I thought I’d take a moment to mark the occasion. I seem to have an issue with doing this, so I figured I’d hop on it to get it done. Okay, here it is – on March 10, 2020, I was promoted to black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I know. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this sport, it’s sort of like wrestling, but it’s got submissions such as arm bars and chokes included. So if you think of your son or daughter wrestling in high school, they wouldn’t be striving to “pin” their opponent. They’d be striving to “submit” them. And all a submission is is a point of pain that’s, I suppose, unbearable. Either that, or a choke that’ll render someone unconscious.
With many martial arts, earning a black belt takes only a few years. When it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ for short), it’ll likely take a decade or more. I’m not actually sure why it takes so long. Perhaps because there’s a lot to learn. Either that, or each technique that one does learn takes a while to perfect, if that’s even possible. I guess it is. I’ve become fairly good at performing a few different techniques. So good actually, I think I can do them in my sleep. It’s really all about repetition. I’ve been practicing BJJ now for over 11 years and believe me when I tell you that I’ve done the same thing over and over and over again. So many times, in fact, that I’m not even sure what I do on the mats anymore. If someone were to ask me what I was working on during any given night, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them. This is partly due to the repetition and partly due to me always working on something new, just to stay fresh.
But none of this really matters. What does matter is that I’ve achieved the goal we all strive for in the BJJ world. While many of us recite lines similar to, “Yeah, well, I’m not really concerned with what color belt I wear. I just come to learn or to fight…” or whatever. To be honest, I’ve said something akin to what I just shared a few times. Folks usually say things like that when they’re either a lower belt or they’re getting ready to quit. The truth of the matter is that belts matter in BJJ. And if someone tells you they don’t, they’re lying. Or they’re fooling themselves. They matter not so much because of ego or showing off to friends, they matter because of self-fulfillment and for the feeling of accomplishment. They also matter because they’re recognition from a higher rank. The person who holds a higher rank has deemed a lower rank worthy for promotion. It’s that simple.
I was promoted to brown belt over four years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. For that promotion, I was asked to teach my first class. While I had taught a few techniques here or there through the years, I had never officially “taught a class.” It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I was nervous about doing that. Apprehensive. If only five students were going to show up for my promotion, sure, I would teach just fine. After all, I was used to dealing with small groups. I knew that wasn’t going to be the case though. I was expecting about 30 students and just as I expected, approximately that number arrived to learn. I can remember sitting there in front of all of them. I spoke my first sentence and promptly got up to get a drink of water. My mouth became dry and I couldn’t manage to get any more words out. After taking a few sips, I began doing what I had planned and everything turned out okay. I was promoted from purple belt to brown belt and for the past four years, I’ve been teaching on Tuesday nights down at our club. It’s been a wonderful experience and it’s actually been something I’ve wanted to do since beginning Jiu-Jitsu. I can be overly cerebral at times and explaining technique to groups of people helps with that. It’s an outlet.
I wasn’t nervous this time around. I’ve gotten so used to dealing with our students that teaching class during my promotion wasn’t even on my mind. Sure, I wanted to show off some fancy moves, but what I was more concerned with was my age. I’ve been complaining about getting old since I turned 30 and I haven’t let up in that regard. What I’m most concerned with these days is twisting a certain way and injuring my back. Either that or having a heart attack on the mats. Recently, I’ve been taking it easy while rolling (sparring) because I’d like to remain injury free so I can continue this as long as possible. If I stay at my current pace, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever give this up. Jiu-Jitsu is great for staying in shape and staying flexible. I don’t engage in any other exercise outside of this sport, so I think I’ll stick with it for the duration. It’s just that I once read an article about a student who had a massive heart attack after one of his more strenuous classes that I’ve become somewhat freaked out about that. I eat right and stay in shape though, so while this is always in the back of my mind, it’s not one of my bigger concerns in life. I was still nervous about what they call a “shark bait” though. That’s when the person who is being promoted has to spar with one student after another without breaks. I’ve done this during a few promotions already and I really do enjoy the process. I tried to get out of it this time and I thought I actually did until those who are ranked higher than I am decided against it. I’m honestly glad they did though because I had such a great experience participating in the last shark bait I’ll ever have to endure. They say it lasted about 35 minutes, which is fine. I could have gone longer, but you didn’t hear that from me.
After my class and after the shark bait, some of the higher ranked instructors and students said some very complimentary things about me. I truly appreciated everything they said. I’ll remember the experience forever. I’ve been training for so long that I tend to allow each class or open mat to meld into the next. It was so nice to stop to take stock in what I’ve been doing for all these years. And to have others recognize me like they did was such an honor. After the promotion and when I was about to fall asleep the night of, I rolled over and said to Laura, “I feel very accomplished right now.” And I did. I felt at peace. Partly because I didn’t have to think about the actual event anymore, but also partly because I was proud of myself for achieving what I had worked toward for so long. I don’t know – it’s weird. It’s like, when I first began BJJ, all I wanted was to get promoted – the next belt – but now, belts and promotions are less important and just as important as they always were at the same time. It’s difficult to explain, probably because I haven’t put my finger on what I’m feeling yet. When I figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know. What I can say is that it was a tremendous honor being promoted to black belt by the group of people who were involved and I’ll always be thankful for all that has gotten me to this point.
Here are a few photos I stole off of Facebook from the night of the 10th. As you’ll see, I still can’t seem to manage a smile. I was slightly tired and sweaty though, so that’s my excuse. I’ll put the photos in order of when they were taken.
This first one was taken while I was still involved with teaching the class.
We had this group photo taken early because we were concerned that people were going to wander away towards the end. We wanted to capture the entire crew, so that’s what we did.
This was taken during the shark bait. I’m on the bottom and Bri is on top. Bri is the owner of our club and is a fellow black belt. She’s called the “Puma” because one minute she’ll be standing in front of you and the next she’ll be on your back choking you out. When I sent this photo to my father, he thought that I was setting up to roll her over my shoulders. In reality, I think she was crushing me in one way or another.
These are the fellow instructors who said those nice things I mentioned above. The one reading is Shawn, the person who promoted me. I was his first black belt promotion. He’s been training for probably twice the length of time I have.
And finally, the big reveal. This is the crew and me with me wearing my new belt. It felt so weird. I was just getting attached to my brown belt too. It was so nice and soft. I guess I’ll need to make this one soft too. Do you notice how everyone looks so happy, yet I look so sad? I think I was partially smiling at times, but the picture was taken during a break.
By the way, this is what Shawn shared on Facebook about me. I wanted to share it here on my blog so it doesn’t get lost in the abyss somewhere.
HUGE CONGRATS to Jay “the Professor” Gaulard on his promotion to BLACK BELT at THE FOUNDRY tonight. Jay is a dedicated instructor and teammate with a very technical, analytical style. He has done great things with the Tuesday class, and we are very lucky to have him aboard. His guard is truly a thing to be feared, and he used all his skills tonight to survive a nearly 40-minute shark tank. Tonight he joins an elite group of 11 black belts in the Foundry Farmington’s 18+ year history. Well done Professor!