Home Thinking Aloud My Black Belt Journey: A Tale Of Resilience, Mastery And Life Lessons

My Black Belt Journey: A Tale Of Resilience, Mastery And Life Lessons


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by Roy Dean, author of “The Martial Apprentice” and “Becoming The Black Belt”

I am at that stage in my life where I’m looking back quite a bit, reflecting on what I have accomplished both personally and professionally, contemplating both the highs and the lows of the journey, and still trying to learn from each. In relation to this theme, I am about to rerelease my two books, The Martial Apprentice and Becoming The Black Belt.

I wrote both books when I was younger. I recently looked through each of them again, and realized how much I’ve grown since I wrote them. Consequently I decided to expand on and re-edit both books, to more accurately reflect on where I am today with respect to the art of Jiu Jitsu, my training and role in teaching the art.

Life is about allowing yourself to evolve, which is a constant theme in Jujutsu (also spelled Jiu Jitsu and Jujitsu). Most of us who have been practicing any martial art for many years see it as far more than “just” being physically fit. It’s about dynamic problem solving, adapting to evolving circumstances, and the embodied confidence that comes from resolving conflicts constructively and intelligently–both on and off the mat.

In The Martial Apprentice, I looked back on my earlier years in martial arts, focusing on my role as a devotee of Jujutsu and the foundational experiences that shaped my understanding of martial arts training and instruction. I talk about my initial encounters with various martial arts forms, my mentors who generously gave of their time to help me advance, and the key moments that influenced my development as a martial artist. This book delves into the categories of martial artists, the importance of mentorship, the questioning innocence of youth, and the growth that can only come from immersing oneself deeply in a field of study.  My goal with The Martial Apprentice was to apply my skills as a storyteller, to introduce readers to my lived experiences on the power of fully dedicated martial arts training.

In the second edition, I provide all of this but refracted through a more critical lens, one shaped and polished by experience and maturity.

Becoming the Black Belt is a memoir that delves into my modern journey in martial arts, specifically focusing on my experiences in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), and launching a renowned academy to teach the art. It’s an introspective look at my path to earning a  BJJ black belt, a significant life goal in martial arts that to this day remains one of my greatest accomplishments.

My book covers the physical, mental and spiritual challenges I’ve faced and the hard fought lessons I’ve learned along the way. I provide insights into the yearslong dedication and discipline that borders on obsession in high-level martial arts training. My narrative is interspersed with personal anecdotes, while also including philosophical reflections and practical advice for students and teachers of the art alike. My hope is that this package will make my book a compelling read for those likely curious about martial arts and for the dedicated mat soldiers.

Achieving My Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

In martial arts, you enter a world where humility and pain are not mere occurrences, but necessary teachers, and for me, the entrée through this world has been a powerful anchor in the world of resilience.

When I say resilience, I’m referring to a desensitization that allows one to handle the rough and tumble, and arm oneself without arms. It’s the ability to stay on mission with whatever you have on hand while ignoring unnecessary opinions and drama. Because of this, I’m a fundamentally different person as a result of my decision to go “all in” on BJJ. The art toughens you while informing you of the right circumstances to blend instead of opposing the forces of the world. Sometimes you push, sometimes you block, sometimes you pull. It depends on the situation but Jujitsu gives you every option.

One point of focus in Becoming the Black Belt was the legendary black belt exam under my teacher Roy Harris. Mr. Harris is unique in his structured approach to ranking criteria requiring myriad skills to be demonstrated under pressure. That was a grueling test of technique, strategy, endurance and fortitude. But most of all, he wants to see your heart, and that can only be shown after you’re exhausted.

Mr. Harris, who is known as “Boa” for his highly pressured constrictor-like mastery of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was not just an instructor but also a mentor, someone who shepherded me through the complexities of this art, while subtly passing along direct life lessons and his objectives on community, longevity and leadership.

During the black belt exam, as he exerted his rib breaking pressure, pinning me down and trapping me on the mat, it became clear this was more than a test of physical ability. It was a crucible for demonstrating character and will when things are stacked against you and you may want to give up, but you cannot. That is simply not an option. Passing this test showed me that I had another gear and tapped into a deep well of potential. His mentorship was crucial for bringing to that gate of maturity and responsibility.

From Curious Teenager to Black Belt Professor: Linear But Not Always a Straight Line

My venture into martial arts began in Japan, as a teenage exchange student. I was encouraged to train a Japanese art after school and I chose Judo–perhaps the most popular form of Jujutsu in the world. Training in this art would alter my life trajectory in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Those early lessons in resilience and consistency have propelled me to my current position as a practitioner and a teacher of this powerful and sophisticated martial art.

Training under Julio Toribio for Japanese Jujutsu, and Roy Harris for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, changed my life profoundly, as each man served as a technical resource, teaching model and mentor into the world of manhood.  Jiu Jitsu became more than a martial art to me; it is a philosophy, a way of life that transcends the confines of physical combat and a measuring stick of awareness in life. As Miyomoto Musashi says, “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.”

Of course I’ve learned how to leverage minimal strength against overwhelming force. Equally important is the mental agility that comes with training and the open mindedness to accept creative solutions when the familiar solutions are blocked. This keeps you in the realm of practicality rather than well-intentioned, but ineffective idealism.

The journey up to and beyond black belt has been more than an achievement in martial skill or a collection of ranks. It has been a transformative process, shaping my character, crafting my skills, and teaching me the value of resilience over time.

If you’ve been considering incorporating Jiu Jitsu into your life, I can assure you there’s never been a better time to begin. Life is unpredictable but the art shows you how to surf the waves of adversity into an exhilarating adventure of physicality, friendship and community. I am so grateful for my own journey and cannot imagine my life without this perennial human technology.


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Roy Dean is a 4th-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is your guide through the maze of your own potential, a visionary who’s constructed a global tribe through his affiliate network, and a luminary featured in Yahoo Finance and LA Weekly, shedding light on the transformative influence of Jiu Jitsu in leadership and personal evolution. Follow Roy’s journey on his YouTube channel.




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