Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Promotions & The Value of the Belts

Promotions in Jiu-jitsu are kind of a big deal,  mainly because they are few & far between, and don't happen very often.  We celebrate these milestones for our teammates & training partners.  We look forward to our own eventual promotions usually with a mixed feeling of nervous anticipation & dread.  Often times, while some part of us wants to eventually achieve these milestones, when that moment finally comes, we often feel that we aren't yet ready.  This feeling is totally normal & represents a very healthy attitude towards promotion.  The reality is that, usually, once you start to become comfortable at a certain belt rank, thats about when it changes.  This little bit of discomfort is very important for our continued development.  Like many things in Jiu-jitsu, it is through pressure & discomfort that we learn the most.

The belt system as we know it, is an adaptation of the system of colored belts originally developed by the Founder of Judo, Jigaro Kano.  Originally, the concept was developed to group athletes by relative skill levels for sport competition.  While the belts aren't the focus or reason for training, they are important as they do represent distinct milestones & levels of development.  They are good markers of progress and they can help with setting shorter term goals.  The journey from white to black belt in Jiu-jitsu is typically so long it is helpful to break it up into more manageable chunks.

So, how does one best deal with promotions.  First, trust your instructor.  Whether you believe you are "overdue" for your next promotion, or you don't feel you are ready, your instructor knows best.  As an instructor, each and every promotion is something that is done with a great amount of consideration, and they are never taken lightly.  The best thing to do is just to continue to do what you are doing & not worry either way about promotions.  If you just continue to train & strive to get a little better each day, the belts will take care of themselves, and you will look back in a few years and be very surprised at how seemingly quickly you have achieved a high level that, as a beginning student, you may have never thought possible!  Realistically, you are going to do the same thing the day after you receive a new belt promotion as you did the day before-just show up & train!

Secondly, recognize the belt for what it is.  Just because you have earned the right to put it on, doesn't mean you have earned the right to wear it.  You earn that right everyday on the mat through your continued training.  There is always a breaking in period with any new belt, and it will take a while before you feel comfortable at that level.  You have to grow into the belt.  Look at it as an opportunity to step up to a higher level & a higher standard.  Don't hide behind it because of fear or anxiety!

Finally, don't put any unnecessary extra pressure on yourself.  Often, students get a new belt & feel that now they can no longer tap to a lower belt.  This is non-sense.  If you are training correctly, you have to put yourself in vulnerable positions & always be willing to learn through failure.  Because of the fact that the nature of belt promotions in Jiu-jitsu tend to be based on your actual performance, it is true that in general the higher belts should be more skilled and able to better control lower ranking students.  However, thinking that you can never get caught by someone of a lower belt level is just purely ego, and is not a productive attitude for continued improvement.  Everyone, including black belts, makes mistakes, and this is how we learn.  The belts are not magic.  Simply putting a different colored piece of cloth around your waist doesn't give you special powers overnight.  Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment, and then, just get back on the mat & keep training!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Putting the "Fun" in Fundamentals!

I want to take a minute to discuss the importance of fundamentals.  It is something that  is heard often in a Jiu-jitsu academy, “focus on the fundamentals”.  What are “fundamentals” anyway?  Why are they so important?

The fundamentals are the basic core positions, movements, & concepts from all of the major positions in Jiu-jitsu.  Techniques can be broken down by their application from various positions.  Of course, understanding the positional hierarchy and the concept of positional dominance is a major concept in Jiu-jitsu.  Here are, in my mind, the major positions, in order of dominance (least dominant to most dominant)-Standing (no contact), Clinch, Guard, Half Guard, Side Mount, Knee on Belly, Mount, & Back.  Of course, there are variations on all of these major positions, and the Jiu-jitsu practitioner must be comfortable with both sides of each position, understanding both defense & offense.  Of course, every position offers an almost endless variety of possible techniques.  Fundamentals, then, are the most common, most reliable techniques.  They are the fundamentals because they work!  All of the techniques that are generally considered to be fundamentals have stood the test of time.  They have all been battle-tested, in live combat, over a period of many, many years.  And while there are many variations of all of these techniques, they all share a few common traits.  

The fundamentals should be based on natural body movements, not requiring an unusual amount of flexibility, strength, or agility to perform.  This means, that just about anyone can, with practice, perform these techniques effectively.  They are based on the principle of leverage, meaning that they are efficient.  One of the key concepts of Jiu-jitsu is maximum effectiveness with minimal effort.  This is because, if we always make the assumption that our opponents will be bigger, stronger, & more athletic than us, it is crucially important not to make unnecessary movements that waste precious energy.  Usually, the simpler answer is the best answer.  So, fundamental techniques generally have fewer steps to get to the same result.  Finally, fundamental techniques are those that can be utilized in a real fight, always taking into account the opponent’s potential ability to strike, and being aware of their most common likely responses.

When you watch two very high level Jiu-jitsu practitioners spar, you are most likely to see “white belt” techniques being used; that is, techniques that most students typically learn within their first few months of Jiu-jitsu training. The most common finishes in most Jiu-jitsu & MMA matches are things like guillotines, armlocks, triangles, rear naked chokes, & kimuras.  Why is this?  Certainly, these advanced practitioners have a whole arsenal of techniques at their disposal.  Of course, this is very true.  However, these “basic” techniques are the ones that even advanced practitioners have spent the most time with.  These are the techniques & positions that even the best black belts have been practicing since they were white belts.  Of course, all of these advanced practitioners have tricks & fancy moves that work well under the right circumstances.  But, faced with another practitioner of comparable skill, size, & strength, they fall back to their understanding of the basics.  And herein lies the crucial importance of these techniques.  These are the most proven, effective, time-tested techniques, and the ones that, when you are in trouble, in a bad position, tired, or being overwhelmed by a larger, stronger opponent, will still give you the best chance of survival.  

The fundamentals are the techniques that you literally can’t practice enough.  One of the most important & most difficult things to do in Jiu-jitsu is to develop reflex.  This doesn’t mean simply “memorizing” techniques.  All to often, I see students drilling techniques in class, working with a cooperative partner.  After a handful of repetitions, when they start to feel somewhat comfortable with the basic movement sequence, they seem to think that they’ve “got it”. But then, during live training, these same students are unable to perform the technique against a resisting opponent.  It has been said it takes an average of about 10, 000 repetitions of any physical skill to acquire mastery; the ability to perform it reflexively, even under the stress of a live situation.  That’s a LOT of reps.  This is why it takes so long to develop a high level of skill in Jiu-jitsu.  So, I strongly encourage students to make the best of their precious training time.  As Rickson Gracie has been known to say, “Don’t practice the technique until you get it right….practice it until you can’t get it wrong!”.

If you plan to pursue Jiu-jitsu for a long period of time, even a lifetime, you will learn & practice the same fundamental techniques many, many times.  How does one continue to practice these techniques without succumbing to boredom?  Well, the true answer is, you don’t always.  Sometimes, repping techniques is boring.  No matter your passion for training, performing endless repetitions of the same technique is not always the most exciting thing. However, it definitely WILL pay off.  However, I encourage students to try to look at the technique through “new eyes”.  Keep an open mind, remain humble, and don’t assume you already know everything there is to know about the move.  My appreciation for the value of the fundaments has increased so much more since black belt than it ever was as a lower rank. Too often, students show up to class wanting a new shiny toy-some advanced variation of a technique that they have never seen before.  And while this is always fun & exciting, the reality is, the longer you train Jiu-jitsu, it will become increasingly rare to be exposed to a brand new technique or concept that you’ve never seen in some form before.  However, it is even MORE exciting to re-discover a fundamental technique that you have done for years.  Often, picking up one small detail can change your whole perspective & understanding of the technique.  It is a constant process of polishing & perfecting our most important techniques.  So you shouldn’t only be content to practice the basics, you should be excited. There is so much more to all of these techniques than you may realize!  

The process of learning Jiu-jitsu follows predictable stages.  And each of them is crucially important.  First, you are just trying to learn to survive, to learn the basic positions, and have a rudimentary understanding of the movements.  As you become more comfortable with the basics and start to be able to hold your own somewhat in sparring, and even to impose some offense (blue/purple belt) it is very normal to look for new techniques, new variations, etc.  It is very important to always allow yourself to have an open mind & explore new ideas & positions.  But don’t neglect your fundamentals!  Interestingly, as students become advanced practitioners (brown/black belts), they typically return their focus to the same techniques that they learned as white belts, although obviously with a much different focus & higher level of understanding.  This is when Jiu-jitsu really becomes exciting!  Stay focused, keep training, & keep practicing your basics!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

We're all in this together

In today's world, it seems that everyone is taking sides.  Either you're politically liberal or conservative; you're strongly religious or atheist; you're pro-this, anti-that.  It is easy to label people by their particular socio-economic background, cultural heritage, belief system, or ideals.  Personally, I find that these differences make the world interesting.  If we were all the same, it would be a pretty boring place.  But all too often, people divide themselves into groups based on these types of characteristics, and there is often a lot of hostility among these various groups.

On the mat though, through Jiu-jitsu, we are able to break through these artificial barriers & see that we are more alike than not.  We all have similar struggles, similar frustrations, good days & bad days, and we're all working towards the same goal-to be better today than we were yesterday.  Through training together, pushing each other, choking each other, sweating & sometimes even bleeding on each other, we develop a very close bond with our training partners.  This is why I consider those that I share the mat with family.  We don't have to think the same or agree on everything.  Jiu-jitsu transcends our differences.  I think it is because Jiu-jitsu, being an art of physical combat, is so primal that it is something we can all relate to.  Martial arts have been around pretty much since the beginning of recorded history.  Mankind has always had conflict, always had the need to protect ourselves from others, and so, we developed more efficient ways of fighting.  I believe that this is inherent in our nature as human beings, and that is why I think it is something that we can all relate to.

We love to see our friends & training partners accomplish their goals.  Whether that is seeing them finally getting a well deserved belt promotion, or having that ah-ha moment where a technique they have been struggling with finally clicks.  We all celebrate the accomplishments of our teammates together.  We all share in the accomplishments of our teammates because we are part of it.  Nobody gets better at Jiu-jitsu by themselves & we all need good training partners to help us develop.  And, those of us who have been on the mat a little longer all remember having those same struggles & overcoming those obstacles ourselves.  We all had a first day on the mat.  Even the most accomplished black belts, whose technique seems so smooth & flawless-we were all white belts once; struggling with learning how to breakfall, shrimp, and stand in base.  We are all traveling along the same path, some of us just started the journey earlier.  As a new student, that is sometimes hard to put into perspective, but it is true.  Sometimes it seems that the upper belts are infallible.  They are not.  They started in the same place you are, and they still struggle just like you do.  We all deal with frustration from time to time.  That never goes away.  You just learn to recognize that it is a part of the process & continue to work through it, knowing that there is usually a major breakthrough on the other side if you just persevere.

One of the most interesting things about being a Jiu-jitsu instructor is that I get to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life.  And, the cool thing is, how Jiu-jitsu brings us all together!  Because we are family, I try to get to know my students personally & develop a relationship with each one.  At any given time, we have white collar workers, blue collar workers, people of all different faiths, or none at all, politically conservative, politically liberal, men, women & kids of all different ethnicities & cultures all sharing the mat together.  And, none of it matters when we're trying to choke & armlock each other.  The primal struggle to survive under pressure and the bond that we all share through Jiu-jitsu transcends our differences, and we find that these differences only serve to enhance everyone's experience as we all struggle to meet our own personal goals together.  Just another reason why Jiu-jitsu is so cool!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Poker Face

Ok, I know you're probably wondering what a Lady Gaga song title has to do with your Jiu-jitsu....hear me out.

I was having a discussion with a student the other day about this issue, so I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post.  In Jiu-jitsu, we need to develop a "poker face".  What I mean by that is, your facial expression and your demeanor should be pretty much the same whether you're attacking or defending, whether you are in the best position or the worst position, and even when you're about to tap! This is very important, as I'll discuss later.  But, like everything else in Jiu-jitsu, it doesn't come naturally.  It is a skill that must be practiced.

Oftentimes, I see students who are stuck in a tough position or attempting to defend a submission attempt making all kind of pained faces, grunting, hyperventilating, etc.  None of this accomplishes anything, and can actually be detrimental.  Jiu-jitsu is about efficiency.  That means not using anymore strength or force than actually needed to get the job done.  Even though it doesn't seem like much, constantly contracting all of those small facial muscles over & over again actually burns a lot of unnecessary energy.  And it doesn't really do anything other than give your opponent more confidence in their own position.  So, defend if you need to defend, tap if you need to tap.  But up until that point, your general demeanor & facial expression should be one of calm focus.  Sometimes, while defending a choke for example, you may need to tighten the muscles in the neck to reduce the effect of the choke & buy yourself some more time to defend.  That is perfectly ok & not what I'm talking about.  But in general, holding extra tension anywhere in your body that is not necessary, and especially in your face, is just burning your gas tank.

From another point of view, if your opponent sees you with a pained expression on your face or hears you audibly struggling, it is only going to serve to invigorate their efforts.  If they feel that you are about to tap, they will hold on a little longer, knowing that the submission is right around the corner.  But if you are calm & composed, they may feel like the submission is not having its intended effect (even if, in reality, it is very close), and they may lose confidence in their position, causing them to adjust or even let go of a potentially fight ending submission hold.  I can think of several instances where my opponent had me caught dead to rights in a tight submission and I knew in my head that I was caught & my chances to escape were not looking good.  But rather than panic & strain, I just maintained my composure & looked right at my opponent with an almost "bored" look on my face....and they just let go!  They didn't have confidence in their position & my appearance of confidence in my defense was enough to change their strategy.  On the other hand, if you are the one applying a submission & your opponent sees you visibly straining, they may continue to defend even when they are caught, because they believe that you have almost expended all your energy and your grips are beginning to fail.

All of this goes along with the concept from our Jiu-jitsu philosophy of Fudoshin, or emotional balance.  While there is certainly more to it than this, having the ability to stay calm under pressure, not get too excited when you feel you are close to finishing your opponent, and not panicking when you are caught, goes a long way.  Everyone has heard about learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  It's amazing how much having a good poker face and maintaining your composure can not only change your opponent's thinking, but also change your own state of mind & help you to better manage a tough situation, whether on or off the mat.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Take your foot off the pedal!

I was having a discussion with a student today that prompted me to write this article.  I feel that it is an important concept to remember, both in training, and in life, that sometimes we need to just slow down!

I have always found it interesting that generally, the students who are the newest to Jiu-jitsu & the least familiar with the techniques tend to go the fastest.  It doesn't make sense.  This would be like taking a 15 year old who just got their learners permit & taking them out to do time trials on a race track.  How do you think that would end up?  The new driver only has a rudimentary understanding of the basic control mechanisms of the vehicle, and certainly hasn't had the experience to develop a feel for driving smoothly & keeping the car under control at normal speeds.  Why should they immediately push beyond their limits & see how fast they can go?  Instead, they should go out to an empty parking lot where they have plenty of room for error, and slowly practice maneuvering the car & learning to avoid obstacles & drive smoothly.  There is plenty of time to learn to drive fast later.

This same concept holds true for Jiu-jitsu.  If you go too fast, especially in the beginning, you can't read the signs that might be warning of danger ahead and you are likely to run yourself right into a wall!  Slow down.  Take the time to understand & analyze the position & think your way through it.  It is human nature, in the beginning, to move too quickly & too forcefully.  This is often because of a feeling of wanting to test out the technique to see if it really works.  Don't worry, all of the techniques have been tested....and they work.  If they didn't, they wouldn't be around anymore.  If you go too fast, you may miss details, or worse, injure yourself or your training partner.  Of course one of the things that makes Jiu-jitsu such an effective fighting art is the fact that we do train live with a resisting opponent.  But you have to first learn the techniques in a slow manner with a cooperative partner.  Don't jump into the deep end before you know how to swim!

I was sparring with a fairly new white belt recently.  As soon as we shook hands, they took off at a feverish pace not unlike a Tazmanian devil with a caffeine overdose!  Within a couple minutes, they were barely able to breathe & wondering why they got so tired so quickly.  The answer is obvious.  They were going too hard.  I was going at their pace, just flowing with them.  But their own mental anticipation & lack of confidence caused them to tense every muscle in their body, hold their breath, and move way too much & too quickly.  And they didn't even realize it.  They weren't exhausted because of anything I did.  They were their own worst enemy.  Even when you are participating in live sparring, pay attention to your pace.  Back to the car analogy, it is a good idea to always leave something in the tank.  If you've ever been completely gassed out in a fight, it is a terrible feeling.  So don't set a pace that you can't maintain.  Sometimes, the other person starts to get a little ahead & you have to step up your pace for a short time to keep up.  But, be able to control the throttle.  Remember, Jiu-jitsu is about efficiency, not speed or power.  Don't use any more energy than you need to get the job done.

Slowing down doesn't just apply to how you apply techniques or controlling your pace in sparring.  It also applies to your overall Jiu-jitsu journey.  There is no finish don't be in a hurry to get there.  Too often, there is a tendency to focus on the next technique, the next belt, etc.  Make the most of where you are at & enjoy the process.  I can't tell you how often I have heard people, upon getting promoted, comment that they wish they had more time at their previous belt.  Take your time.  We are all always looking to improve.  Don't be content, always seek to be better; but be patient.  Getting to a high level of skill in Jiu-jitsu takes time and there is no way to cheat that.  The only way is to get on the mat consistently over a period of many years.  The process is what's important.  Because once you reach your next goal, you will realize that that "destination" was just another step.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Most Important Person

Who is the most important person on the mat?  To the outside observer, the answer might seem obvious.  Many might think it's the instructor or the person with the highest belt rank.  Obviously, they have put in a great deal of time & effort to achieve that rank & status, and they have a higher technical level & knowledge base.  They are the subject matter expert.  Everyone else hold them in a position of prestige.  However, I would argue that they are not the most important person.  They are, of course, integral to the academy & the training process.  The way that I look at it, the most important person on the mat is your training partner.  Of course, everyone in the academy has multiple training partners, sometimes even in the same class session.  And, they are all the most important person.  This is my personal attitude, and one that I hope that you will consider as well, as this attitude is mutually beneficial for everyone, as well as for the general well-being of the academy as a whole.

Training in Jiu-jitsu is unique among martial arts, in that it generally requires a good training partner. Unlike other martial arts, there are no katas, or solo practice forms.  In fact, it is this "liveness" and the immediate feedback provided by a good training partner is one of the things that makes Jiu-jitsu so effective as a fighting art.  And while there are certainly solo movement drills that you can practice alone, in general, you need someone to practice with.  So, it logically follows that you should take good care of your training partners, otherwise, they will not be around to train with you.  If you are the guy or girl who is always going a little too hard, hyperextending your partners joints, applying submissions too quickly, throwing inadvertent elbows, knees, & headbutts,  grabbing skin when making grips, etc. you will soon find yourself sitting by yourself on the wall when everyone pairs up because people don't want to work with you.  If you already are that guy or girl, don't's not too late to change your ways.  Being aware of the problem is the first step towards fixing it.  It doesn't mean that you're a bad person.  Obviously, you're probably not doing these things intentionally.  Your intent is just to get better & sometimes when you get in a tough spot you go too hard.  It's just typically a lack of awareness (Zanshin).  The reality is, slowing down a little bit will help both you & your training partners.

There is more to this than just not injuring or roughing up your training partners.  That's only the first step.  You need to be legitimately invested in your training partners development.  Sometimes, we become so focused on "winning" when we spar with our partners that that becomes our primary focus-just tap the other person.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to tap your partners out when you spar.  However, you should pay attention to what they are doing also, and when you catch your partner, maybe give some feedback on how that position happened and what they can do to help prevent making the same mistake in the future.  This goes both ways of course.  Don't get tapped out without understanding why it happened, so when you are sparring with someone more experienced, it is your obligation to ask questions at appropriate times.  Of course, the more experienced students will have more to offer to their training partners, but in a sense, we are all teachers & should all be striving to help each other on the mat in whatever way & to whatever capacity we can.

If you are a blue belt or purple belt, you may barely notice the new white belt who comes in the door. They are so far below your skill level that you feel they don't really have anything to offer you in terms of your own development.  If that is the case, you need to adjust your attitude.  Everyone who steps on the mat can teach you something!  The beginner can be a very valuable tool in your development, especially from a self-defense perspective.  It is exactly because they don't know the right things to do, the right way to move, use too much strength, etc. that can give you a much more realistic perspective on how an untrained person will respond in a self-defense situation.  There lack of knowledge can be very valuable.  If you aren't getting something useful out of training with lower belts, that is your fault.

That new white belt may be the next blue or purple belt.  It is your job to help them get there & to share your valuable experience with them.  You can mold them into a good training partner for you, which obviously will benefit both of you!  Be willing to share what Jiu-jitsu has given you.  It's not only a good idea, I believe it is your obligation.  You wouldn't be where you are without others sharing their knowledge & experience with you.  Everyone had a first day on the mat.  Remember what it was like when you were a new white belt & the people that helped you along the way.  Do that for others coming up behind you.  Your goal should be to make each & every one of your training partners better.  The better they get, the more they will be able to challenge you & in turn, the better you will get.  I believe that you will find that helping others is not only beneficial to your Jiu-jitsu, but also very rewarding personally.  I know personally, as an instructor, I love watching the growth in my students & take great pride in it.  My personal goal is to help each student achieve their maximum personal potential for as long as they are on my mat, and I hope that each of them will become better than I am.  One of my white belt students recently remarked to me that one of the things they liked most about training at our academy is that everyone is so helpful & provides them with useful guidance & insight each training session.  While this was awesome to hear, it wasn't surprising.  We have a great group of people in our academy.  Let's keep building on this attitude.  It's easy to get too caught up in winning all the time.  Next time you step on the mat, pause & take a minute to remember who the most important person is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Blue Bar

A couple weeks ago, I attended the annual Royce Gracie Network meeting at Valente Brothers Jiu-jitsu in Miami, Florida.  This is an annual gathering of Royce Gracie black belts & academy owners from all over the world.  It is a very intense, busy weekend of training and networking with other academy owners.  Also, it is during this weekend that Royce conducts black belt testing for potential candidates.  This has become a regular trip for me each year and I always come back with a lot of new ideas & information, and with a sense of rejuvenation & excitement.  This year was particularly special for me, as I was honored to receive the blue bar on my black belt from Royce Gracie.  This belt (the blue bar with the two white stripes on each end) is the "professors" belt, and it is a big deal for me personally and for my academy as a whole.  So, I thought I would take the opportunity to briefly discuss the origin & meaning of this belt.

Many people are familiar with the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt with the red bar, either with, or without the white stripes on the ends.  Some are also familiar with the black belt with the white bar.  However, the blue bar is relatively new to the Jiu-jitsu community and is specific only to the Royce Gracie/Valente Brothers network.  This change was officially implemented by Royce Gracie in 2015.  Prior to that Royce Gracie black belts wore the red bar like most other Jiu-jitsu black belts.  This change was made as a tribute to Helio Gracie and signifies the commitment to preserve his original ideal of Jiu-jitsu as a self-defense art.

There is history behind the adoption of the blue bar.  Originally, there were only three belts in Jiu-jitsu.  White belt, light blue belt, and navy blue belt.  Unlike today, students, regardless of skill level or training time, wore the white belt.  The navy blue belt was worn by the instructors/professors, and the light colored blue belt was worn by students who were in the process of completing the professors course.  The concept of the black belt as a measure of expertise as we know it today did not exist.  At the time, students strove to receive the Professor's Diploma.  Helio Gracie had a very specific set of 20 characteristics that potential instructors were graded on, in order to receive the Professor's Diploma, things such as courage, benevolence, impartiality, honesty, etc.  It wasn't until the creation of the original Confederation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in 1967 that the black belt started to be utilized.  The black belt, and the other colored belts, were adopted from the Judo ranking structure.  Judo, a Japanese martial art developed by Jigaro Kano, used colored belts to distinguish students by varying levels of skill & experience in an effort to create more fairness in sport competitions.  While adopting a similar system, Jiu-jitsu differentiated itself by the use of the colored bar on one end of the belt, along with up to 4 white stripes to signify varying "degrees" within that belt color.  Colored belts utilized the black bar, while black belts utilized the white or red bar.  Later, the coral belt (red & black alternating bars) was adopted for the ranks of 7th & 8th degree black belt, and the solid red belt belt was used for 9th & 10th degree (with the rank of 10th degree being reserved only for the original 5 Gracie brothers).  After becoming dissatisfied  with the direction that the Federation was going and feeling that the emphasis on sport Jiu-jitsu competition was changing the original intention of Jiu-jitsu as a self-defense art, Helio Gracie renounced the Federation, took off his red belt, and reverted back to wearing the original navy blue belt.  It is because of this that the use of the blue bar was created to honor the legacy of Helio Gracie & his intent of a focus on Jiu-jitsu as a fighting art used primarily for self-defense.

As with most things in Jiu-jitsu, there is very little standardization from one academy or organization to another.  The same is true with the black belt.  For many academies, students begin wearing the black belt with the red bar & sometimes with the white "instructor" stripes from the day they are first promoted to black belt.  In our network however, new black belts wear the white bar for their first several years.  Next is the professor's belt, with the navy blue bar & white stripes.  Once a student earns the professors belt, they may then be awarded with varying "degrees" on the belt, indicated by white stripes.

For me personally, it is a great honor to have received the professor's belt directly from Royce Gracie.  I consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to continue to carry on the legacy represented by him as well as his father, Helio Gracie.