Melissa Bentley: My Journey to Black Belt

Melissa Bentley of Legacy Vero Beach reflects on her journey towards a black belt.

An article I wrote a couple of years ago, “From White until Now…” re-emerged   recently and  inspired me to write an update on my path to a  jiu jitsu black belt.

That article was written when I was in my second year as a purple belt, right after I won my 5th Miami Open Championship. I had a rough time that year mentally which was revealed in the article and reading it again brought back some memories of that time.  What was really shocking to me was the mental strength I have gained from then until now.

I received my brown belt shortly after I wrote that article in December, 2014. After the year I had, I was honestly shocked, yet relieved that  Master Tavares acjnowledged my improvements despite of the issues  I was experiencing.

Once again, with my new belt, I drove forward and competed right away. I was still hungry to succeed. I was ready to prove to myself that I was not going to be the one to destroy me. I signed up for Pan Ams in the weight division I had missed the year before ready to show that I could compete at a high level.

I worked hard but then it happened. Self-doubt. I tried talking my way out of this weight cut, I was terrified that I would miss weight again (a lot of money and time wasted….again??). I would speak to  Master and come up with every reason/excuse that I should change divisions and he would tell me “Make the weight. There is no option to change divisions.”

So here comes the day when I step on the scale. I have prepared and did all I could do. I look down at my feet and realize that not only did I make weight but I was 3 pounds under. I did it. Honestly from that point on I realized I could do anything. Me telling you about a silly weight cut may seem pointless but it was a turning point for me in my Jiu-jitsu journey and my life. I could do it. I had failed and yet with motivation and confidence I could still move forward.

My brown belt days seemed to fly by. I trained often and competed as much as I could. I had good days and bad days of course but I noticed that on my bad days I wasn’t dwelling on them as much as before (The MANY pep talks from my team were finally kicking in). I accepted the bad days. Realizing that they make me better.

I was watching my teammates excel, raising the bar and I needed to catch up and raise it further. There were still tears, but much less of them. My time as a brown belt was amazing. My technique was getting sharper but most importantly my mental game was improving. I didn’t feel like I was doing this for everyone else anymore. This was my time, this journey was for me.

Then it happened………..I was promoted to BLACK BELT. It was completely unexpected and I was incredibly shocked. I was so proud, honored and happy to have achieved this goal. Everyone who trains BJJ wants this belt and here it is, tied around my waist. I knew that with this belt comes a lot of responsibility. I don’t want to say that I was worried if I could live up to these responsibilities but I had concerns. Not only was I a black belt; I was  Masters first female black belt.

I want to make sure I lead by a great example like he has done for me and so many others. I want to inspire by taking action and not just talking about it. I knew I had a big job ahead of me and if he thinks I’m ready then…….Let’s go!

Just as I have with all the other belts, I jumped right into competing. I felt like as soon as I was promoted the level of training changed. I was training harder and faster. I was preparing to compete against black belts! Every time I thought about it, I was in awe. These are people I have looked up to and have watched. Now I was training and competing with them!

I had a great first year competing at black belt. I won some and lost some but what really stood out to me was my training. The growth of my skills and defenses preparing for these events had significantly changed. I was so happy with the progress I made in training that losing a tournament wasn’t so bad. Of course I want to win, but I finally understood and felt what people had been saying. “You either win or you learn”.

As I am ending my first year as a black belt, I am still getting my legs underneath me, still finding my way. I have been invited to teach at different academies and have also been able to teach along with other amazing black belts at seminars for Mission 22 and Girls in Gis. This is giving me the chance to travel and share my jiu-jitsu while helping me become a better instructor.

The amazing opportunities that have been given to me are priceless and I am so thankful. I have the best support system at my academy and my home. I am very excited for what the future holds. Everyone with a black belt says it because it’s true……

My journey has just begun. And what I like to tell people is…….. I am just a girl who loves BJJ.

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