horizontal photo of Ashley Mann wearing a white BJJ gi and modeling her new purple belt

Thoughts I’ve Had Since Getting My Purple Belt in BJJ

I’ve had a mix of thoughts and feelings since my professor Steve Haydock awarded me my purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu last month (December 2023), so I thought I would blog about them in no particular order. Perhaps you can relate?

Yay! I’m a purple belt!

My first thought was one of disbelief: I can’t believe I actually made it this far. When I started BJJ in 2019, at age 34, I could hardly imagine myself becoming a blue belt, let alone a purple belt. I was never athletic growing up and had zero experience in martial arts or any type of grappling sport, so as a kid I definitely would never have dreamed that as an adult I would become, in the words of my friend who put this phrase on a t-shirt, “pretty okay at Jiu Jitsu.” And now here I am, a brand new purple belt!

I really have my husband to thank. In spite of being naturally gifted and athletic himself, he has always believed in me and gently helped show me that I’m capable of more than I think. I’ve fallen in love with lots of sports as an adult thanks to him, including rock climbing and skiing in addition to Jiu Jitsu, and I’m grateful to him for being patient with my learning process and helping me learn to have fun with so many physical activities.

Ashley and Josiah Mann in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Me and my husband Josiah in Steamboat Springs, Colorado earlier this month, where I fell in love with skiing. We can’t wait to go back!

Just when I Had finally Felt like a Legit Blue Belt….

From what I hear, it’s pretty common for people to feel imposter syndrome whenever they get a belt promotion. When I got my blue belt, I felt confident in my ability to perform the techniques my instructor expected me to know, but I was always evaluating myself according to who I could “beat”. I remember quite well the first time I arm barred a strong, athletic guy in his early twenties, and I also remember vividly how frustrated with myself I felt when, as a blue belt, some white belts could so easily tap me.

I’m not too thrilled to report that I still can’t help but constantly compare myself to others, in spite of knowing that my journey is my own and that I shouldn’t worry about who I can “beat”. That said, I have been happy that over the years I’ve started noticing an ever-widening gap between my own abilities and those of a brand new white belt guy, to the point that by the time I had 3 or 4 stripes on my blue belt I finally felt like a legitimate blue belt.

The pressure to measure up to my own standard has only increased as a purple belt, because frequently as a blue belt I would justify my lack of ability by saying, “maybe I’ll be better at that when I’m a purple belt.” Well, now I’m a purple belt, and unfortunately the new belt did not confer any instant super powers! I’m just going to trust the process and keep showing up.

I feel like I’m “in the Club.”

One thing that I did not expect and was pleasantly surprised by was how instantly the other purple belts at my gym started treating me a bit differently, as if I was part of an exclusive club. I never felt like they they were disrespectful toward me before, so I was surprised that it was possible to actually feel the level of respect go up a notch. It’s just subtle things–an extra fist bump here and there, telling a pair of white belts to get out of my way when I’ve accidentally rolled into their space…things like that. It’s kinda cool though, and a reminder of the community aspect of Jiu Jitsu that keeps so many of us coming back.

Steve Haydock awards Ashley Mann her purple belt
A blurry picture of my instructor Steve Haydock shaking my hand just after he tied my purple belt on me.

The Things I Suck At Feel As Apparent As Ever.

Sometimes I get really discouraged about the fact that I still struggle with some things that I’ve worked so hard on for so long now. One of those things is escaping from the bottom. To be fair, I do trap and roll from and re-guard a lot more than I used to, but I still get stuck under some types of people and get Americana’d and Ezekiel Choked far more than I would like. I keep wondering when I’ll finally find what works for me. Once again, I’m just continuing to show up and trusting that I’m making incremental progress, even if I can’t always see it.

I’m not planning to Quit Any Time Soon.

I still enjoy Jiu Jitsu just as much now as I did when I started. I still feel like I have just as much to learn, and the obsession with solving problems is still there. I’m grateful to have found a way to exercise on a regular basis that challenges me mentally and makes me forget I’m exercising. I hope I can keep doing Jiu Jitsu for years to come!

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