I Earned My Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What Does it All Mean?

Master Marcio (R) and his daughter Professor Deborah Gracie (L) and, well, that’s me in the middle.

Master Marcio (R) and his daughter Professor Deborah Gracie (L) and, well, that’s me in the middle.

Today, I’m officially a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I woefully underestimated how important such a simple item like a belt would feel to me. I know it’s not the most important thing in life, but several years ago I set out to join a local community of people with the intent of representing Christ to them as a Pastor of our local church. My goal is simple: present Christ by word and by example, and shatter the Northeast stigma that conservative Christians generally and Baptists specifically are lunatics and/or blind, unintelligent followers.

The Lord has blessed that endeavor immensely. However, my purpose was multi-faceted. At the same time, I figured I would take advantage of learning a new skill and getting in better shape too. Similarly with the goals mentioned in the first paragraph, these goals don’t have an end date. They are ongoing. I’ve lost over forty pounds and I plan to continue. I’ve also developed some new skills but I’m not yet a master. Part of this process though, is achieving milestones in the form of belt ranks along the way.

Blue Belt is only the second belt, but in many ways the most important. It’s taken two and a half years to earn it and it’s the first belt where you’re no longer considered a beginner. It conveys no skill on its own, but it does signify a few hundred hours of work. The amount of sheer skill in that room is overwhelming. It makes you feel you don’t deserve the belt. That’s probably healthy. I know that more is expected out of me as a new Blue Belt, but it also is satisfying to have it. It’s strange.

Master Marcio tying on my Blue Belt.

Master Marcio tying on my Blue Belt.

Master Marcio threw me using an Osoto Gari sweep. I managed to nail the breakfall, thankfully.

Master Marcio threw me using an Osoto Gari sweep. I managed to nail the breakfall, thankfully.

When you receive a belt promotion at our school, you’re called up, the instructor ties on your new belt, then each instructor proceeds to throw you to ground using some kind of throw or take-down. Your job is to safely “breakfall”. It’s kind of like an initiation.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ, is a grappling art. It’s not some mystical Asian martial art with “Chi” and all that nonsense. It’s not flourish-y really. It just works. It’s earthy. It’s real.

Statistically, most fights end up on ground. This fact is what helped BJJ take off as a self-defense method and sport. The Gracie family did not invent Jiu-Jitsu, but first demonstrated it when they came to the U.S. and marketed their own Brazilian style of it by challenging experts from other marital arts to actual fights in their own schools. Just search Youtube for “Gracie Challenge” or “Gracie in Action” and you’ll see many of them. It’s fascinating to see experts in Karate, Kung-Fu, Hapkido, and more all reduced to helpless victims once taken to the ground. These videos were used as actual infomercials by the Gracie’s. These challenges eventually inspired the birth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC.

BJJ focuses a lot on joint locks and chokes. From a self-defense standpoint joint locks are lower priority than chokes. It doesn’t matter if an attacker is a drug-addled hulk who doesn’t feel pain. If he has no blood flowing to his brain, you get to walk away. The chokes do not cut off air, but rather blood flow through the Carotid arteries. Literally, someone can still breath while being rendered unconscious. They often don’t know what’s happening until they’re waking up.

The joint locks can be used to cause life-altering destruction to someone’s limbs. Things like Knee-bars, Arm-bars, Heel-hooks, Oma Plata’s, and Kimura’s can all cause significant injury- things you will recover from eventually but will probably never be the same again. Things like full rotator cuff tears (from shoulder locks), disruption if muscle insertions (from bicep/calf slicers), and Maisonneuve injuries to the lower leg (from heel hooks) are not minor injuries.

What I like about it is that it’s very practical. We’ve all seen these Youtube “martial artists” teaching things they’ve either learned from Hollywood or just made up that are in no way realistic. Just looking at their technique you think, “that would never work in real life.” BJJ actually works practically. Obviously nothing is one-hundred percent effective, but its extremely high percentage effectiveness over other marital arts has led to it being coined “the King of Martial Arts”.

My BJJ school is under Master Marcio and owned and operated by head instructor Charlie McShane. Marcio is one of “the Famous Five” black belts under Rolls Gracie. He is responsible for bringing the now famous Triangle choke to the fore in modern BJJ. He is also the founder of Gracie Sports USA and Team Macarra BJJ under which I train. Marcio is a great instructor, is definitely a hugger, and is as Brazilian as they come. He’s super fun to be around.

Marcio married into the Gracie family. Marcio’s son Nieman Gracie is a revered, professional MMA fighter in the welterweight division of Bellator MMA. Marcio’s daughter Deborah Gracie Stambowsky is the second female in the Gracie family to achieve the rank of black belt.

The old belt and the new belt felt like progress.

The old belt and the new belt felt like progress.

Interestingly, one of the things about ministry is that the reward for it doesn’t come in this life. There are really no “attaboy’s” or the proverbial pats on the back. One has to get used to that. Real progress in ministry is on a spiritual level, not a numerical one which makes it really difficult to see, in some cases impossible. If you’re a goal oriented person, ministry might frustrate you for this reason. While two plus two equals four in the material world, a spiritual leader who does something plus something else does not always get the same result in his ministry. Sometimes he sees no result at all.

I suppose this may be part of what is so satisfying about learning something like BJJ. It adds an aspect to my life in which there are milestones and where progress is more visible. I suppose that and many other reasons are why I think I’ll continue training as long as the Lord gives me the ability.