My First Stripe

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It just looks goofy to smile with a mouth guard in. Especially when mine is black and so it just looks like I’ve got a weird, toothless grin. I didn’t care last night, though. After class I couldn’t stop those little muscles in the corner of my mouth from curving up in a blacked-out grin.

I got my first stripe.

It was a completely unexpected moment. As they were giving out the stripes to the higher ranks I was preparing myself for being okay with a lot of white belts getting their first stripe and me not being one of them. There are so many moments were I feel like I’m light years behind everyone else. I even considered the thought that two years in the future I might set the jiu-jitsu world record for taking the longest to get the first stripe on my belt.

And, then I heard my name.

I didn’t move from my spot. My back was glued to the wall. I looked at him with raised eyebrows that asked a simple question, “Me?” I didn’t want to move just in case he said the wrong name or there was some other mystery Allison that I just hadn’t met yet in class. My feet were stuck. I think my husband might have given me a little nudge.

I took my first step and could hear “whoops” and applause.

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The support of the men who had smashed me and submitted me too many times to count. The people who always offered a learning opportunity whether it be via a submission or slowing things down and directing me through something I was struggling with.

I took my second step. “Don’t cry!” I said to myself.

I took my third step. “Dammit, Allison, don’t cry!”

I took my fourth step. “You don’t want everyone to see your ugly cry face. DON’T cry!”

I took my fifth step. “Stop crying!”

I couldn’t stop it. The tears were overflowing and I’m not even one of those crying tears of joy kind of people. It’s just that it was so many, many things rolled into a little two-minute moment. So much work and struggle went into that tiny little piece of tape.

There were times that I thought I would never make it past a week, let alone five months. Jiu-jitsu is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Ever. There are times that I feel like I’ve got everything against me. That I’m set up to fail.

I’m a girl.
I’m smaller.
I’m not strong compared to my partners.
My arms are too short.
My legs are too thick AND short.
I’m too old.

Failing would be so easy. I could have a million and one excuses right there at my disposal. I could simply say, “It’s too hard because ________,” and walk away and no one would doubt that statement.

But, I’m stubborn and defiant. Just ask my mom about dealing with me as a teenager.

Where’s the fun in quitting and doing what so many might expect you to do? Where’s the fun in taking the easy route. Where’s the fun in leading a life with no challenge, no change, no growth? Why not do something that seems impossible and surprise yourself? Why not prove everyone wrong and do what they think you can’t?

It’s just one stripe, I get that. I wasn’t even really focused on getting those stripes yet. I’m not going to lie, it was in the back of my head, but I was putting my efforts towards showing up and surviving and figured that stripe would just be a piece of tape on my belt. A simple representation of my time put in. I had no idea it would be so much more to me. That it would be a representation of perseverance, determination, hard work, struggles, and overcoming many, many frustrations.

When I realized what went into that stripe as he was putting it on my belt, I quit fighting the tears and let them go. I let everyone see my goofy, smiling, cry face as I walked back to my spot on the wall. I had earned those tears in that two-minute moment of jiu-jitsu joy.

Congratulations to everyone that got a stripe last night. I now know what goes into to earning those and I have the utmost respect for you all. Well done. A super big congratulations to my husband. Since I live with you 24/7 I know how much you love jiu-jitsu and how hard you are working. I am proud of you!

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