William Vandry – BJJ in My Eyes (September 2010): How Do You Earn a Black belt in BJJ?

3rd Degree BJJ Black Belt William Vandry, posing in front of some of the students at his quarterly seminar at Vandry Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Austin, Texas - June, 2010

William Vandry – BJJ in My Eyes (September 2010): How Do You Earn a Black belt in BJJ?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students and newly promoted black belts at Vandry Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Austin, TX.

First of all, my hat is off to them.  To six new, noble knights of the philosophy, art and science of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

My hat is off to Ted Osborn, Jeremy Carbone, Jay Hume, Rob Furlano, Ed Aiken and Matt Serfoss.  Congratulations on achieving what is a difficult and time testing road to a well earned Black belt in the art, science and philosophy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at my academy and the lineage stemming from Grandmaster Carlos Gracie to the Machado brothers to me, to you.

I salute you gentlemen.  And I also want to add a special thank you to my senior black belts Gary Claxton, King Webb, Carter Fisk and Manny Galvan for all the support, aid, friendship, training and bonding with these new black belts over the years, as well as a special thanks to my instructor, the Master Carlos Machado for developing me when I was a white belt and to nurture me into being what I am today to develop my students.

These men are the grit of what it takes to earn a Black belt.  These men have all been training with me for years, and between them all, average almost a decade each.

My title of this month is how do you earn a Black belt in BJJ?  Since I myself happen to know exactly how to earn one, let me reflect on the days when I was a white belt.

I remember listening to how each of the Gracies and more immediate, the Machado brothers trained under their particular instructor their entire career.  Grandmaster Carlos Gracie coached these men and his son Carlos Gracie Jr., who assisted Rolls Gracie and also mentored the Machados.  Along the line were Carlson Gracie, Rickson Gracie and a few others.  I note that when Master Carlos Machado told me about the old days, he also told me about their constant communication.  Yes, even Rickson Gracie and others still keep in touch with their cousins.  Carlos Gracie passed away in 1993, and always mentored the Machados and kept touch.  I remember in 2001 when I trained with Rigan Machado for a week.  He actually was talking to Rickson Gracie on the phone.

I have known personally the Machados for almost 15 years.  As of a few weeks ago I remember in one day I talked to Carlos and John Machado on the phone, left Rigan Machado a message and emailed Roger Machado.  So what’s so big about that?  Nothing.  There is no personal gain, no asking for favors, or anything I just called to let them know that I wrote an article about them (see August 2010 article William Vandry on the Machado brothers) and wanted to express that to them.  I wanted to tell them how I remember all the old days when I was just starting and absorbing knowledge under their tutelage.

Now I get to reflect these same thanks, except not to my mentors, but to my students.

When I was a blue and purple belt, I at times would assist Carlos Machado at seminars, or whatever else he needed to help promote BJJ in Texas.  This help to promo is a duty many students develop, as they become Black belts themselves.  What some don’t understand is you should take that duty to be a responsible Black belt in the future.  We are martial artists.  We are not, or should not be thugs, mouthy adolescents, or people that practice shameful attitudes that disgrace a philosophy originated by Carlos Gracie.

I also understand the code of ranking.  I never sought rank, nor did I ever give out rank without advice from my instructor.  For example, when I was a purple belt, I would call Carlos Machado and ask him to review white belts and more importantly, I adhered to his standards of ranking me, and the requirements first.  In December 1999 I received my purple belt, and I asked Carlos to consider approving my suggestion to King Webb for purple belt.  He approved and I awarded him his purple.  Same when I was a brown belt.  When I received my Black belt in 2002, even though I could only rank up to brown belt, I still always consulted with my instructor due to the fact that although I was a senior student, I was still a student, and still learning a teaching and ranking trade Carlos had been doing for almost 40years since his childhood.

I always wore my simple Black belt.  I never used the name ‘Professor’, or ‘Master’, or anything of the like.  I went by ‘Instructor’.  When he awarded me my first degree that is when I wore a red and white band with one degree on my black belt.  I never promoted my rank, just my teaching.  When I received my second and third degree on my black belt, is when the official title of Professor become part of it.  That is something I earned, and those that earn it.

Our generation of Martial arts in BJJ is a new generation.  We are the newest trend, the style that every pro fighter wants to know a little or a lot about, and Jiu-jitsu possesses what some may desire as the Holy Grail, or the science that was popularized since Royce Gracie first fought in the UFC in 1993.

I remember when I was the first association and one of very few clubs that had a formal BJJ class in Texas.  I then saw a surge, and many places come and go.  Actually across the USA I saw this.  I realized like many martial arts, there is a surge or fad mentality, and then time tested keeps them around.  I believe in the philosophy of martial arts.  I believe we have a duty, and a responsibility to aid and help students to develop, to grow and to nurture their knowledge to help junior students develop the same philosophy.

So why don’t we have 1 million BJJ black belts like this in the USA?  Or the world for that matter?

I read an article by a BJJ black belt from Florida, Renato Migliaccio on his website.  I enjoy listening to theories and philosophies from other established Black belts, and their particular opinions give me insight to overall BJJ science.

Here is a quote from Renato on being a black belt in BJJ:
“But being a black belt is more than possessing just great jiu-jitsu; you must set an example and show good values and morals on and off the mat. You must demonstrate a strong work ethic in your training, respect for both higher and lower belts, and control your ego. It is essential to show these qualities because more people will be watching you now that you are a black belt. There will be those that either look up to you or look to you for guidance and it is your responsibility to reinforce honorable behavior.
Above all else, never forget to respect your instructor and the knowledge he or she has bestowed upon you. You should always respect the lineage and never try to break it just because you now feel powerful or greater and don’t need your instructor anymore. Those that forget their roots and do not honor those who have played a great role in their personal success will prove in the long run to have made a major mistake.”

I totally agree with Renato Migliaccio.  Me personally, I knew when I first trained under my instructors, they gave me knowledge and understanding on the art of BJJ, and that is what I was taught to teach and keep learning to teach.  Many people to this day may not understand what is the curriculum or requirements to earning a black belt.  Many also do not understand what I have been taught by my instructors on what development, learning and earning rank is about.  What I pass to my students that were taught to me was the development of foundation, and then combining techniques, develop flow in your game, then harmony.  At this point you are charged with a greater responsibility.  Look out for your fellow man.  Or I should say fellow student.  Help him to develop when someone helped you.  Then learn respect, kudos, and mercy to those who are less talented or less physical than you on the mat.  Learn to show temperament, and to never worry about the belt, just the knowledge to get there.  Learn wisdom, learn patience and most of all, a special philosophy I tell many is learning and practice the art of selflessness.  This art I call selflessness is an art and philosophy that has led, taught and developed my own teaching has kept me to always be attentive of the student who needs to talk to someone, or those that just need a pat on the back, or those that need to just adjust an arm lock or choke.
At times it may be someone who stops in just in awe of a BJJ school.  Or it may be someone I run into at a restaurant that knows who I am.  I practice that art, and its ok for those that do not develop it or understand it.  There are many that do and spread this art out to others.  Namely at this time selflessness has always been a part of my six new black belts, and to Mr. Fisk, Mr. Claxton, Mr. Webb and Mr. Galvan.  They spread and work on this art of selflessness.  They give, they help, they nurture and they can never be repaid for this valuable gift they have also given.

I remember an article I wrote years ago on the ranking system of BJJ belts, and I note the understanding of at times is confusing or misunderstood on BJJ black belts.
I stated in my 2009 article Achieving your black belt:
“When we achieve a BJJ Black belt, we not only should have attained knowledge of teaching techniques, good sparring ability and development of ideas, but we should also understand that our conduct is an everyday microscope.”

From the popular website On the Mat, they quote international websitehttp://www.ibjjf.org/graduation.htm, and discuss how ranking with a black belt and the levels and what they mean to earn over time:
Of important note is that according to official IBJJF rules, only black belts of second degree or higher can award black belts. 
The membership form of an athlete graded black belt must be signed by a black belt instructor no lower than 2nd degree who is certified by the IBJJF.

Instructors and Supervisors

In some countries the IBJJF allows athletes who have not achieved the rank of black belt yet to sign as instructors. Actually these athletes are officially considered supervisors.
Brown and purple belts can be supervisors, although in some countries only brown belts can have the rank. In case the supervisor is a purple belt, he can only grade students up to blue belt; in case the supervisor is a brown belt, he can only grade students up to purple belt.
This is a temporary measure that will only be applied in countries that do not have yet enough certified black belt instructors available for the development of the sport. Once there are enough black belts, the supervisor rank will no longer exist.

This idea is what bases associations or clubs.  When I first had formed the William Vandry BJJ Associations in Texas, many were just white belts.  A huge danger when awarding a student an association is at times delegating a responsibility that they have not experienced yet.  For example, my Black belt from Brownsville, Manny Galvan started as a white belt.  I did not call him, or other white belts associations.  I listed them as ‘clubs’.  Why?  Because it avoids dumping authority roles on these training clubs, and began to formulate their drills to begin to learn just practice before teaching.  I currently have 10 Black belts under me that constantly train, mandate seminars, update their own training, and some have their own schools.  I don’t know how many one on one training, sparring, and technical review I have done with them, but that is the point.  They, like me have a desire to learn, not just get a color on their belt. They earn it.  However, one misunderstanding about black belt levels are the first three years you are to wear only a black belt.  When I received my black belt, it was just a plain black belt.  No red and white bands.  Just a black belt.  The way a ranking structure works is after three years of mandatory, and constant training, education and developing under a Black belt who is at least a 2nd degree, he or she can tap you for consideration for first degree.

Generally from Brazil these originated. Notice that we have a different syllabus when ranking.  For instance, you can be a black belt with a red and white band but not yet a first degree, although some give them all in one.  An example is the way I award a black belt it is just a black belt, and after three years my black belts with constant and mandatory education I will award a red and white band with one stripe, and every three years of constant training they are under review.  Many black belts come with a red band on them already so this is what many belt makers make.

I am a third degree Black belt.  I officially became a Professor when I was a second degree.

So lets get to the breakdown of my new Black belts, and let me reflect upon them as well.  I am going to keep the spotlight on the new ones, but for a brief bio and reflection on Carter Fisk, King Webb, Manny Galvan and Gary Claxton (all four are William Vandry BJJ Black belts), go peruse them on a past article: http://austinbjj.com/node/221

Ok, so lets give review and a salute to the six newest men that have practiced those guidelines listed above and more.

Ted Osburn
Mr. Osburn teaches South Austin in his own class.  He has trained with me for over 8 years, and is a dedicated, loyal student and assistant.  Mr. Osburn has assisted me over the years, and has developed a talent for teaching, and breaking down techniques.  His teaching is very detailed and always has been a big part of my school. 

Jay Hume
Mr. Hume came to my academy with Ted.  He too has a unique way of teaching detail, and good rills.  His mentoring has developed so well that details while he teaches are impeccable, and his assistance and friendly attitude with newer students have also been a huge part of my academy.

Jeremy Carbone
Mr. Carbone comes from the New England area of the USA.  He first came to Austin in 2002, and has trained, developed an excellent half guard game and like the other two, he too has developed mentoring students.  Mr. Carbone has much information to offer at my academy.

Matt Serfoss
Mr. Serfoss has trained with a smile despite any injuries, and has also been a valuable asset to the academy.  Always in shape and always training, assisting and another great help to lower belts.

Ed Aiken
Mr. Aiken has trained for almost 15 years and has trained in numerous martial arts.  Mr. Aiken has Thai boxing knowledge, and has worked with many different martial arts.  He teaches Thai boxing and like the others has mentored many lower belts.

Rob Furlano
Everyone knows Mr. Furlano, who has trained with me over the past ten years.  His strength is his attributes, but he too like the others detail and work with lower belts to help them and the academy.

What do these new black belts have in common?  COMMUNITY.  These men signify my philosophy, and they understand and hold their lineage with the utmost sincerity, and value.

Many times I tell my students across Texas to support their community.  If you train at a school, support that school and that instructor.  Show your loyalty and your goals.  This is my philosophy, and you show it.  For example, last month I wrote an article – William Vandry on The History of the Machado Brothers.

You reflect.  You give thanks and gratitude.  I noticed on a facebook page, some fellow black belts I used to train with back in my white belt days were discussing my article and how very few people reflect on their instructors.  I did not forget the Machados and never will.  I also note that my students who become black belts themselves earn their chapter in the book of BJJ.  And it will trickle down the line.

I have heard a good theory on BJJ black belts.  Some can wrestle, but can’t teach their way out of a paper bag.  Some can review or demonstrate techniques, but have absolutely little ability on the mat.  You have to come somewhere in between.  I train almost six days a week, and I constantly develop new ideas by putting myself in bad positions, working new sweeps, new arm locks, leg locks and escapes.  I enjoy the science.  I enjoy the lab conditions of experimenting.  I believe my black belts do as well.

I see them adding and helping out with our institution.  They are giving.  Selfless.  I always believed in practicing the art of selflessness.  Selfless is a term when you give to others even above yourself.  I know this practice so well.  I myself believe in mentoring, helping, aiding, guiding, developing and cultivating students to develop better as a human being, a martial artist, an athlete and a philosopher.

Definitely I will say King Webb, Carter Fisk, Manny Galvan, Gary Claxton, Jay Hume Ted Osburn, Jeremy Carbone, Ed Aiken, Matt Serfoss and Rob Furlano have earned theirs with honor, discipline of selflessness and my highest level of pride as their instructor, and excitement at seeing them develop their skills teaching, developing lower level belts, mentoring, developing new games for themselves and sparring in their careers.

Newly promoted BJJ students (including 5 of the 6 new black belts) at Vandry Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Austin, TX. with Professor William Vandry and Master Carlos Machado

I also want to give out special congratulations to these new belts at our last quarterly in house VBJJA seminar:

Black belts
Jeremy Carbone
Ted Osborne
Jay Hume
Rob Furlano
Matt Serfoss

Brown belts
Dennis Donbrow
Troy Etheridge

Purple belts
Richard Decker
Also to King Webb’s students George and Wilbur!

Blue belts

Congratulations VBJJA new Black belts!!

Absorb, and think.

Professor William Vandry, (3rd degree Black belt BJJ)

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai Boxing & Judo – Austin, Texas