The Eternal Apprentice 

Many people are not willing to start learning something new because they dislike the idea of looking like a beginner. The cycles of learning never change and always deals in certainties: Mastery is a lifelong pursuit and we are all beginners when we start anything. These are both topics I’ve discussed before in previous articles, however I would like to explore the concept of The Eternal Apprentice; once we have started something new, how can we adopt a mindset that allows us to continue pursuing mastery? I’d like to coin the phrase, The Eternal Apprentice, to describe this mindset.

Even when we stop wearing a white belt, symbolically no longer being a beginner, the mindset of a white belt is one that we can continue to adopt as we continue on the path to mastery. Constantly being prepared to learn is the key to self growth.

The stimulus for this discussion was an interesting even that occurred in the BJJ World earlier this week. A significant Red Belt, Flavio Behring (who started Jiu-jitsu in 1951 under Helio Gracie), could not be promoted past his 9th degree Red Belt. The Red Belt 10th Degree is held exclusively for members of the Gracie family, so Master Behring humbly adorned a fresh White Belt with a Red Tab.

Whether Master Behring intended it or not, his actions hold some very symbolic meaning. For him to return to the White Belt is a great example of the concept of the Eternal Apprentice. Master Behring, through his actions, has shown us two very important things:

The Color of your belt should not impact on your attitude towards your learning

I think we get caught up in this sometimes. We allow the color of our belt to dictate the narrative we hold about what we learn and who we learn from. If we adopt the mindset of the apprentice, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn from everyone and everything.

There are cycles of learning & mastery

The art form that is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu does not hold an idea of what ‘perfect’ looks like. We are constantly chasing perfection, and even when we execute techniques with efficiency and precision it could always be done better. The learning process, practicing and drilling are a constant cycle of failure and success, trial and error. This is a circle, it is a cycle that doesn’t end. We constantly move around this cycle as we focus on new techniques or revisit old favorites.

Everybody wants to know a ‘secret’ or find something that gives them a leg up when it comes to improving. There is none. To improve, you have to engage with the learning process. The more you invest into the learning process, the faster you will improve and the more repetitions of the cycle you will be able to complete. If there is one secret, it is this; adopt the mindset of the apprentice and accept learning wherever you may find it. Our learning never ends. Mastery is impossible to achieve, but the pursuit of it is ultimately noble and is a life long journey. 


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