For the white belts…
Being a white belt is often is hard. There is so much information it can be far beyond overwhelming. I remember my white belt days coach was on step 12 of showing a submission from side control and I was looking around the room to see if anyone else knew what an under hook was. It is analogous to learning how to swim in your pajamas while fighting an alligator.
Beyond the flood of information, it can be intimidating. Maybe you feel like you are too old or too young. Maybe you feel like you are too fat or too small. Maybe you are just uncomfortable with people in your personal space.
So the question always becomes, what advice do you have for white belts? I remember asking this question quite often. Sometimes the advice was terrible, “Stop pulling bottom side mount so much.” Sometimes the advice was better.
The first key piece of advice is to tap early and often. There are zero expectations associated with a white belt. That is a great thing. A white belt should understand that in the training room, a tap is not losing. In the training room a tap is learning. You will tap millions of times in your Jiu Jitsu journey. It proves Jiu Jitsu works. Do you really want to learn a martial art where an experienced practitioner cannot destroy you without breaking a sweat? No. That would mean the martial art is of little value. Taping is a good thing. Embrace it.
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A second piece of key advice is to learn to be relaxed. There is no money on the line when training at your gym. There is no championship belt. You need to be able to calmly implement strategy. Start first by identifying what positions you are in; is this half guard or full guard? Next, you should figure out the key steps for each position. The same thing is true when in a dominate position. Wow, you made it to mount against another white belt. This is not the time to make eye contact with your coach or start celebrating. Identify the position and figure out the steps necessary to control the position. But beyond everything be relaxed. This will not happen overnight.
A third piece of advice is to set goals. A typical goal for a white belt is I want to get to blue belt in___ months. This is a terrible goal. A good goal should detail the steps necessary to achieve the goal. These steps should be small weekly or daily actions. A goal that states the end results but not the weekly actions is a platitude. A better goal than the blue belt goal is the following: At the end of 1 year I want to see considerable improvement in my Jiu Jitsu. To do this I will take the following steps: 1) I will not quit before the year is up. 2) Train 3 times a week. 3) Get solid repetitions in when I train. 4) Ask at least 1 question every class. I will measure this goal by tracking my daily and weekly actions. Saying that a belt is a goal is like saying to a body builder that huge muscles are a goal. You do want to begin with the end in mind but you must carefully document the steps necessary to achieve that goal. Last, a goal should be written down. Goals that are not documented mean nothing.
Fourth, figure out what good etiquette is for Jiu Jitsu. Your gym will have its own rule set. Maybe they don’t allow wrist locks. But figuring out what good etiquette is paramount. Here are some common ones. 1) No shoes on the mat. 2) Come to class clean. You should be clean. Your gi should be clean. Your rash guard should be clean. 3) Stay home if you are sick or have any kind of skin issues. 4) Don’t celebrate submissions. 4) Don’t brag about anything. No one cares that you caught another white belt. Certainly, there are many more items of etiquette but those are a few of my favorites.
Five, have fun. If Jiu Jitsu is a grind and something that you hate doing you may be at the wrong gym or your attitude may be wrong. Life is too short to collect miserable experiences. Enjoy your time on the mats. Embrace the fact that you do not know anything. Make friends. Everyone who is there for a significant length of time has fallen in love with Jiu Jitsu. That is a beautiful thing. Enjoy the journey.
Being a white belt is hard. Jiu Jitsu is hard. A lot of people will quit. But by adopting these best practices for Jiu Jitsu you are beginning your journey well equipped.
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