Note: this is an impromptu follow-up to the excellent article, Immersion in BJJ.
Some people like to have a physical symbol of goals or landmarks in their professional or personal lives. For some folks, it’s a tattoo that reminds them of a lost loved one, or motivates them to stay sober. For others, it’s a photograph from an earlier time in life, or something written in pen on the back of one’s hand. For me, it was my hair.
Beginning with my blue belt, in 2002, I started growing my hair out with each new belt I got. The principle was simple: I was starting over with each new rank in BJJ. When I got my purple belt in 2003, all of my shoulder-length hair was chopped off, leaving me completely bald. By the time I got my brown belt in 2006, all that was left of my glorious long hair was a crummy rat tail, so we cut that off (see the picture). In 2008, I was awarded the high honor of black belt in BJJ under Julio “Foca” Fernandez with Eric Burdo, so Burdo and I headed to his house afterward and shaved my head bald once again, although we went through plenty of incredibly goofy hairstyles along the way: mullett, skullett, clown hair, horseshoe, and finally Mr. Clean.
Like the biblical Samson, I grew “stronger” (more confident) with each belt level as a competitor. By the time I was promoted, I was confidently trampling through the competition scene at my current belt. Sure, I lost matches during this period, but the losses were offset by the much bigger wins, and I was bursting with confidence at every tournament.
Of course, starting over (with the new belt) was always humbling. While the hair helped with dominating the lower belt, the next belt up was a challenge. I really liked that: it was all new to me, and there was no pressure.
This wasn’t always easy to maintain. On the contrary, I hated having long hair. HATED. My training partners would put their knees on my hair to inadvertently pin my neck to the mats; my hair was always getting pulled out from collar chokes. Nevertheless, I don’t look back with regret in any way on my personal journey through ridiculous hair and amazingly fun jiu jitsu.