The Black Belt Mindset

During my recent trip to Brazil I had the opportunity to go to a Jiu Jitsu tournament. A friend of mine (black belt!) was competing in the 80 kilo weight class and invited me to join. Opportunity I couldn’t pass up! 

It was an awesome event  because it wasn’t just one fight – at any moment there were about 6-7 separate fights going on, all of varying ages, weight classes, and belt colors.

The most fascinating part? The speed of the fights, and how that correlated to belt class.

When I watched a fight between two white belts, it was very quick. Fast movements. Jolty. Reaction driven. There were a lot of changes in pace, transitions, attempts and escapes.

As the fights moved up in belt color however, you could see the fight begin to slow down. Begin to get more technical. Cleaner. Less sloppy.

You could see that the blue and purple belt fights were slower. Methodical. People looked more patient, like they were waiting for their opportunities, baiting and setting up.

And then we got to the black belt fights.

These were like watching a chess match. They were slow. Every movement was calculated. Patient. Waiting for the other person to make a mistake, breathe wrong, have a finger placed in the wrong spot…and then like a tiger they would pounce.

Everything was waiting and timing. Everything was slow. Planned. It was like watching chess, you could see the fighters calculating their next three moves at once.

Even the submissions – Instead of going immediately in for the kill they would do it in micro movements. They would go slowly. Click, click, click, click, click….pop. Done. It was like watching an anaconda slowly choke the life out of its prey.

Black belts operate in micro-movements. For example, to a white belt, in order to land a choke there are three separate movements – grab the wrist>pull>choke – whereas the black belt is is aware of where each finger is placed in their grip, knows the right angle to pull at, and the exact pressure to place on the person, while simultaneously protecting for defense. To them it’s 100 micro movements instead of the three basic ones.

There’s a lot that we can learn from this slow, deliberate, calculated process. The patience and discipline required. The attention to detail. This is what I call the “Black Belt Mindset”

The Black Belt Mindset

White belts are impulsive. They want to make change right now. They do things without thinking them through. They are impatient and can’t deal with delayed gratification. Everything is now, now, now. And if it’s not here in the now, it causes anxiety and frustration.

The black belts on the other hand are deliberate. Methodical. They are patient and know that slow, consistent, habits will get them to where they need to get to. They think through life like chess, mapping their next three to five moves and predicting what they believe will happen as a result.

A black belt takes about 25 years to obtain (if you’re fast). They know the end game. How to work at something consistently for a sustained period of time. How to stay in for the length of the journey.

I believe that these are the habits that most of us struggle with. I know I do.

I know what I need to do, but it’s the sustained consistent practice over an extended period of time. The consistency. The constant progression, step by step, piece by piece.

I also get frustrated when I don’t see the results I want right now. I could be more patient and see the end game I am working to. I can know the path I am working on and simply say “I don’t care how long it takes to get there, I will move up belt by belt.”

We can learn a lot from the black belts of life. We can learn from their patience. Their consistency. Their strong determination.

The black belt mindset is like the quote “If you need to chop down a tree in an hour spend the first 50 minutes sharpening the axe.”

The black belt knows to slow down if you want to speed up. Every move that they make is calculated, refined, practiced. Deliberate. Methodical. Planned.

When they need to improvise, they have the instincts developed to make the right decisions. They are prepared even when the unexpected happens, and unflustered by it. They have practiced being surprised. 

The black belt mindset can teach us to plan. To think things through. To be patient.

If you want to go somewhere in life, the single biggest factor is consistency – doing the same things every day aiming for incremental progress over an extended period of time. This is what we can learn from black belts.

We’re all on the journey from belt to belt, whether we like it or not. We can choose to remain at the lower ranks, or work on the skills we need to elevate to the next level. We can use examples of success around us to replicate success in our own lives.

Embody the black belt mindset to live the life of a jiu jitsu mastermind.


Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “The Black Belt Mindset

  1. You only partly got it right. The black belt mindset can teach us to be patient, but planning ahead and thinking things through in a dynamic set, where current situation changes every millisecond, will get you nowhere. You should have written more about being swift, flexible, and in full control, all of which come with great dedication and practice.

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