The Pressure of Promotion 7

Recently, I received my fourth stripe for my white belt. Immediately after earning the stripe, I thought—oh my gosh, blue belt is next. Like anyone else, I would love to earn my blue belt, but I am also afraid of it. What if I’m not good enough? What if I get tapped out by a white belt as a blue belt? Will my teammates think I’m not good enough for it? Will I be the first person to be demoted (even though this never would happen. I even feel the pressure with four stripes on my white belt, as if all of a sudden I am supposed to have it all together.

My open guard is easy to pass. My arm bars are rarely effective. I am insecure not just in rolling, but even in warm up drills. I can’t do a pretty shoulder roll yet. I am really slow doing gorilla hops. I am not flexible enough yet. All of these worries rush through my head with each promotion. So, what am I going to do about it?

First, I need to trust my professor. He has been teaching for many years, and he knows what level I need to be at for a promotion. He will certainly not just give it to me. Second, my only job right now is to keep showing up. I need to focus on getting the mat time, and using each class to get better. The promotions will come if I keep working at it. Finally, I need to realize that most people are only focusing on themselves, and not spending every moment wondering if I am up to the belt/stripe level. They are probably wondering the same about themselves. And if a  lower rank passes my open guard, awesome for them! We are both learning as we roll. Hopefully my teammate will get a confidence boost, and I will learn how I can prevent a similar pass in the future. This isn’t a race, and everyone is on their individual journey.

I am going to try on focusing on just showing up. I am going to set my alarm clock for 0430 (I can only make those painful early morning classes right now). I am going to drive the 10 minutes to class, put on my Gi, and get going. I am going to step on the mat and focus. I am going to use each drill and each roll as a learning experience. I am going to have fun, for goodness sake. One day, I will be called up by my professor, and I will have earned my blue belt. When I put that belt on, I will need to remember what it took to get there—hard work, dozens of rounds of being submitted, bruises, dripping sweat and sore muscles. When you earn your next belt, remember—You aren’t given that belt. You have earned it. You are worthy.

About the Author:

Darisse Smith

Guest Writer

Darisse Smith is a four stripe white belt and trains at Aloisio Silva Academy in Yucaipa, California. She is married with a 6 year old son who also trains in Jiu Jitsu. Darisse spent 7 years in the U.S. Army as a reconnaissance and attack helicopter pilot. She is a full-time student at UC-Irvine, earning her 2nd Bachelor’s Degree in Literary Journalism. Her favorite move is the kimura from closed guard.

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7 thoughts on “The Pressure of Promotion

  • Kayla G.

    Love this, I’m experiencing the same thing. Glad to know there are others out there with the same questions, but with the same solutions of just showing up and trusting our professors!

  • Ginger

    Thank you! This is what I struggle with constantly, doubt. I know I’m slow, clumsy, and non athletic. I don’t feel like I know enough for the three stripes I have. I’ve made a renewed commitment this year and I go to as many classes as I can and that my body will tolerate because I desperately need that repetition! And I’m terrified! Terrified that all the attendance will speed up that fourth stripe and I’ll still feel like I know nothing and my body won’t cooperate. I had this exact conversation with my coach just last night. He said, “luckily, it’s not up to you…” So, ready or not (whatever that looks like for me), I “will try to remember what it took to get there”– the hard work (specifically not belittling my accomplishments just because what is hard for me is easy for someone else), the sacrifices in time/family/work to simply be at class, the bruises, and getting up at 4am (I’ve never in my life gotten up that early to workout let alone be squished by another human being)!

  • Susanna

    Hi Darisse,
    I’m going through the same thing right now! I’m afraid that once I earn my blue belt people will have higher expectations of me. Competitions will be more difficult as well, but I guess it’s all part of the journey. In the end, the pressure will probably be beneficial not only for increasing skill, but also in building patience and humility. We are neighbors! I train at Gracie Humaita in Beaumont. :D

    • Darisse Smith

      Hi Susanna,

      Awesome! Beaumont is so close! We should visit each other’s gyms! I feel so unworthy of my four stripes, especially when I got my butt kicked at an open mat recently. All part of the process, right?


  • Sandi Dunmire

    I really needed to read your article!! Everything you said has and is going through my mind. What if I am not good enough? I can’t even do this…or that… etc etc ( I am 53 – 2 stripe white belt). I go to 6 am classes as much as I can and I beat myself up for not going more in the evening but I am raising 2 teenage boys on own and I try and continue training in my first martial art as well. (Talk about feeling guilty) .. As I am typing this I realize… I am doing OK… I am TAKING STRIDES and that is what matters the most… I am not IDLE. Wow! Your article brought all that out. Thanks Darisse!!!