The Growing Pains of a BJJ Purple Belt



Now it’s not like I thought it was going to be super easy making the jump from blue to purple but I had been a blue belt for a long time and had started to find success competing, especially here in Rio. So I guess I did assume that I would dive straight and be competing for medals. Well that simply has not happened, in fact thus far it has been a humbling experience.

My first competition at purple belt began with quite possibly the most harrowing experience since arriving in Rio. On the way there, we walked through a park and my homegirl Nico used this opportunity to tell our homie Caranguejo information of a sensitive nature that probably should have been saved for a later date. As he began to passionately go off about said news in the way that only Brasilerios can, I noticed at the side of the park, sat up against a wall were a group of about 20-25 street kids huddled up together. The sight of some of them visibly sniffing from glue bottles set off serious alarm bells in my swede. At the same time as I clocked them, they clocked us and a group of them began to stand and advance on us. This moment was super scary, I was positive I was about to be relieved of my IPhone and was well aware these desperate little guys wouldn’t give a second thought about shanking me. I’m thinking, if I get robbed off a group of children albeit large, fiendish, armed and dangerous yet still very much children I will face terrorisation from my closest friends everyday for the rest of my life. Fortunately they changed their mind and sat back down, I guessing it was due to the large, angry yet completely oblivious Brazilian dude we had with us. In hindsight when fear was taken out of the situation this really was one of the saddest and most despairing sights I have ever seen in real life. This was the next level of poverty that I have not witnessed before in Rio, people here in the favela have very little but these little guys literally had nothing, well nothing but each other.

The comp itself went completely the opposite way to what I had hoped for. In my first and only fight, the dude pulled guard and swept me immediately. I searched desperately to enter deep half but the dude knew exactly what I wanted and spent the next 5 minutes preventing me from doing it. He cross-faced the hell out of me the entire time and won the match 2-0. In my quest to get to my favoured position I had ignored everything else and consequently lost as a result.

This defeat didn’t make me think too deeply about my own game, I just figured it had been my first comp at purple and it had been relatively close and I hadn’t been outclassed. So I went into the second one with exactly same mindset. This time things went  a lot worse. In my first and again singular match, I was blast doubled, had my guard passed immediately and kimuraed in just over a minute. The thing only lasted that long as I  couldn’t bear the thought of being submitted in under a minute! This defeat was without doubt the biggest beat-down I have ever experienced comp-wise which made it rather painstaking and sucked full on ass. I was able to put this defeat was put into perspective after watching a blind dude step on the mats and compete. This dude was an animal, he went out there and smashed a fellow purple belt with a super quick triangle causing the crowd who were entirely focused on this match to lose the plot. I didn’t stick around until the end but homeboy made it into the final on some full on beast mode business.




After that set back I had three weeks before Rio Open which besides the Brazilian Nationals is the most prestigious competition here in Brazil. I trained super hard and had begun to think about changing my comp style, working on takedowns so I wasn’t so reliant on the guard pull. But essentially I was still in the gym playing the same game I had since the start of blue belt. For this comp, I had the privilege of being cornered by Terere himself. This truly was a privilege but also added hella pressure, no one wants to perform badly in front of someone they look up to. I would say I was more nervous for this than any comp since my first here in Brazil. In my first match, I really did switch the game up, the other dude pulled guard, I opened it and jumped on the foot-lock which didn’t work so I came back up again. After some seriously hard-work as dude’s lapel guard was like a 1001 piece jigsaw puzzle, I managed to pass and this was enough to get me the victory 3-0. Not only was this my first win at purple, it was probably the first match ever that I had not played guard once.

The second fight I resorted to the usual business, I pulled and went straight into deep half, I swept pretty quickly, we were close to the edge of the mats so the ref stopped us after I had completed the sweep. I assumed he did this to bring us back into the middle of the mats, but he stood us back up and gave me the advantage rather than the points. Rather than be angry that I had been seemingly gringoed. I assumed I would be able to do exactly the same thing again as it hadn’t been too difficult in the first place. You don’t get a purple belt for being a dumb-ass so when I pulled and went to deep half again, he spent the next 3 minutes just shutting me down like his life depended on it picking up 2 advantages along the way. At the end I knew I had to do something as I was down an advantage so I opened my guard and was passed. I had played my game and it had failed me again.

Like all good alcoholics it came time to admit that I had a problem and figured this was the right moment to ask for some private lessons from Mestre Terere. He began them by sitting me down and basically explaining why my Jiu-Jitsu sucked ass. He told me that I rely too heavily on deep half and look for it constantly which means I ignore what is front of me. He went on further to say, rather than taking the easier option, I am trying to make things more complicated for myself, funnily enough this is exactly what Mrs Holland told me in year 4 as well. He explained, while my deep half was good, it should be my last line of defence, when my opponent has closed all the space that is when I should enter deep half and sweep. He informed me, it is not enough to have one method of guard, you need to play guard which means everything, so whatever your opponent presents to you, you will have an answer for it. When I explained to him that I just didn’t see all these different options he replied that it wasn’t about seeing them, it was about feeling them. While I realised  that this was a crucial piece of advice, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I most definitely don’t feel them either. It is super sweet to be a purple belt, I know a shit load of techniques but now I need to work on feeling when, where and how they fit together. More grinding, more drilling, more hours dying on the mats but that’s the deliciousness of Jiu-Jitsu right!




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