Elisabeth Clay: My Hardest BJJ Belt

By Elisabeth Clay 

So, I was asked my feelings on what was the most difficult belt and why. I, like everyone, have a background, and even if we’re young, we all have some sort of baggage. I do, too.

Carrying Baggage at a Young Age

I think most everyone who has read what I write or followed my interviews knows that I came from a gymnastics family (not my parents, but my siblings). One of the things common in gymnastics is the expectation of having specific skills for advancement. Usually it comes with yearly, if not more often, evaluations of competition performance and skill mastery. 

About a year to a year and a half into jiu jitsu training (as a kid) I was still a white belt with two stripes. I was doing well in competition and was training daily 5 days a week. I even trained in both the kids and adult classes, so I was confused as to how all this worked. Promotion was a taboo subject at the school I was at, where the stigma of being a belt chaser was placed on you if you even asked. As I have gotten older I think it had more to do with the coach not having a clue, but the tongue lashing I got (that continued as chiding and degradation for years) for asking really had a negative impact on how I looked abelts and promotion. As the years and belts have progressed, I have really come to understand why there is such variation in promotion timing and levels. 

The Hardest BJJ Belt

All that being said as background, I think everyone has a hardest belt. For me I feel like I had two, but they were hard for two completely different reasons. Blue was hard for me because I felt like I was never going to get promoted (remember that I felt it an inappropriate topic to try to understand). It didn’t seem to matter what I won or how much I trained or taught, I felt like I would never get my purple. Looking back, I wasn’t actually there for that long (two and a half years). I think why it felt like such a long time was because as kid I competed with the adults a lot so for competition it felt the same wayI won worlds 3 times as a blue belt (2 juvenile and 1 adult), I won the adcc trials once as a blue belt (and spent another year after winning it at blue), and I won pans 4 times as a blue belt. As I look back, I might have promoted myself a bit faster, but not much. I got a great foundation at blue to be ready for purple. Blue was kind of my grounding point. I changed as a person. I went from a child to young woman at blue. I cut my teeth on some real challenges. While I felt like I was stymied at blue, staying there helped my be strong mentally for purple. 

On to Purple

Purple was hard for me because I did amazing at first, winning quad gold at American nationals, double gold at nogi pans, and double gold at nogi worlds, then I had the worst competition streak I’ve ever had before. I had a series of smaller injuries that I thought I should have been able to compete through. It did not work out that way. I was not placing well. Honestly, I should have laid off competing for a few months and healed. That is not my nature to quit or slow down. At purple I learned to work with my own mind and body. It was extremely demoralizing. I felt like a failure. I was constantly reminded by those who supported me how well I was doing and why I was not having my normal success. Those friends and mentors paved the path for me they helped me see what I was capable of. 

I have to share with you all how at purple I had several times I thought of quitting (although I don’t think I really would have). I am so grateful that I didn’t. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most challenging sports not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It has long periods of time with no progress. When you stick with it and push hard though all of the failures, confusions, plateaus, and walls, you will look back and realize what you are capable of. You are strong and resilient. You can do this. Until you weather to storms you have no idea how much you can do.

Even though I am a black belt now, I still feel like I am climbing and striving to grow. I think that will be no matter what, no matter how long I will constantly be learning and growing. There is always something more. Go and conquer find your lion or lioness. 

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