So, my blogs haven’t always been in any chronological order but I actually had some big news to share, I got graded to my black belt in March of this year. I know, it’s a pretty big checkpoint in anyone’s BJJ journey and I did promise myself I would do it justice with an in-depth post at some stage on the event so here it goes. In March 2019, we had my coach, Hayden Wilson, from Team Groundworx in New Zealand over to Ireland for a seminar and he surprised me with this absolute honour of a grade. Hayden is a 1st degree black belt so technically, he cannot grade me himself but it was presented to me by him but under the blessing of his instructor, 3rd degree black belt Stacey Wilson. It is a great honour to be now ranked this grade. To be fully honest, it was a big surprise, I thought it wouldn’t be until I got back to New Zealand before I would even get considered for it. Hayden dropped the news at the start of the 2nd day of our Ireland training camp, he was making a speech and I can remember thinking “why is he saying all this? We had the opening day yesterday and he made a big speech about himself and BJJ” and then it hit me, he started talking about me and how far I had come along in BJJ, then, as he started talking about how he had been talking a lot with Stacey that I thought “Foly huck” he’s going to grade me. Then I started to over think, “what do I do? Do I take off my belt? Do I make a speech? While I was doing all this internalization of the event unfolding, I realized he had stopped talking and everyone was looking at me. Hayden then pulled a new black belt from behind him! I was super stoked though, no big speech from me after all that, I was a bit dumbfounded to be honest and just smiled, Hayden tied the belt and like that, I was now a BJJ black belt.
I was more than happy, elated would be a better word for it. It took a couple of weeks to really have it kick in, I tried to just play it off like the Fonz would but it really marks a huge step for me in this game. I put a lot of time and hours onto the mats, I have been through some great times but I have also been through some shitty health incidents that very nearly took me off the mats permanently! Once I got to blue belt, it was here that due to medical events out of my control, I was never going to be a world champion, f#ck, I was never going to compete again but I can still train, train other people and use this platform of BJJ to make friends, travel to other countries, events and just make new friends all over. I know that there are other people in the game who can most likely destroy me on the mats in a roll if we are rolling hard but I am not phased by that. I also know when to tap and am very aware there are a lot of high level people from even as low grade as blue belt up to brown and black belt that give me a big run for my money and I am constantly tapping out! I don’t have an ego, I just want to make sure I do the best I could at the time, this is why I prefer training in the morning so I am not tired when rolling lol! As I said, I am very aware of it and I will definitely still roll with them, just I will tap whenever I need to. I have never really been about trying to submit people in a roll, even now when I do it kinda doesn’t feel right. I much prefer to roll for control, get control from the bottom, play a bit of guard, maybe sweep to the top and pass guard to control again. I really worked on my defense so that people would not be submitting me, this is what made it fun to me. People would go as hard as they could to tap me and I would try and work that little bit smarter to stop whatever they were trying! The other thing I liked to do is try and execute whatever it was that we worked on that day on people. This is what appeals most to me in BJJ, rolling in a fun and safe environment but still having the team push the pace and try to “simulate murder” on me. It makes me test my jiu jitsu as well. As I moved up in the grades I understood that it was my role to try and submit people when I rolled, I just never attacked enough. It was at brown belt in New Zealand that I started to attack a lot more but still, I should attack more. I find that especially as a coach, I am more pushing the roll to continue longer and working on control. I now push to submit again but to be brutally honest, I take Beta blockers and blood thinner medication so I can’t roll as hard as I want to! I am here for a long time AND a good time. I am smarter in the way I train, I like to drill, live action and resistance drills and then live rolling. I am fine with tapping out, I don’t care what grade the opponent is!
My wife and I have big plans to travel every year until we can’t travel anymore. Now that I have my black belt, it makes it so much more exciting (and nerve wracking) to roll in all these gyms around the world. I find so many gyms are happy to have everyone that turns up to train roll BUT to get someone that has been around the game long enough to get a black belt, this is a chance for both the gym and the players to get to roll and share their knowledge. It was also a bit scary for me first up as I said earlier, I am not a black belt competitor nor am I a very intimidating sized dude but I know a couple of things about BJJ, I trust what I know!
Regardless of all this, I think that getting to black belt is really a great foot in the door for travelling and training. I just want to travel the world and roll in as many gyms as possible, regardless of the team banner, I just want to learn as much jiu jitsu as I can from as many different people I can so I can then in turn pay it forward and teach people for as long as I can. Jiu jitsu has helped me meet so many interesting and cool people and really, the journey has only just begun! Looking forward to meeting more and more people and writing about the experiences in here…….probably not in any order though!
“When it comes to battle, belts mean nothing! If a blue belt taps a black belt or a purple belt taps a brown belt, so what! Whoever gets tapped, go back to your working ground and work your moves” – Carlos Machado