From Master to White Belt

Master Ricardo, a 4th Degree black belt in Taekwondo, has recently started training in Jiu Jitsu. This past weekend, he competed in his first Jiu Jitsu tournament as a white belt. He took home a silver medal. Here he gives some of his thoughts about training in a new martial art, about the tournament and about competition in general.

Q: Why did you choose to start training in Jiu Jitsu, after more than a quarter century in Taekwondo?

A: Taekwondo focuses very heavily on kicking and punching, and stand up techniques. While we do some throws, we don’t specialize in throwing. And while we do some chokes, we don’t specialize in that either. Some joint manipulation, but that’s not our main thing. So from the martial arts perspective, I wanted to gain a more complete picture of the things that can happen in a fight.

Q: How does it feel to be a white belt again?

A: The problem with that question is that I just love training. I’ve always loved training, and learning about the human body and how it works. At one point as a kid, my mom was pushing very hard for me to become a doctor, because it was clear that’s where my interest was: the body, the anatomy, and what it does. Unfortunately for my mom, I only cared about those things as it related to martial arts.

With that in mind, it feels fine to be a white belt again. What I most enjoy about martial arts training is being a student: to do it, to practice it. That’s the one thing I don’t like as much about being a 4th degree in Taekwondo is that most of my time is spent watching other people do it, and the time for me to do it myself is limited. As a Master, it’s your job to help everyone else learn. So that’s one of the things I like about Jiu Jitsu. As a white belt, it’s exciting to learn something new. I like the challenge. When things are easy, when you can just walk in and figure it all out, I tend to get bored and walk away from it. I need the challenge to keep me engaged.

Q: Why did you decide to do the tournament?

A: As I said, I love to train and I love the challenge. So the easiest way to challenge yourself and to push, while maintaining safety, is at tournament. Sure, I could go start some bar fights or street fights, and tell myself, “Okay, in this fight I’m only going to use Jiu Jitsu.” Of course the old Masters did things like that. Grandmaster Yoon had scars all over from real-life confrontations. But that’s obviously frowned upon nowadays, and clearly sets a poor example especially when you train kids like I do. So, your next best bet is competition tournaments.

So that’s why I wanted to start competing, and why I’ll continue to compete. Plus, it’s fun! When you’re working with your partners in class, and you know their moves and they know yours, and you’re helping them and they’re helping you, that’s good. But it’s only so helpful. Of course I can do the technique when it’s against some who is there to help me. But can I do the technique against someone who doesn’t want to help me, and has no interest in helping me, and is actually trying to do something back to me? It becomes a battle of selfishness. I’m trying to do my thing, he’s trying to do his. It sounds kind of bad, but it’s honest. That’s what you can’t get from just training on the mats. That’s the part that you can never really replicate without competition.

Q: How’d it go? What are you taking away from it?

A: It was a good experience; it was fun. I made a friend and possible training partner. It was very different from my usual training from a size perspective. My first opponent was closer to my own size and strength. My usual training partners are great, talented, great people, but they are so much smaller than me. So it can be hard to tell how much of my success is because I’m getting the techniques down versus just being bigger and stronger. And you don’t want to win just because you’re bigger and stronger, because what happens when someone bigger and stronger than you comes along? So always working with smaller people is not ideal.

But this guy at the tournament was not only my size, but actually a bit bigger. Strengthwise, the jury is still out because he swears I was stronger than him, but he felt stronger than me when we were fighting. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to him, but he also said, “Wow, you just grabbed me, and I’ve never had someone that strong grab me.” So that’s when we started talking about getting together to train. He has the same problem at his gym: all the guys he trains with are much smaller. And that was great! It was awesome to find someone who wants to train, who’s my same size and strength, that I will have to push myself to train with. He was excited about that too.

Now, what I learned? It was okay, I wasn’t happy with how I lost the first match. But that’s just how I’m wired. If I won by one point, I want to win by ten points. And if I won my ten points, I want to win by knockout. I’m never satisfied with just getting the win, so when I lose, it’s that tenfold. And so, what do we do now? Well, we just train more and we try again. Until winning and overcoming the obstacles becomes the norm. And when it does, then you find other ways to challenge yourself. So in that regard, it’s really exciting. I haven’t been beat in a long time.

In talking to my opponents after the fact, one thing I took away and want to share with my students is: Believe in yourself. Believe in your techniques. At one point I got my first opponent in a particular move, and I felt like the move wasn’t working. So I gave up the technique and went to try something else. And later what my opponent told me is that he got worried when I got him in that technique because he knew he was done. His exact words were, “Three more seconds and I would have tapped out.” That just reminds me that I need to believe in my techniques. I had the technique in, I knew I had it, but I let that doubt come into my head. It’s a double-edged sword, because you don’t want to be afraid to try things, but on the other hand you’ve got to be like, “No, I’ve got this move and I’m going to make this move happen.” So that was a good reminder. When you spend all your time teaching, you’re not forced to think in that way or acknowledge the reality of those things.

That would be my advice to my students. Believe in your techniques. Stick to your guns, and continue to push and challenge yourself. And change your attitude! It would be really easy for me to focus on the fact that I lost one match. But we have a saying in competition: You win or you learn. So when you think about it like that, sure, I may have lost against the one guy. But I learned so much. And that made it a good experience. And I probably would not have learned all those things the same if I had just won every match. Attitude is a big part of it. You can sit there and go, “Oh man, I lost,” or you can say, “Okay, what can I do better next time?” And I’m hungry. I want that win. I want the rematch.

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