Friday, January 21, 2011

Getting Stripes

Recently, a few of my white belt friends at the school have been asking me about stripes. When should they be getting stripes? What do I think they need to work on to get stripes? How long did it take me to get stripes?

Before I go what I think about this, let me explain how things are at Fabio's school.
Fabio does stripes a little differently than I have heard it done at other schools. For one thing, he only gives out three stripes in between belts instead of four. So, if you are a white belt and you have three stripes, your next promotion will be to blue belt.

If you do get a fourth stripe, it means there is a problem, whether it be pride or some kind of technical block or something. Only three people at my school have gotten a fourth stripe that I know of.

Another difference is that Fabio gives stripes--and belts for that matter--randomly. There is no set curriculum to achieve a belt that I know of--though I am sure Fabio has the criteria in his head--nor are there belt tests. Sometimes, at the end of class, he will call someone up and give them a stripe. Sometimes he'll call a few people up and give them stripes. You never know.

When someone is going to get a new belt, there is no test, as I said. Fabio only tells that person to order their belt and that sometime in the near future--could be a week, could be six months--they will be promoted to that belt. He also sometimes tells them there are a few things they need to work on before they get the belt. Then, whenever Fabio decides they are ready, Fabio holds a belt promotion and they get their belt.

The reason why Fabio does it this way, as far as my understanding goes, is because he doesn't want his students focused on the belt. He wants us to focus on learning.

But it is inevitable that people will wonder when they should be getting a stripe. I have worried about it every now and then.

Here is why I have decided it doesn't matter and why I am glad that Fabio does things the way he does them.

1. The obvious reason: It's not about the belt-- "In Okinawa, no need belt! Use rope, hold up pants!" -Mr. Miyagi. Gotta' love the Karate Kid. The sentiment is true, despite the 80's hair. The belt is a sign of progress, yes, but it should not be the goal. The goal should be to learn BJJ and to be able to use the techniques and move correctly in a live grapple. If you focus only on trying to learn techniques so you can earn a stripe or a belt, you are missing the point. And you will probably slow your progress as well.

2. Less Showing Off. Because Fabio gives stripes randomly and does not tell people exactly what he is looking for, people don't have as much incentive to do things for show. They focus on learning and trying to get better in general instead of trying to prove that they know a certain sweep or submission.

3. Less Direction. I felt like this one was not a good thing at first. How am I supposed to know if I am improving if I don't know what I am working for? How do I know I am doing well? It has only been in the last few months that I have realized why this is a good thing.

For starters, it makes me think about BJJ as a whole instead of as a set of techniques. I am learning a lot of techniques and movements, but there is no set order. So, I am developing a style natural to my body and my set of strengths (and weaknesses), not just developing things that I think I need to know in order to advance.

Also--and this is the biggest one for me--it has helped me to get over my intense need for constant approval from Fabio. Of course I still want him to approve of me. That's not want I mean. But when I started, I was consumed with worry about whether or not I was "doing well" or "sucking".

As I said, it has only been in the last several months that I have started to get past that frame of mind and realize that I am not there to try to prove anything to anyone. I am not there to sky-rocket to the top of the class as fast as I can. I am there to learn BJJ. And I will learn more and more over the next years and hopefully I will never stop learning.

All of the sudden, I'm not paranoid about it anymore. I know I am doing the best that I can and I am confident in what I have learned so far. Amazingly, that is enough for me now. Considering what a perfectionist I am, I am surprised that I feel this way now.

I think a good part of the reason for that is that I have been forced to let go of all the markers of "progress". Now I can't focus on progress. I just have to focus on BJJ.

But for my friends who are wondering, what I tell them is what Fabio has told me. Don't worry about stripes or belts. You're doing fine. Just keep grappling.


slideyfoot said...

Thanks for sharing that: it's always interesting to hear how other academies structure their ranking process. As I've probably said on here before, at the Roger Gracie Academy, stripes appear to be purely time based.

I'm guessing that's because it is a huge school (easily one of the biggest in Europe, if not the world), so that helps the instructor keep track of how long everyone has been there. It also determines which classes you can attend (at the HQ, at least: most of the affiliates are nowhere near as big), as HQ splits classes into beginner, intermediate and advanced.

That also means that I don't pay any attention to stripes beyond a handy way of dividing up my spreadsheet.

My aim is to get to the point where I can look at my belt in the same way (though that of course is given out based on the instructor's judgement of your skill, not time, so harder to forget), but I haven't yet managed to completely ignore the colour around my waist. Hopefully one day. :) said...

“…it has helped me to get over my need intense for constant approval…”

Oh my gosh Allie. I'm convinced we suffer from all of the same issues. I have got to meet you at an upcoming tournament.

Marcelo does belts in a similar manner, but he doesn’t give stripes to the adults –only the kids.

Rick said...

We do promotions similarly, but there are two planned promotion ceremonies per year. But our Professors give out belt/stripe promotions outside of the two planned events (randomly) as warranted. No checklist, tests, or other criteria. The Professors just have to agree that it's time. Professor gave me my second White Belt stripe while on my back with a training partner my closed guard. Just walked up and put it on my belt. He gave me my third and fourth stripes after class one day. Just asked for my belt while chaining. Got my Blue a couple months later at the annual christmas promotion.

Jiujitsunista said...

G-Stamp - That is so funny! Striped while grappling!

Georgette said...

We do 4 stripes per belt from blue through brown (none at all for whites.) Like you, stripes and belts come without advance warning most of the time and can come at any time-- however, we get promoted with cheapie karate belts, and are encouraged though not required to buy a real BJJ belt (online or wherever) after the promotion.

Theoretically, we're told that a stripe roughly equates to around 100 hours on the mat. That's a very loose guideline though.

And I have total "daddy issues" with needing approval especially from higher belts (though I usually think they're just saying it to be nice) and *especially* from one or two of our blackbelts whom I really respect...

A.D. McClish said...

@Slidey: It is really interesting to me to hear about how people do things at other schools. Seeing as mine is the only one I have ever attended, it really fascinates me.

@Jenn: Heck yes we have to meet up!! Will you be at NAGA in Feb?

@G-Stamp: lol at the stripe during grappling!!

A.D. McClish said...

@Georgette: haha, yeah it has taken me a while to get over the insane desire to want to perform for Fabio and all of my teammates. Trying to remember that I am doing this for my benefit and pleasure, not to try to be perfect in everyone else's eyes.

Also, I didn't know about the Stripes/Hours ratio thing. To be honest, I have no clue what Fabio's striping criteria is. lol

leslie said...

Ha, "daddy issues." Oh, yes. I have them, too. Mostly with my instructor, but also with the other higher-ranking guys. I always feel like I somehow have to earn their approval every roll, every day. And I really don't, do I? Thanks for articulating that. :)

No stripes here or set testing. My instructor will randomly whip you himself during a roll, using your new belt. The only one I've seen not like that was Justin's black belt promotion. That warranted a speech and little ceremony, though it was spontaneously in the middle of one class. :P

Junior Familia said...

Fabio sounds great! Lets you know what you need to do to get where you want to go.
Keeps you guessing.
Sounds like the way my instructor does things, except he does not do stripes.

Liam H Wandi said...

If the result of a system aimed at diverting your attention away from belts or stripes is that it becomes inevitable that people think about belts and stripes then the system has in essence failed :)

It's like when you first learn to ride a bike and your mom, dad or whoever says "don't look at the wall, don't go towards the wall!!" what do you do? You go towards the wall :)

The way I see belts is as a tool for the instructor and nothing to do with the students. I teach my brother privates every friday. He's my only student in that hour and therefore I have no need to see a belt around his waist.

However, when faced with a group of 20 students, the belts help soooo much when teaching, correcting or even general talking about techniques. It is the professional obligation of the instructor to tailor what she is teaching to the ability of student.

If someone said to me how to improve this or do that I say to:

1. (white belt) put your right hand here and your left foot there, move your hips here apply your weight in this direction and it should be easier to achieve

2. (blue belt) you've got your arms, legs and hips in the right place you just need to start the move earlier (work on timing and flow from one move to the other)

3. (purple) they know what you are doing. You need to go the opposite direction first (faint) and once they commit then you go back to it.

4. (brown) why you asking me? I have no compassion for you bro coz you is betta!

Belts at the Labs are more about where you are in your journey and what you should be focusing on (white for learning techniques, blue for flowing between them, purple for details and efficiency, brown for becoming all-rounded).

Megan said...

You've got me wondering if there's any way to take students' focus off belts...other than not having belts at all that is.

Liam H Wandi said...

Hmm. I say let them focus on the belts, but just re-define what they mean and remind that they are teaching tools and not measurements of value said...

@ Allie, I'm still not sure about NAGA, I'm doing Grappler's Quest on the 5th though.

@ Part time - your analysis seems right on. As a blue belt I still think too much between moves causing hesitations and slow flowing moves. I am starting to feel that this is improving, but it's been a long haul.