“How long will it take?” 

A Jiu jitsu Series

Part 1: Exposure

What is it that made you start training Jiu jitsu? Was it to get in shape? To learn a new skill? To feel more confidence while under stress? To protect yourself and loved ones? To find out what you’re really made of?


Whatever the reason maybe I can say with a fair amount of certainty that you didn’t expect to be a black belt in the first week. You likely didn’t even think a blue belt was achievable; it probably seemed like some distant, unreachable finish line.


You looked at the black belt as something to be romanticized, a future version of yourself that seemed impossible to become; a daydream. You started training detached from the colors of the belts, with a purity and sincerity, only intending  to learn.


At some point along the path (and this transition is different for everyone), that viewpoint disappears and is replaced with entitlement.


One of the most common questions asked by novices who have chosen to embark on the incredibly long path of Jiujitsu is, “How long will it take for me to get to [insert belt color]”. The problem with this question is what no one wants to hear: there is no definite answer.


How can there be so many practitioners around the world who achieve colored belt ranks if there is no answer? Let’s talk about it.


One of the most important factors in progression is something that makes every single one of us uncomfortable: exposure. There are three different primary ways we can be exposed, and those three fall under the two macro forms of exposure, internal and external.


The first two versions of exposure fall under internal, and they are egotistical and cognitive exposure. The third we will be discussing falls under external exposure, and that is the physical form we are all most familiar with. They all have their own independent forms of resistance that must be overcome, and in doing so you will be all the better for your efforts.


The first one that we encounter is the most frightening (to our ego), and that is the exposure of ignorance. This is a form of internal exposure. In order to seek out knowledge and learn a new skill set, we first have to admit to ourselves and (sometimes even worse feeling) to others that we don’t know what we are doing.


Most people quit right there, before the journey even starts. We’ve all seen it before, the stranger in the bar next to us watching athletes compete and spouting their opinions for the world, “Why don’t they just …” “I would have…” “I cant believe they…”. That is self exposure.


As the great Theodore Roosevelt said in his speech Citizenship in a Republic: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without failure and shortcoming…”.


The vast majority of us who are skilled in complex endeavors do not harshly criticize our peers for taking risks to become better. That behavior is almost always reserved for those among us who have a shallow knowledge or skill base, and refuse to acknowledge and  expose that inner truth to facilitate growth.


That form of exposure is the first and (usually)  the largest hurdle that holds us back from evolving, and when it comes to jiujitsu, keeps most people from even starting.


Our second form of internal exposure is cognitive, and unfortunately this is often the most neglected of the three. So what is the difference between egotistical exposure (EE) and cognitive exposure (CE)?


I’m glad you asked, because it is significant.


While EE Does fall under internal, it is far more about taking control over the emotions that tell us to remain stagnant and comfortable. CE is what we are engaging in when we study technique.


This can be through discussion or lecture, study and breakdown of professional competition footage, and instructional and educational material. We must understand that everything single thing we do throughout our lives starts within our mind and is expressed through our bodies.


Therefore, in order to reach your maximum potential and expedite the process of skill acquisition, it is a requirement for you to also train your mind. This can be as simple as sitting off to the side of the mats and admiring the exchanges between practitioners, or as complex as creating diagrams and flow charts.


CE has the highest longevity of all forms of exposure, and can sometimes be the only form available. This is not the most stimulating version of exposure for some, but if taken seriously, CE can award the disciplined practitioner with consistent and sometimes exponential growth over their peers who do not practice it.


The third version is the external form, physical exposure (PE). This is the tangible, active participation and engagement form. This is the style of exposure that comes after we have succeeded beyond EE, and admitted we need guidance to evolve.


This is far and away the most focused on form of all the types. This is showing up to class, drilling, flowing, and sparring that everyone wants to jump passed EE and CE to get to. PE is incredibly important because jiujitsu is after all a tangible skillset, and requires physical expression to manifest CE into reality. Without PE there is no expression or operative growth.


In order for us to reach our maximum potential in jiujitsu, we must have exposure. Exposure can often times be uncomfortable, and sometimes discouraging, but if it is embraced can take us mentally and physically farther than we ever dreamed possible.


Exposure is not the enemy, it is your best friend. It is brutally honest, incredibly unforgiving, and deeply humbling. Without it, we go nowhere. With it, we can go anywhere.