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I don’t feel worthy of my next belt!

Brown belt

One of the more common reactions I get when I inform a student that I’d like them to begin preparing for their belt promotion is this:

But..I don’t feel like I’m ready!

Look, nobody ever feels worthy of receiving their next belt. I certainly never have. Why? Because everyday on the mat we get tested against skilled opponents that are progressing along with us. Some days you’re the hammer, other days the nail. So if you don’t feel deserving, welcome to the club. No one does. The most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever had stepping onto a mat has been that first day wearing a new belt.

But that discomfort is a good thing because having to represent a new belt will always push you to step up your game. If you’ve been at your belt level for any length of time you will start to feel very comfortable there. In fact, you might even feel complacent—a lack of urgency to improve your game. “Hey, I got tapped today… but that’s OK because I’m just a _____ belt”.

Nothing will recalibrate complacency like a new belt and the target on your back that comes with it. People will want to test you. If you are a new blue belt, I guarantee the white belts training along side you will come at you harder. All of a sudden you will be someone’s measuring stick in a way you weren’t before. A huge part of advancing your game is responding to the increased pressure.

And in our system, since you have to demonstrate a fairly large technical repertoire along with proficient live execution to earn a belt, it means you have to put in extra time drilling and honing, shoring up weak spots, and rounding out your game. It’s my conviction that that process is an important part of getting to the next level.

Also keep in mind that your instructor is able to see your game in a way that you can not, so if they believe you are ready then you are ready. Maybe they see the quality of your execution, or the depth that you are starting to understand certain concepts or positions, or how you respond to pressure, or the fact that when they show a technique you exhibit the maturity to see other possibilities. I guarantee they are observing you every day that you train.

And when you roll with your instructor they are feeling your game. In fact, they are likely putting you into specific situations to test you. Maybe they pressure you in certain ways to see if you respond correctly, or they allow themselves to be vulnerable to see if you recognize a pathway toward a finish, or maybe they even have to step up their game in a way they didn’t have to in the past because of your improvement. Without realizing it, you might be a catalyst to their continued improvement. So I guarantee there’s more going on than you realize.

The bottom line is this: Trust your instructor. If they think you deserve the next belt then you deserve the next belt. Accept that fact, as uncomfortable as it may be, because it will undoubtedly be an important part of your continued growth.

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