Bridging the Gap

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Blue to Purple: An Ageing Grappler’s Perspective

Bridging the Gap

Blue to Purple: An Ageing Grappler’s Perspective

Location: Katikati, New Zealand

Photo by: Shei

Photo description: 3rd degree black belt MITCH MCELROY demonstrating techniques with Trent J at UCF

As I wrote in my previous article, I am currently preparing for my blue belt exam, which will be the culmination of my 2 ½ years as a white belt. This humbling, but positive experience has revealed many gaps in my knowledge, including even the most basic aspects of BJJ, and provided me with a framework to start filling those gaps. I have also been looking forward; trying to think constructively about the next stages of development in my BJJ.

The distance between a no-stripe white belt and a new blue belt seemed pretty large when I first began. And now, at least to me, the distance between a new blue belt and a purple belt seems much greater. The level of proficiency and the depth of knowledge that I have seen from the purple belts I have been fortunate to roll with, feels much farther away from me right now than blue belts did when I began.

It is evident to me that my technical game must improve greatly. I see no way to muscle my way from blue to purple belt! As an aging grappler, (56 on my next birthday!), this presents a problem.

I have discovered some real physical limitations as I have worked my way through my development as a white belt. If I go too hard too often, my body lets me know, mostly in the form of very sore shoulders that are fully capable of waking me from a sound sleep. If I continue to train like a white belt version of myself, it will be very difficult to train enough to move through the blue belt stage of my development within a reasonable length of time.

Something needs to change.

I have made a couple of decisions about my BJJ. Firstly, is a choice to emphasize developing my game in the gi. I feel like the gi side of the sport is a bit more suited to my slower, more control-orientated style of play, and the simpler leg game is very attractive too. Secondly, I have to place a greater emphasis on strength and fitness training outside of BJJ class. I intend to add some sessions at the climbing gym as a new cross-training feature and return to a moderate amount of powerlifting.

But I do not think that this is enough to develop the technical skills that I see in the purple belts around me. Thus, It is clear that the only way to bridge this technical gap is to do more BJJ classes. I have to change the way I use the learning opportunities that my school offers me each week. I will also have to be choosy about the days that I go hard and be humble enough to go easier, not sparring hard at the end of certain classes. And I am going to have to develop the skill of flow rolling, as opposed to the white belt method of treating every roll like a desperate deathmatch.

Now, all of this is likely completely obvious to many, if not all, who are reading this. But it took me quite a while to accept that I am an old dude who simply cannot train like the brilliant young athletes that I roll with, and occasionally meet in competition. Just as preparing for my blue belt test has revealed many gaps in my BJJ game, thinking about moving through the blue belt stage has forced me to develop a more thoughtful and nuanced approach to my future work in this sport.

Anyone who has been involved in BJJ for a bit of time will recognize that the sport teaches us a lot about ourselves and about life beyond the mats. My progress in BJJ provides me with clues to better understand my stage of life and strategies to make progress elsewhere.

Relax. Go easy sometimes. Be more thoughtful about how you use the limited resources available to you. Play smarter, not just harder. Keep having fun.

See you on the mats.



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