Dojo Life: A New Insight From the Belt List
I am preparing for my black belt promotion, and man, it is hard work! But this means
something good, too: I am getting the opportunity to learn a new belt list for Goshin Jiu
Jitsu, right out of the box. There are many new techniques and changes in this list—lots
of challenges—and it’s kind of fascinating to be galloping through them and incidentally
getting a wider perspective.
One day I surprised myself! I was going over a few of the lower belt lists in one sitting, when I noticed that all the techniques seemed to built on four consecutive elements:
1. Escape or Block the Attack(s)
2. Get Into Position (or, Set Up Your Technique)
3. Do the Technique(s)
I wondered if all the techniques worked this way, so I checked out a few in all the lists:
Bingo! All the techniques described on the belt lists are some version of this four-step
It makes sense, doesn’t it? First you have avoid the punch or grab and get out of harm’s
way. Without that, nothing else good can happen for you. Next you need to move in to
see what choices are available for you—fending off an attack can go in any direction, so
you have to be ready to take the set-up that’s there and make it your own. Only when
you are in the proper position can the technique(s) you’ve been perfecting for months
come successfully into play. And finally, you have to keep going until your attacker is no
longer a threat.
These four elements can be—and are—repeated, exchanged, moved around, and
developed into an incredibly powerful arsenal of tools. If you need a strike to escape a
grab, go for it. If Plan A doesn’t quite come off, what else have you got in your pocket?
You’re always escaping, moving into position, making your move, or finishing the job in
some form or other.
When I first started training, over and over I heard how the belt list was “just a playbook”
and that we students would be able to pick and choose techniques according to the
circumstances, mix-and-match as needed. My inner response was, “yeah, right.” All I
could see was a long list of things I never heard of and didn’t understand. There was a
lot to learn, of course, but as a beginner I had no clue how I could ever get to the point
where I could even imagine seeing all this stuff as a playbook: pick one from column A
and three from column B, combine them in the right order and . . . uh-uh. Especially for
my non-athletic, over-thinking brain, and lack of experience, it seemed hopeless.
But wow! When I finally saw this simple pattern and started thinking about this from a
larger perspective and experience, I could see how the belt list actually is a kind of
playbook. The belt list covers just about any possibility, demands that students learn
multiple combinations of different elements, and with practice and an open mind, I can see how these can morph into whatever I need to to save my butt. First, the
foundations, and then, how to use them in many different situations. I was actually
dazzled for a minute. A playbook, mix-and-match, pick and choose. It all made sense.
Even with a lot of work ahead of me, I could see the bigger picture for a moment. It
really is a beautiful thing.