You’ll Never Know Just How Close You Were If You Quit 4


downloadI am no stranger to the discouragement, frustration and crushing blow to your self-esteem it is to watch your efforts go unnoticed time and time again. I’ve wanted to quit  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu more times than I can count. I cried rivers of tears. My heart would race with anticipation during promotions and sink a little more each time I realized my name was not gonna get called. But had I given up I never would have known how close I was.

Up until last July, I spent the previous six years with the same raggedy purple belt tied around my waist. It has gotten to the point of embarrassment when people would point out I had been a purple belt for over half a decade. Not to mention over half of my BJJ journey spent with the same belt. There were lots of valleys and lots of mountains during those six years. What I ended up learning during that period was invaluable and I didn’t need a belt to validate that growth.

Recently we got a message asking as a white belt how do you keep going on when you see people getting promoted that you can beat. This prompted my idea to write this blog and share my take on it all and hopefully this helps those in the same situation; cause I know I’m not alone.

11033624_10152750875307263_139543073749726588_nMy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu  journey began 12 years ago. I had no dreams or ambitions other than to get in shape. I had no intentions of becoming a world champion competitor, but once I got a taste of it all I wanted was to be the best I could possibly be. I put my whole heart into it and dove in head first. I structured my entire life around my training regimen. I trained two to three times a day, did conditioning and strength training. I sacrificed my personal life be the best competitor I could be. My efforts were finally starting to pay off as I won the 2009 pan American championships and placed second in the world. I continually placed and every mayor tournament I entered until 2011. Then I injured my knee and that put an end to that dream. I spent the next few years sidelined unable to train at all.

Not being able to train at all is like having your identity stolen. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Giving up your dreams is an even harder pill to swallow. Knowing I probably will never feel the rush of competition again still makes my heart hurt. Despite my best efforts I will never be legendary competitor. The chances that I ever had to reach that potential have past.

There has definitely been points where I thought I was not getting promoted because I sucked. That I should just quit and stop trying to achieve the unattainable. I was never gonna improve. I was unteachable. I waged many a wars with the self doubt demons, but I never let them win.


When I finally was awarded my brown belt I was of mixed emotions. First shock. “No,that can’t be my name they are calling.” I’d long ago given up on the hope I’d ever hear my name called. My shock was followed by denial. I didn’t want to give up my purple belt. No matter how many times I wanted to throw it in the trash and quit she was my friend. We’ve been through it all. Finally was acceptance. I experienced sheer happiness and bliss. At last, my day had come. I had earned it. And so a new chapter began.

The bottom line is that everything happened just the way it was supposed to. No two people journeys are exactly the same. My generation has long ago been awarded their black belts as well is a generation behind ours and the generation behind that. Not to say that I don’t sometimes feel like I got left behind, but my journey is just different.

10868298_10152561212967263_8526549989809303103_nDuring my journey I got to compete with some of today’s top level multiple time world champion black belts as they rose through the ranks. I’ve learned lessons that have changed me. I found myself, I learned to never give up on myself and I learned what I am capable of. I found my passion, purpose and started my legacy with Girls in Gis. I’ve met so many inspiring people that have touched my heart. I wouldn’t  give up my experience for the world.

The best advice I can give anyone is that this is not about collecting belts or metals. There is no finish line or prize if you get there first.  It’s all about the journey and what you get from BJJ. Just like in every aspect of life we cannot compare ourselves to others. You are uniquely amazing and no one is like you. There will be lots of hard times, but there will also be times when you’re on top of the world. The most important thing you must remember is to just keep on rolling. Don’t give up cause one day you will see a black belt around your waist and you will know that you have earned it. But the experience of how you got there will be worth more than anything.

1450257_10151760933162263_776025995_nShama Ko

Girls in Gis staff writer

Shama Ko is a brown belt with Gracie Humaita out of Austin, TX.  She has been a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner since November of 2003.  She is a photographer, writer, community organizer and activist. She heads the Girls in Gis organization or as she calls it the “movement”. She describes herself as both a lover and a fighter. She loves to laugh and not take life too seriously.


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4 thoughts on “You’ll Never Know Just How Close You Were If You Quit

  • Heather

    this was … the most inspiring thing to read. i’m a white belt and i’ve been practicing jits for 9 months now. today, i met our black belt professor, jason vigil of island jiu jitsu in hawaii, as he flew up for the week to michigan for a seminar and a flurry of private lessons.

    i am not expecting a single stripe. there are many more WB’s in our class who deserve that, and our academy doles out stripes a little differently than most. i as well began BJJ for fitness reasons and a new way to get in shape and get out of the house (i am a freelance writer from home), 2 months after my husband began for self defense reasons given his line of work. i met the group at a holiday party this past year and they were instantly welcoming and urging me to join. it was the hardest “first month” of my life. just recently i had my second hardest month of what i’m sure will be many more to come on this journey, because i fell back into drinking. “oh this won’t hurt my game or training,” i thought.. but it did. i’ve been 17 days clean of that, completely overhauled my diet, and last monday i made it through warmups and the entire class and a couple rolls afterward, which i’d been struggling with the month prior.

    i’m rambling, i know; it’s late and my body is on ice and wore out from a 2 hour open mat and 1 hour private lesson! today was so inspiring, to meet the professor who oversees our coaches in person, to learn things.. little things, even, that became vital puzzle pieces to areas i’ve been stuck in. to realize that i have something to work on, to improve my body and my mind, that alcohol will only screw up if i go near it again. then i come home and i see this post and i read it and i can’t stop smiling. you’re an inspiration, and thank you for sharing your story. sorry for torturing you with mine!

  • Julie K.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey in Brazilian Jiujitsu. I find that I share some of your experiences. I started training in BJJ in 1999 at the age of 42. I was already ranked at 2nd degree black belt in kenpo from an all women’s kenpo school where I had trained and taught for 15 years. I began training in BJJ in order to become a more well rounded martial artist and continue to train for the love of the art of Brazilian Jiujitsu. I’ve never trained for rank but, I too, have often felt ignored. I was held at 3 stripe blue belt for 4 years and was a purple belt for 6 years. Now, at the age of 59, after 16 years, I am ranked at 1 stripe brown belt. I am certainly not a phenomenon at this art, I really struggle with opponents who are stronger and heavier than myself but I do have good technical skill. My instructors were always very supportive but, when I first started training, there was a group of guys who tried to beat me out of the school. After one brutal sparring session I drove home in tears promising myself that I would out last every one of those guys and that I would continue training at this school until I had created a less hostile, more welcoming environment for for my sisters coming up behind me. I do continue to train while those men, who gave me such a hard time, have dropped out and though women still make up a much smaller portion of the students here, the women who come through the door are welcomed and treated with respect.
    Thanks again for sharing, Julie