In Death, I Become

by Paul Waggener

I heard a joke the other week while sitting on the mats after jiu jitsu practice.

“Blue belts are the black belts of quitting.”

For those who don’t practice the so-called “gentle art,” (a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one), I’ll explain.

It takes between 6 months and a couple years for most people to attain their blue belt in jiu jitsu, a benchmark that essentially means you’re not a “newbie” anymore.

The blue belt, while certainly a solid accomplishment, often seems like much more than it is in the white belt’s mind, and once he finally gets it after hundreds of hours on the mats, he often succumbs to the feeling of “getting what he came for,” and ultimately, his spirit falters when he realizes how much further the road actually goes.

He quits.

This phenomenon is not limited to the grappling arts alone, but can be seen in many different areas of human endeavor. The beginner works so hard to reach the first milestone, and he builds it up so high in his mind, he forgets that what he was after was the finish line.

Upon reaching the first marker of this long and arduous journey, much more difficult, time consuming, and heartbreaking than he ever thought it would be when he set out, he experiences premature gratification. He lost sight of the end goal, and put all his attention on this infinitely more modest achievement, to the point that the end goal is something he no longer feels he needs to reach.

This is the sweet and intoxicating poison drunk by cowards and self-deceivers.

Over the course of thirteen-plus years in a tribal organization, or what some might call a “club,” I have witnessed this behavior countless times during the process of hangaround, prospecting, and “patching in.”

A definition of terms:

For our crew, the Wolves, individuals desirous of a high level of commitment that may ultimately lead to full membership must undergo a long and rigorous screening process. The ladder-style phases of initiation were borrowed from other outsider groups, mostly an amalgamation of esoteric orders of the past and motorcycle clubs.

First, the individual starts spending face time with us. This can come about in a variety of different ways, possibly by training with us, attending events, or getting invited to other hangouts. For most, this is where the process will both begin and end, as the harsh and highly specific weeding out process developed over more than a decade of tightly knit friendship amongst insiders acts as a filter that allows only the most “righteous” individuals to pass through.

These so-called “hangarounds” have no real obligation to the organization itself, but show their quality in a variety of different ways, mostly through time spent with us, and an obvious, but unspoken desire to move past the “outsider” classification.

After a period of time, which can be brief or incredibly lengthy depending on the person in question, he may be asked to prospect for our group.

A prospect dedicates his life to proving himself worthy of being “patched in.” He is on call at all times, and the requirements on his lifestyle, how he carries himself, what he reads, how he trains, how he will act in general, are specific and highly demanding. This prospecting phase will last for no less than a year and a day, and sometimes much longer- a unanimous vote from all members across the nation is the barrier in his way.

Because of this, he is expected to travel great distances often, undergo trials and ordeals, with swift and usually permanent repercussions for failing to live up to his stated goals.

At some point during this crucible, he will either be subject to a “no vote,” at which time his prospecting phase comes to a sudden end and his chances of becoming a full member are dashed forever, or he will be “voted in,” and a date will be set for him to take the Oath of the Wolves, a binding ritual that ties an individual’s fate together with us forever.

This process can be so long and rigorous, that once the individual in question attains his “patch,” he can succumb to the same blue belt mentality mentioned before, feeling that he has “arrived,” and is finished with his extensive testing, and can rest.

This false summit is dangerous, and often results in the individual being strongly head checked, or, in more extreme cases, losing what he has worked so hard to accomplish.

It is critical that at all times and in all places, we understand that the only true summit is death. The final peak on the mountain of our lifetime of accomplishments does not come at some point while we draw breath and are able to go further.

Our struggle is not forever, but it is for a lifetime.

During our lives, we will reach many of these false summits, and think to ourselves,

“I am here. I have attained what I sought. I can now rest.”

Sometimes, the deception is even more subtle, and we will say,

“I have done so much already. I have conquered so many lands. All I need to do now is maintain a steady and easy course.”

It is not now, and will never be enough to just show up for life. It is not enough to simply not quit.

When we cease to set new goals, to reach one summit and look for one higher, we have surrendered to that great destroyer called complacency, and our glory will swiftly fade into nothing, our names and legends will flicker out like an untended fire at midnight.

We do not become who we are during this life by saying, “good enough.”

We fight the good fight for our entire life, until our last breath is drawn raggedly from our lungs, and at the end of an existence lived for greatness, we say “In Death, I Become.”

Stay the course.
Never surrender.
I’m pulling for you.


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