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Black Belt Or Die Trying

A Journey Through the Jiu Jitsu Ranks

By Carlin HertzPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

I wanted to quit!

After the last injury, broken ribs, I wanted to quit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). The latest damage would have been my third major setback, and mentally I did not want to endure not being able to train. Losing precious time on the mat could cause a deterioration in my skills. I couldn't afford any more training setbacks.

I was excited and filled with pride after being promoted to a blue belt. I worked so hard for the past year and a half to get rid of that God-awful white belt with those hideous tape stripes. I'm kidding. I did not think I would get my blue belt, but it was an honor.

During the ceremonial belt gauntlet, where you are a sheep among wolves, everybody a belt below or above wants a piece of you. The upper belts want to humble you, while the lower belts are out to prove that you do not deserve the promotion.

I think there was a bullseye on my back. Every brown and black belt lined up to roll with me. There was no white belts insight.

After two rolls of being scissor swept and collar choked by two brown belts, I was gassed. Being choked will do that to you. The BJJ Gods were not kind to me because low and behold, waiting to finish me off, the big bald black belt wolf. If you are wondering, he didn't feel sorry for me.

No mercy!

I couldn't think straight, and my limbs were feeble. I was thirsty, dog-tired, and just wanted it to be over. Nevertheless, this black belt had an idea, go knee on belly. The result was that I felt a snap in my midsection and then a sharp burning pain racing through my chest. Next thing, I could not breathe; well, it hurt like hell to breathe. Next, I reached down, touched my midsection, and felt something that was not normal.

The rib bone was sticking out.

At that point, sheer terror set it. My adrenaline skyrocketed through the roof, and I was in fight or flight mode. I lunged at the black belt in anger, which wasn't the best move. He slammed me to the mat with a vicious takedown. I was confused, frustrated and in excruciating pain. Never had I felt pain like that in my life. I thought to myself, is this kind of pain worth the journey of achieving the ultimate goal of getting a black belt?

Before that injury, I was out for three months having shoulder reconstruction surgery. Before that, I suffered a concussion. Not to mention, there were broken fingers, toes, knee, and neck sprains. I was a walking emergency room.

My inner circle thought I was crazy for putting my body through this cruel and unusual punishment. I couldn't help myself. I was addicted to the mat and obsessed with the roll. The thrill of victory and the agony of being choked or joint locked. Tapping out was a rite of passage in the world of BJJ. I knew what I signed up for.

I quickly realized that I was 44 and not getting any younger. That injuries take a lot longer to heal. I had to work, provide for my sons, pay a mortgage, and other bills. Could I afford to miss work for something recreational?

My real-life alter ego instructed me to quit. It told me to let it go, try something else. However, the inner beast inside, that savage animal that got me through depression, being homeless, a divorce, said to keep fighting.

Unfortunately, I succumbed to the alter ego, the one that was based on common sense and being realistic. I quit! For the first time in my life, I mentally checked out.

I convinced myself that Jiu-Jitsu was too hard, too brutal, and wasn't worth the time, money, or the pain anymore. The alter ego tamed the inner beast, and I swayed myself that I can do other forms of simpler martial arts like Tae Kwon Do.

No offense to those that practice Tae Kwon Do as I have the utmost respect for all practitioners of martial arts. However, Tae Kwon Do is nothing like Jiu-Jitsu, and I knew that. Therefore, I quit something that I fell madly in love with and thought the grass was greener on the other side and tried Tae Kwon Do.

When you find true love, it never leaves you. It keeps tugging at your heart. It consumes every waking minute of your life. The Tae Kwon Do gym was next to the Jiu-Jitsu gym, and every time I drove past the Jiu Jitsu gym to go to Tae Kwon Do, I felt that I was cheating on BJJ.

BJJ kept calling my name begging me for another chance, and a few weeks, I ignored BJJ's desperate pleas for a second chance, but then one day, while sparring in Tae Kwon Do, it hit me.

I was bored out of my mind, and that rush of excitement that I felt on the mat rolling with another person was not the same as I tried to block, kick or duck in Tae Kwon Do. My heart belonged on the mat rolling. I missed the half guard, closed guard, side control, and mount. I missed crushing someone's soul. I missed having my soul crushed from so much pressure.

My heart and soul belonged to BJJ.

I have to thank those that I trained with, that would not let me give up. My brothers and sisters told me to keep fighting and that it will pay off in the end. BJJ is a long journey, filled with a lot of bumps, scars, and bruises. They told me they had my back and would always be there for me.

BJJ told me that it wasn't going to be easy. BJJ wouldn't promise that I wouldn't be injured again. However, what BJJ did guarantee me was that if I stayed the course; and keep rolling until the belt turned black, there would be no great feeling in the world than to be handed a black belt.

I have adopted the motto: Black belt or die trying!

I cannot stop rolling. I will not stop rolling. I will never cheat on BJJ again.



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