How I Escaped Blue Belt — A Dark Tale of BJJ

I'm writing this post after I got Americana-ed by a sandbagging white belt (that still has the skills of a white belt). If you know, you know. Today I am going to tell you a dark tale of how I received my Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, getting stuck at that level for almost a decade until I found out how to escape. 

Tale of the Tape

If Person A were to fight Person B, all things considered equal, who would win? Person A started training in MMA and is very well-rounded in all martial arts from striking, grappling, and conditioning. Person B, however, started training in BJJ first and became a highly decorated grappler until transitioning into MMA. Although fighting is incredibly chaotic with so many variables that can turn at any moment, I have my money on Person B with grappling as their base. Here's why. 

I started in MMA first 

But eventually, fell in love with the grappling arts. This was challenging because starting out with a base in MMA is chaotic and almost heretic in itself. I would be a jack of all trades, master of none, where I would have large skill gaps from not being rooted in the fundamentals. The positives I took away from learning martial arts in an MMA gym was that I was well-rounded everywhere. I was able to use strikes to take people down and learned great defense using BJJ to either escape deep submissions or create wrestling scrambles to stand back up. But the issue was that I wasn't rooted in any one martial art. 


Being singular in focus is often better because when one masters one art form, one then parlays the same learning skills onto acquiring the next skill. A case study that best describes this is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib is an undefeated UFC world champion and Hall of Fame inductee. He started out learning grappling from his late father Abdulmanap eventually becoming a Master of Sport in Sambo. He'd then travel throughout Russia, and the world, to compete in grappling tournaments.  After decades of doing this, under the tutelage of his father, Khabib transitioned into MMA. Despite having the shittiest of shitty striking, Khabib's grappling pedigree allowed him to go on a winning streak that caught the eyes of the UFC. Upon signing with them, he would go on to worldwide success eventually winning the lightweight title belt. Throughout this journey, he amassed enough skill in his striking to take the fight to the ground where he would subsequently "smesh" his opponents. 

Law of Specificity 

Being able to focus on BJJ isn't conducive in an MMA environment; here's why. When one's entire being is dedicated to a singular focus, one receives the biggest amount of development in it. Thus, it cuts the learning curve in half by allowing mastery in that skill far greater than those who spread their resources between multiple skills. I did this with martial arts and other personal commitments which interfered in my overall growth. 

Getting to Blue Belt

I was a 4-year white belt. The reason I think this is was because I was hopping gyms every couple of years and I was one of the smaller guys and kept getting smashed. Because of this, I primarily focused on defense and used that as a lever into better positions if I caught it. There were many other reasons but training with stronger people defined me as a Purple belt now. 

To get to the blue belt, I changed my approach to training martial arts and focused primarily on Jiu-Jitsu. That required me to wear more of the GI and focus on grappling more intensively than striking. Previously, I didn't train in the GI and lost out on learning prospects as a result. I started to obsess over BJJ, took more fundamentals classes, and got better at the basics. However, at this time I was still all over the place with the fundamentals and had a noncommital approach when it came to choosing which moves to focus on. 

When I changed my focus to one art and intentionally focused on getting better at the basics, I was then awarded my Blue Belt by James Krause who was a Black Belt under Leo Pecanha at the time. 

The Talent Pool was Low

Despite training at a well-known MMA gym at the time in Kansas City, MO, I felt like I was stuck. I was living in the Midwest for over 7 years at that time and 3 of those years were spent not training because of work and other personal commitments. I wasn't achieving the same amount of martial arts growth as I had in other years because I was stretched thin. Training felt more like a chore and eventually, I didn't have the same bandwidth for it anymore. For many years I was doing the same drills, training with the same partners, and not going anywhere. Some aspects were because of the bandwidth where I no longer obsessed over training to give myself internal feedback, but a big aspect was a talent pool issue. 

Training with the same group of people who always use the same techniques caused me to develop bad habits and I was stuck on repeat. I needed to stimulate my growth by having fresh training partners and a new outlook on training. One day I took a flight to the East Coast to visit family for the holidays and dropped into Marcelo Garcia's academy in New York City. Grappling there felt so different because there were so many colored belts with so many different techniques and strategies, and there was a deep roster of Black Belt instructors that had unique systems. A few days there caused me to learn so much more than a few months in my old gym that I knew I had to change. 

So I moved to New York City to train under Marcelo in 2018. 

Getting Past the Plateau into Purple

My first day of training at Marcelo's was shocking. I was getting my ass beat every single day for a few years. I realized how stark the level of competition was, even with the hobbyists. Many people looked at me strangely because they couldn't believe I was a Blue Belt since I lacked many fundamental skills. At that time, I realized what a true Blue Belt should be and I wasn't meeting the definition yet. 

So I took the stripes off my Blue Belt and started out as a zero-stripe Blue Belt; I went to all of the fundamental classes and advanced classes eventually becoming worthy of my belt. But here came another plateau. 

I realized that I was consistently getting submitted in the same positions and after a few months of this realized that I needed to troubleshoot why that was. I knew that my ego was a big part of this and that I was using too much strength. Another part of this was because I wasn't training enough and my gas tank was preventing me from seizing opportunities; so I decided to train frequently and focus on my weak areas. 

Then COVID-19 happened. And for a year the gym was closed down and I was getting fat! I didn't even train when the gym opened back up for another year and that was when all of my peers passed me up and got promoted to Purple belt before me. So when I got back into the gym and rolled with the same people, they felt like completely different animals. I was getting tapped left and right! But I knew what I had to do. I had to fight my ego to prevent myself from reverting to the same bad habits out of ego-protection, and problem-solve my weak areas to develop my game. 

As I got better at Jiu Jitsu to where my game was becoming more defined, I was finally awarded my Purple Belt in the winter of 2022 by Marcelo himself. 

The Way Change Happens

How to get past plateaus from Blue to Purple Belt is by slowing down and using less strength. Recall the areas where one tends to have the most ego and consistent issues and where one uses strength the most to get out of bad positions as opposed to using precise techniques. By doing this, growth can be slow but gradually it snowballs into something greater. Doing this allows one to find weak areas and troubleshoot how one can use technique as opposed to strength in those areas.

As You Advance, The More Ego-Death Appears

Realize that this is what tends to happen to the most technical practitioners. As I progressed from White to Blue to Purple, I started using less strength but more technique against my sparring opponents. The more this happened, the more challenging the rolls became; the walls of knowledge started to close in on me where, and as I became more technical, I harnessed deeper knowledge. Previously, I would release tension as soon as I lost control of a technique and immediately try a distantly adjacent one. This time, I became more focused on a technique and a closer-adjacent technique should the first one fail. 

The Book of Scrolls

If I were a mage set in a fantasy land of knights, dwarves, orcs, and elves; and if I had to become the greatest mage in all the lands, I would have to stay disciplined. As a mage I understand there are all sorts of mages: there are dark, white, fire, earth, and wind mages. Consequently, there are many skill books or scrolls that teach new techniques. 

Because there are so many options to choose from, the mages that decide to learn every skill book there is, will end up getting wiped out by the mages that intentionally focus on one elemental class and a few skill books at a time.

Similarly, this is the same for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When one expands their knowledge across all skills, one will end up becoming good at everything but not excellent at a few. Thus, it causes stagnant growth comparatively to the person that has a singular focus; and then expands that deep focus onto other skill areas after maximizing the first. 

Getting Americana-ed by a White Belt at Purple Belt 4-Stripe 

Purple Belt has been a transitional stage for me. As I get better in every position, I get humbled equally as well. I train frequently and more technically now than I have before and I understand Jiu Jitsu a lot better. The change from Purple with no stripes to now at 4 has been drastic. I was more athletic before now and I am using precise technique with less strength. But occasionally, I welcome the warm embrace of ego death. That ego death comes at the cost of a White Belt sandbagger with obscene lumberman strength Americana-ing me from side-mount. That only means that I have a lot more work to do.  

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Alex Sung

At an early age Alex knew he was different from most kids. He had D's and F's in early education and even had undiagnosed selective mutism alongside other mental health hurdles.

Despite these challenging experiences, he persevered and was able to "Tigerhack" his way to success. He created the Tiger Dojo to help everyone uncover these secrets.


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