A Year as a Black Belt
Today marks a full year since I received my black belt. In that time I’ve tried and tried to bring my thoughts together into a coherent and interesting presentation, to no success. But I didn’t want to let the occasion pass by without at least acknowledging it and the people who brought me to this point.
I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a wrestling family. My grandfather was a great wrestling coach, so he set me and my brothers down the path of grappling with a solid foundation. Growing up with three older brothers who wrestled through college gave me the opportunity to see the immense value to be gained from pursuing excellence in grappling.
My oldest brother Warren went to Brazil began learning Jiu Jitsu after college, and that’s really the start of my journey to being a black belt because I absolutely wouldn’t be here without Warren. Eventually he opened his first school in Costa Rica, and I had the incredible opportunity to live with him for a summer when I was 13. Not only did I get to experience a completely foreign and exotic location, coming from western Pennsylvania, I got to train with Warren and his students every day. It was a really unique and special way to start my Jiu Jitsu journey that I’m really thankful to have had.
After that, I focused more on wrestling through high school. I did moderately well, and continued into college but didn’t end up wrestling at the collegiate level. Meanwhile, Warren opened what was then Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh in 2010. I made the 1.5 hour drive down often, but not as often as I should have or would have like to. In 2010, a few months after turning 16, Warren took several of his students to the Renzo Gracie main academy in Manhattan and I was fortunate enough to receive my blue belt at the same ceremony wherein Warren received his black belt. Mike Wilkins, my other main instructor and training partner, also got his blue belt at the same ceremony (as did Luke Burdette, Warren’s only other black belt besides Mike and me). I mention this not only because it shows what an important event it was in our timeline as a school, but also because Mike loves to point out that we got our blue belts at the same time despite he getting his black belt well before me (you got me there! haha).
During college I took a pretty significant hiatus from training. Why you might ask? Well, it’s complicated. It comes down to a combination of nagging injuries from wrestling, struggling with being overweight, and some form of laziness and other mental hurdles. Thankfully, for some reason I decided to do an in-house tournament at “the gym’s” new location. I was not at all prepared, not having grappled for over a year, but I did much better than I expected and had a great time. I particularly remember pushing through exhaustion for a win, and how good it made me feel.
After college I began working part time at Warren’s gym, then called Stout Training, and it gave me the opportunity to take classes every day. I think some of my fastest progression was in this time, when I could really focus on training and learning. I also began to try to learn not just how to do Jiu Jitsu, but how to teach. Thankfully, I had constant access to world class teachers like Warren and Mike. In 2016 I received my purple belt and began teaching in earnest.
I love teaching Jiu Jitsu. It presents a constantly evolving challenge in how to best translate the complex interplay of techniques to students with different learning styles, experience levels, aptitude, etc. etc. It’s also a creative venture, in finding new lessons, combinations of techniques and movements, presentation styles, etc. Plus, as those who have been in my classes know, I get to have fun with it and use ridiculous analogies and movie references. But really the best part has been getting to meet and know such a wide range of people, from every walk of life, with many of whom I’ve built great friendships.
I received my brown belt in 2019. Both as a purple belt and brown belt I competed frequently. I see competing as a challenge and a proving grounds, and I think it helped me to sharpen my technique. In this time I also focused on broadening my technique, as I felt it was important not just to be competent in teaching the techniques I used personally but to be proficient in as much of the “geography” of Jiu Jitsu as possible. I found this to be really interesting because I came to enjoy, and even prefer, some positions I had previously neglected completely.
Unexpectedly to me, Warren gave me my black belt on March 27th of 2021. I was caught off guard and didn’t have a speech planned, but I did say one thing Warren has said that stuck with me. I’ll reiterate it here; you earn your training partners, and I have a lot of work to do to earn the incredible training partners and instructors I’ve had throughout my journey to black belt. I can’t thank Warren enough, I can’t thank Mike enough, I can’t thank all of the other members of Stout PGH I’ve trained with and taught for the past twelve years, and I certainly can’t thank my wife Casey enough for her support throughout this long and strange odyssey. I have a lot of good people around me, and I’m proud to represent them as best I can.
~ Logan Stout