“Once you get your black belt you start all over again as a white belt”
-Shizu Allan Abad (March 15, 1950 to April 6, 2009)
When I first heard this at a Kajukenbo training seminar, I was a brown belt and had no idea what it meant. My Sifu (now professor ) Ronnie Issaguire told me:
"It means starting over and revisiting the basics you learned, having strong basics is what makes a black belt."
Sometimes as a black belt, you get caught up learning so many techniques, that you don’t have the chance to revisit some of the things you learned in the beginning.
For me, this meant working on basic techniques, like my punches, kicks and the first few forms I learned. But it became much more than this as time passed.
I realized that even in competition I was starting at square one. I was no longer the strong brown belt, but a fresh new black belt surrounded by black belts with much more experience, fighting at a higher level.
Adapting to change
As with anything I had to adapt. I trained harder, competed more, and never gave up. I started getting to a place that I felt comfortable. I placed 2nd at an open tournament in continuous sparring (American Kickboxing Rules). But, I still felt like something was missing. The U.S. Karate tournaments are light contact (no KO allowed). This made me feel that maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
Fighting in Japan
After competing at open martial arts tournaments in the U.S. for 10 years , I moved to Japan, and got into full contact kickboxing. I really enjoyed it. The rules were different. Knock outs were allowed, as well as low kicks. I thought I was going to dominate the scene since I was in the amateur division and I already had so much experience.I was also looking forward to showing off my style (Kajukenbo), and techniques that I have never seen used in kickboxing (sidekick, parrying).I thought getting a few wins would be easy, I was wrong.
Apples to Oranges
Because of light contact competition, I fell into the habit of not finishing off my opponents. I would hit them and tire them out. Then I would back off, let them recover, and hit them hard to tire them out again. The Japanese judges saw this, and thought I was inexperienced (which in Japanese kickboxing, I was). I also got in trouble for clinching and kneeing to the face (illegal in amateur division). My friend who did Japanese kickboxing (Open Glove Karate), recommended a coach. After losing by decision twice, I went over to his kickboxing gym, and started training with a professional kickboxing coach.
Taking two steps forward and three steps back
Again I started from square one. They had me start as a white belt . It seemed ridiculous to re-learn how to throw a roundhouse kick. But I’m glad I took the time to do this. It allowed me to find areas of my martial arts that I ignored. I went back to basics and got stronger for it.
After three months of preparation I took on a tournament . Unfortunately, they didn’t have my weight class (169lbs/77kg). They put me in the open weight class, and because of a small card, I fought the championship match against a heavy weight (89kg/196lbs). He chased me around, and I dodged his heavy hits(I even countered with a few of my own), but ultimately I lost by decision.
It was disappointing to train so hard and still lose. It was my first time working with weight cutting, because in the U.S. I was able to fight as a middle weight (84kg). But in Japan, most fighters are about 67kg/149lbs.My kickboxing coach made the mistake of thinking there was a 75kg weight class. This made for a harsh weight cut followed by trying to bulk up.
My third match went much better. Instead of signing up for a tournament, I signed up for just one match (2 rounds 3 minutes each). I was also able to match my opponent by weight. We agreed to fight at 75kg. I won in the second round by TKO.
MMA in Japan
While training at the kickboxing gym. I was also training at an MMA club. After my win in Kickboxing, I was offered a semi-pro MMA fight in the cage. At that point I had only done one MMA match in the U.S., and it was an exhibition match at that. But I was excited to fight in a real cage, with cameras and lights. I went in, and lost to an armbar in the first round. It was the first time I suffered my first indisputable loss.
I was pretty ashamed of myself, and everything that I thought, I had learned. I also realized that MMA was much different from No-Gi jiujitsu, and kickboxing. I tried focusing more on No-Gi jiujitsu, and more conditioning. What followed were four more losses (1by TKO, 2 by submission, 1 by decision). Something was going very wrong.
I needed to relearn everything. I quit working with my kickboxing coach, because none his advice was working for MMA. I focused more on grappling, and came to the realization that my goals are all mixed up. I push myself harder to improve as a martial artist. But how do I know I improved in an MMA match? Even if I win, what if I was mismatched with someone weaker than me? How would me beating a weaker opponent show the gains I've made in my martial arts journey?
These questions were burning inside my mind (arguably still do), and I finally decided to start over again, at the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Kakogawa Japan. I have really been enjoying being a white belt again. But, this requires me to empty my mind (cup), of what I already know. I have been doing MMA for 5 years now, but Gi (uniform) Jiu-Jitsu is different, from No Gi (uniform)Jiu-Jitsu. That aside, it's been fun learning new techniques, and seeing my progress, compared to other people that are experts at this style of martial arts.
Sometimes starting over is not a bad thing. It can actually be refreshing. It reminds me that no matter how far I climb in my martial arts journey, there will always be another peak to climb.
Social Gelo with Angelo
Angelo Ferrer (3rd degree black belt Kajukenbo/ White Belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)