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Off the Rails

Every school has different belt promotion traditions. For some, a simple handshake and a handoff of the belt suffice. For others, you get thrown, get choked, or have to run a gauntlet of belt-whipping. There are probably numerous other traditions I’m ignorant of.

For our school, the tradition is the belt train.

This weekend, we’re having a seminar where some of my teammates may rank up. This brought back memories of my own belt train which I bring to you now in photo and video form.

What is a belt train, you might ask? It’s a marathon rolling session where, for a certain amount of time, you stay on the mat while a new person jumps on you every minute. For a blue belt, it’s around 15 minutes; for a purple belt, 30; for a brown belt, 45; and for the coveted black belt, a full hour. In my case, there were 18 people in class, so my train was 18 minutes.

Your idea of the train beforehand.

Making matters worse, everyone ranked below you can pick the starting position: they can be on your back if they want, or they can force you to stay standing to wear you out.

Because people go in order of rank, just as you’re getting tired, you start to get jumped on by the people who can ordinarily handle you anyway. The instructor, who can handle everybody anyway, goes last.

What the train is really like afterward.

To be honest, I really enjoyed mine. Not every minute of it, mind you: that final minute was excruciating. But there’s something about going through something like that with your training partners that’s really powerful. I feel about it the same way I feel about writing: I might not enjoy it, but I enjoy having done it.

Without further ado, let me deliver unto you the video. If you’ve come looking for the trainwreck, here it is.

The first 4:45 is banter that, while witty and effervescent, may not be interesting to you unless you know my training partners. After that it’s pure visceral ass-kickery. Enjoy!

My personal favorite parts:

7:58: Am I really getting assaulted by a dude in a tie-dyed gi?

9:26: It’s always fun to roll with someone more than twice your size. When he goes knee on belly, the audible OHHHHHH from the crowd is pretty funny.

12:50: I get jumped on from behind. Sadly, you can’t tell the deep oil check at 13:20 or so is happening, though you can hear people joking about it (“He’s a quart low!”)

14:52: The author of this blog is a good friend of mine, and is as badass as she is nice (and she is very nice!). You can hear through the whole video people telling her not to take it easy on me. “If you take it easy,” our instructor said, “you get a train of your own.” Good times!

16:27: Uh oh, I am getting Supermanned.

17:10: Uh, oh, I am getting lifted up by the pants and then dropped. Then comes the knee on belly.

McKayla is not impressed with your knee on belly, but I am.

17:50: My instructor tells me I have 10 seconds to re-tie the pants, and if I fail, I get two minutes with him. Yikes! At the end of the rapid-fire pants-tie, one of my training partners — a former college wrestler — double-legs me and hits a beautiful can opener. Man, I’m glad I do yoga.

18:45: I get put into a body triangle and the instructor tells my training partner not to tap me — just hold me there. The result is the best picture of the train:

Feels as good as it looks!

… and because I’m learning Photoshop, I had to do this:

This feels like Sistine Crap-pel. Hey, Yahweh, a little help?


20: 15: The most dramatic moment of the train. You can see my try to sit guard a few times, and hear my training partner tell me “Get up! You aren’t robbing me of this.” Then, at 20:20 he hits a sick throw that gets the biggest pop from the crowd (and my back).

I made an animated GIF of that throw, but can’t find it right now. I’ll add it if I find it later, or make another for those of you who can’t watch video at work.

Now, the last minute of this might not look like much, but God, it is miserable. My instructor’s mount pressure is brutal under the best of circumstances, but to have it happen after 17 minutes, when he just steps right into mount, when I’m exhausted, and when he strips away my defensive frames like they’re nothing …

Yes, it was a humbling experience. A humbling experience that left me looking like this:

Let’s get back to training!

I actually really like this picture. It’s clear I’m exhausted, but it’s also clear that I’ve survived, and that my instructor is helping me get up. As a friend of mine told me once, I’m never down: I’m either up or getting up.

Following this weekend, I’m looking forward to helping some of my teammates get up.



About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

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