I remember when I was still a relatively new white belt I entered an in-house tournament at the academy. I got absolutely crushed: two matches, two losses — both by submission. Even though I was down on myself, I kept pushing forward.


Months later, I was finishing up a training session when Jean Jacques walked over to me and said, “Jay, I have been watching you and your game has improved so much in the last few months.” I felt like I won the lottery. I was so happy. My confidence increased by the simple, yet powerful words my teacher said to me.

Not too long after that, while still a white belt, I entered an open tournament. This time the result was very different: 2 matches, 2 wins—both by submission. Machado placed a gold medal around my neck. A week later, he wrapped a blue belt around my waist.

The whole experience made a profound impact on how I approach my duties as a black belt and instructor:

  • Never forget that you were a beginner once.
  • Never forget how much you needed help.
  • Never ever forget how grateful you were to those who took the time to help you.
  • Most importantly, bring value to those around you. Be giving.

This last attribute is very important and applies to more than just teaching. Help one another whenever necessary. Pay attention to the little things that sometimes go unnoticed. If you see another student without a partner during drills, invite that person to work with your group. Accept a student’s offer to free train, even if you’re a little tired. Help a fellow student who is obviously struggling with a technique. The list goes on.

While it is generally the instructor’s job to address issues on the mat, he is only one person. Your willingness to help others speaks volumes for your character. It is also important to remember that your words are powerful tools as well. This is especially important when working with beginners. They have enough obstacles in front of them and a few words of encouragement will help them succeed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well.

When Machado promoted me to black belt he referred to me as “a white belt who never quit.” It took me 10 years to achieve my goal. There were many setbacks along the way, but with each setback came a victory. My journey to my black belt changed my life on so many levels — all of them positive, and my teammates have experienced similar rewards during their journeys. As a result, I approach my new journey as an instructor with an incredible passion. I do this because I believe in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I believe anyone who decides to make a commitment to this beautiful martial art can earn a black belt. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Whether you are thinking about taking up the art or are already an experienced student, I hope these posts helps you in some way. Thank you for reading them and safe training to you!

About the Author: Jay Zeballos is a Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2009 gold-medalist black belt under Jean Jacques Machado. He has been training with him for more than a decade. Zeballos is also the co-author of The Grappler’s Handbook: Gi and No-Gi Techniques.

Photo by Kem West
Gillian White has worked in film and television for 25 years — far longer than she's been married to Michael Jai White, whom she wed in 2015. Recently, she's created a buzz in the entertainment industry because of her role as Zara in Take Back, a movie that also stars her husband and teacher, as well as Mickey Rourke. After eight years of hybrid training that includes kyokushin karate and an array of effective fighting styles, Gillian will step into history as the first Black female martial artist to play the lead in an action film when Take Back is released this year.
Keep Reading Show less
Not many martial arts styles, methods, or forms come with a patented nutritional program to maximize a fighter's health and performance. Gracie jujitsu is not only a form of fighting; it is a lifestyle that fuses the mind, body, spirit, and nutrition to develop the best possible person and fighter.
Keep Reading Show less

I recall Floyd Burk who is also a regular writer and contributor to Black Belt Magazine once asked for my input on article he had in the works entitled 'The Aging Martial Artist'.

Specifically he wanted to know the biggest change in your martial arts ability that you've noticed over the years? (Answer could be physical, philosophical, strategic, etc..)

Because judo is so physical, many of the moves I can no longer do because of prior injuries and trying to avoid future ones, (after 60 it takes much longer to recover). So my role have gravitated towards being involved in running the judo organizations, promoting large events, refereeing, developing future leaders, as well as providing wisdom that comes with age and experience.

Keep Reading Show less