100 things you should do before reaching black belt
Based on the experience of established fighters, GRACIE Magazine puts together a goal plan of the most daring kind for the unconditional Jiu-Jitsu lover
By Marcelo Dunlop and Raphael Nogueira* / Photos by Gustavo Aragao / Illustrations by Gustavo Villa Nova
Regret is not one of the most pleasant things in life. Overall, we suffer a ton when we think of the past and regret having done or not done something or the other at a determined point in our lives. That is how, in a philosophic manner, GRACIE Magazine went after 40 Jiu-Jitsu instructors and asked: If you could go back in time, what would you do differently in your career before reaching black belt?
“I regret not having followed a good diet. I only started worrying about that now, I’ve seen how doing so yields such extremely positive results,” André Galvão responded. Keeping in mind that Galvão was already an impressive athlete at purple belt, imagine if a sophisticated dietary regime had helped him attain even more spectacular performances.
Breaking down in detail each instructor’s response, GRACIE Magazine made a list of 100 things you should do before reaching black belt (and 20 more you shouldn’t do). If you are already a black belt, the list still counts as a review of your career and even as stimulus to create your own list of goals to complete before receiving your red belt. At no time did we have the pretext of creating a universal decree, a recipe book. Each athlete will take the path he/she wishes to, but with a script based on the experiences of established fighters at hand. We believe that, as the path comes to an end, you will have a greater chance of looking back and feeling satisfied.
1 » Like Jiu-Jitsu.
2 » Love Jiu-Jitsu.
3 » Respect Jiu-Jitsu.
4 » Learn to apply the right amount of force and technique, so as to fight as long as you can without tiring.
5 » Learn that the belt is not the only objective, but the result of effort and learning. One whose only objective is to get the new belt limits one’s own potential, which is always enormous and unknown. Rather than focus on that, worry about developing technical aspects of the fight.
6 » Know the entire program of basic classes inside out and back to front.
7 » Study self-defense techniques in depth, to the point of being a master. Do you want to be the kind of black belt that despairs at just having to get out of a basic choke?
8 » Have a grueling training session with your own master.
9 » Make several close friends in the gym.
10 » Dispute a championship and return home with the gold medal.
11 » Dispute the open-weight category.
12 » Realize that deep, deep down, points and the clock do not exist, while nothing is more real than the three little taps.
13 » Participate in a seminar conducted by your greatest idol.
14 » Learn to speak Portuguese, the original language of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
15 » Apply a flying armbar during a fight. Or at least try.
16 » Fight in a World Championship.
17 » Invent a move – be it by chance, intuition or full consciousness.
18 » Give the move you invented an original name, like “the flying butterfly,” “get-the-sucker,” “gogoplata” or “fireball,” for example.
19 » Try out a variety of different diets until you discover two or three that really work to stimulate your body, before, during and after competitions.
20 » Do at least a year of judo – if intense throw training is not customary in your gym.
21 » Learn to lose.
22 » Learn to win.
23 » Find the brand of gi with the cut that best suits your body.
24 » Brush up on your surfing, as you have yet to participate in a Black Belt Surf Championship.
25 » If surfing isn’t your thing, work on another outdoor activity to invigorate you on the days you are not in the gym.
26 » Learn to teach. This includes knowing how to conduct an entire class, plan the warm-up for the specific lesson of the day, match the fighters properly and put the student at ease before going home, among other things. “At brown, the promising athlete may teach a class under a black belt’s supervision, as though it were an internship, a test,” suggests instructor Raphael Abi-Rihan.
27 » Read the IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu rule book.
28 » Close to receiving the black belt, participate in MMA or a slap training session. A training session involving real-life fighting is extremely important to sharpen up your self-defense, by learning to time takedowns and refining other aspects.
29 » Forget steroids.
30 » Try to get private classes – vital for refining your technique and learning tricks from your teacher.
31 » Offer yourself as your master’s sparring partner, especially in private classes, in which you too will learn a lot.
32 » Put together your basic bibliography of martial arts. The more books, the better.
33 » Fight, with all your strength, so that whatever nickname it is they gave you doesn’t stick.
34 » Accept the nickname, if it sticks.
35 » Give a good nickname to a good partner.
36 » Encourage a child to start learning Jiu-Jitsu. After all, they are the future of the sport.
37 » Gain self-control.
38 » Use your technical abilities and stamina to get out of a bind. Adventures are a part of every black belt’s story.
39 » Don’t let your Jiu-Jitsu go to your head. Keep yourself well-centered.
40 » Learn how to react. There is no precise guide to reacting in each situation, but instructor Carlos Gracie Jr. teaches a classic lesson. When someone is bothering you, in the cinema, on the plane or wherever, think before reacting: what if this person is a Ricardo Arona or Wanderlei Silva, what would you do? Figured it out? There are times when you definitely must intervene, or just talk to the bugger, but do it politely – without treachery. It doesn’t matter if the person is a little old woman, a bunch of teenagers, Arona or Wanderlei Silva.
41 » Don’t forget to practice the basics, nor how to defend the basic moves.
42 » Have a physiotherapist buddy, who after all the appointments will give you that discount when a new little injury pops up...
43 » Have a favorite recipe for açai.
44 » Find out when the best time of the day for you to train is, and understand whether your body responds better to training hard at night, in the afternoon, or early in the morning.
45 » Send an email commending GRACIE Magazine.
46 » Send an email criticizing GRACIE Magazine – or suggesting an article for us to write.
47 » Study the basic history of your sport, and understand who Carlos, Helio, Carlson, Rolls, among others were, and their roles in Jiu-Jitsu.
48 » Every white belt has seen them 48 times, so don’t you be the one not to re-watch them: watch, every now and then, the first fights Royce fought in the UFC, Rickson fought in Pride or the battle between Minotauro and Bob Sapp. After all, they make up a big part of the saga of Jiu-Jitsu.
49 » After so many years of injury, find out one hold you will not tap out to by any means – a foot lock, a guillotine…
50 » Be flexible; discover your favorite stretching program.
51 » Get your bottom game up to par with your top game – or at least get close.
52 » Face off against athletes from other modalities, like wrestlers in submission grappling tournaments, judoka friends and so on.
53 » Talk a lot with those that are more advanced and great masters.
54 » Shave your head, even if just once.
Register in photos your top physical form. Besides serving as a record, this will motivate you to not fall out of shape, even as the years – and belts – go by. You will also have a beautiful photo to one day show your children and grandchildren...
Take an unforgettable trip to fight or train Jiu-Jitsu with the team.
Represent well and divulge the flag of our Jiu-Jitsu abroad.
When in San Diego, California, drop in at the University of Jiu-Jitsu. The telephone number is (419) 283-7310.
Get used to discomfort. After all, as Wallid Ismail used to say, “it’s a bad time the whole time.”
Get turned down by women because of your ears.
Pick up women because of your ears.
Go through at least 17 gis before becoming a black belt. If not, you didn’t go through enough cloth...
Donate your old gis to the needy and social projects.
Understand how your body works, after all, each body type adapts differently to Jiu-Jitsu. Your game should be in tune with the type of body you boast.
Respect the white belts. And the blues, purples...
Develop your mental flexibility – in any tournament in the world, it is not unusual that you will compete later, earlier, change fight arenas before the battle… “In these cases, relax and accept it. Not being uptight allows you to get the most out of any experience and evolve,” teaches the coach and trainer Martin Rooney. It’s just not worth being bitter.
Believe in whatever new technique you are taught, even if it doesn’t become your specialty. It very well could be your opponent’s.
At least once in life, decide to compete in some tournament at the last minute. Remember, there is no such thing as the “perfect” moment to compete. Go and fight – and who knows, it might just turn out to be the perfect moment.
Tap, tap, tap and tap, many times. And, who knows, maybe even pass out from a hold. That’s part of the game, and everything is a learning experience after all, until you’ve been decorated with the highest honors.
70 » Fight a fight (or at least in training) with no time limit, until it ends.
71 » If given the chance, or if you have friends in other gyms, visit new environments. “I would like to have trained more with other athletes, to have tested my Jiu-Jitsu without the pressure of tournaments. I feel I missed something for not having trained with Amaury, Libório, Roleta, Cachorrão and Pé de Pano,” reveals the six-time world champion Saulo Ribeiro.
72 » Be somebody’s hero.
73 » Explain more than once, to several friends, the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu, and don’t lose patience when you hear, “But fighters are all kinda stupid,
74 » Be invited to help bounce a friend’s party, even if you politely decline, despite the proud feeling inside.
75 » Have a favorite Gracie.
76 » Lend a hand, in any way you can, to a social project a black belt friend of yours is involved in.
77 » Make Jiu-Jitsu a lifestyle and make the most of it. To do so, you should understand that the art is not just a sport.
78 » Discover what it is to persist first hand – after all, it is almost certain you will have to spend some time on ice because of an injury. Even so, don’t be discouraged.
79 » Know that GRACIE Magazine is the best Jiu-Jitsu magazine in the world, and always make sure your friend at the newsstand sets one aside for you.
80 » Don’t be shocked by the curious expressions you hear in the gym.
81 » Every once in awhile add a “bro” to the end of a sentence, and know that it never went out of style.
82 » Find out what motivates you before a training session and what makes you feel better after a bad day at the gym – be it music, reading or positive thinking.
83 » Develop your own style as a fighter.
84 » Develop your own efficient way of teaching.
85 » Understand that the practitioner gains nothing from a scuffle or street fight, and they do represent a step back in Jiu-Jitsu’s struggle for recognition. As Saulo affirms, “I have never given a black belt to an unscrupulous person, or better yet, that person would never train with me because I couldn’t find it in my heart to teach him.”
86 » Find a means to derive pleasure from the big and little things in Jiu-Jitsu, from warming up to even the bad days in the gym and the defeats.
87 » Learn to render first aid.
88 » Learn to deal with the fear, insecurity and anxiety we all have, some more, some less than others. That is why competition is one of the best environments for us to get to know ourselves, not just as an athlete.
89 » Understand your responsibility as an advanced athlete. “If the guy intends to be a teacher the responsibility is even greater, as you are the example others will mirror. Jiu-Jitsu does not carry only the function of creating good fighters, but men that are capable, dignified and honorable to carry forth Jiu-Jitsu’s flag. That is the greatest responsibility a black belt has,” teaches Robert Drysdale, instructor at Brasa.
90 » Reflect on your mistakes.
91 » After growing from the mistakes, shed them from your shoulders.
92 » See the black belt as the beginning, not the end of the road. “For example, I myself improved my game a great deal after reaching black belt,” recalls Marcelinho Garcia.
93 » At least from brown belt on, start competing without the gi. Grappling is developing as a modality, and you don’t want to be left out.
94 » Innovate with exercises.
95 » Realize as quickly as possible that the gym is not the place to compete, and is the place to practice positions. “Only by hitting and working on your weaknesses will you become a well-rounded fighter. This business of ‘winning a roll’ is silly and limits the student’s game,” Saulo Ribeiro reminds us.
96 » Experiment with breathing techniques, ginástica natural and yoga, to strengthen your performance as an athlete. Although they were scorned in the days of old, these days these resources have been largely accepted by great fighters. Rickson, for example.
97 » Prepare your speech for the ceremony when you receive your black belt.
98 » Write up your own list of 50, 100 or 200 goals you WILL meet before reaching black belt.
99 » Apply the cardinal rule of Jiu-Jitsu to your own life: face challenges in the simplest way possible, as this will certainly be the most efficient.
100 » Put down the magazine and go train!