The Journey to Black Belt with Coach Robert Yamashita

There are a ton of memories and experiences that I’ve got while being with Elite. One that I like sharing is what it took for me to get my black belt in BJJ. Everyone is held to different expectations and no one’s black belt experience will most likely be the same. I am no different.

I came up in a traditional martial arts background and like a lot of other traditional martial art practitioners, the conversation of how to progress to the next rank is always a little taboo. In fact, most martial arts instructors take offense to someone asking what is needed to progress to the next rank. Just like anything else, there is a responsible and irresponsible way of going about it. I try to be responsible as possible so when one of my coaches wanted to sit down and talk about when I wanted to get my black belt, my answer was the same as a lot of people “Whenever you think I’m ready”. Now of course, I wanted my black belt as soon as possible but I couldn’t tell him that. As I look back, this conversation created an idea in my mind how I like to approach students for their rank. Coach Frost Murphy told me that my answer simply didn’t work. If I didn’t create a goal of accomplishing black belt by a certain date, the experience would probably be ordinary and he would not let me be ordinary, he wanted extraordinary. So I came back with a 6 month goal, the end of 2011 and I went back to training.

I asked my other coach, Jordan Rivas, what he thought I needed to do to get my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He was in the trenches with me and the other students day in and day out. He told me that he thought I was ready but I should also ask Frost. So when I asked Frost I was expecting the same answer. Boy was I wrong. Frost told me that I was a sore loser and I needed to learn how to tap and be ok with it. Of course the sore loser in me immediately said then I didn’t want my BJJ black belt, that I would stay a brown belt forever. He then of course explained how my training partners were afraid to give their all against me because when I would get tapped, I would slap the mat and rage out. I even had conversations with some of my main training partners and all his coaching was validated. I was a crappy partner that couldn’t deal with tapping. Now that took me pretty far in competitions but I would start to plateau if I didn’t create a safe training area where I could be pushed beyond my mental boundaries without breaking and becoming emotional. So I went to work and let everyone, from the 5yr old’s to the new white belts, tap me out over and over. It took me 3 months to work through it. It was by far the hardest thing I had done up until that point in training.

So the goal deadline came and I didn’t receive an invitation to test. I went to Frost to ask what was next since I didn’t get invited. He said I needed to speak with Eric and Hai. That was definitely scary for me since I hadn’t ever really had a conversation about MY training with them. Now I had to ask the head coaches what I needed to do. I scheduled a time with Hai and he was great. He asked how my training was going and what I was doing for my black belt which I told him. He knew I was a competitor and hard worker, so he asked me if I’ve trained with anyone really high level out of town and won anything major, which I hadn’t until that point. He challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and go do that. So I went out to California to train at a very high level, highly competitive school. Training there was brutal, dog eat dog and it showed me not only great ideas and concepts that I still use today in training but also how I wanted to treat people that I didn’t know. I also signed up for the next major tournament there was which was No-Gi Pan Ams. I went to New York and took 2nd place in my brown belt division, winning 2 matches and losing in the finals.

After everything was said and done, what I got for myself was that I accomplished everything that was asked of me and I grew to be a bigger and better person then I even knew myself to be! I had reached the point that if I received my black belt by the next test or in another year, I would have been ok and complete. I was asked to test on the next test and I received my black belt Dec 2012. I am forever grateful for the coaching, pushing, pulling and always empowering all my coaches did for me to help get to that point. Now its my turn to help every student see their potential that they might not see and ask them to do things that are bigger than what they think they are capable of because if you can do it, you will be better for it!