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing.” In the helpless, hopelessness of a belt test; 40 minutes in with 20 minutes of hell to go, you learn what this promotion means to you. You have dedicated yourself to the art, to the endless pursuit of progress, chasing a destination that never arrives. In this moment, survival is everything. Everyone in this hour thinks about quitting. Everyone questions themselves, but I’ve never seen anyone give up. I’ve never seen someone in the dark tunnel, chasing the colored belt, quit. The rougher the ride, the more abuse they take, the more satisfying the victory of completion.
My hat goes off to everyone who was promoted last Saturday. I know you suffered worse than anything I can remember. You too have probably already forgotten just how bad it was. The sweetness of promotion erases a multitude of beatings. Beatings we are programmed to forget, so that in a couple years, when the time has come, we’ll once again silently wait in the mat’s center, ready to battle all who approach.
To my teammates from Mori Training Center, thank you. Your determination and dedication to the art makes me better. I admire and value your friendship and support more than you will ever know. Together we suffer, and together we grow.