White belts are special people. Their enthusiasm has an intense innocence. They have just stepped into a world full of possibilities and rich with history. They want to experience it all right away and they really sincerely want to get better. Even if they think “knee on belly” is “neon belly” and that a “whizzer” is a “wizard,” their hearts are in the right place.
And that’s what many veteran grapplers lose sight of: most white belts mean well.
In online communities and in my travels, I sometimes see higher ranked jiu-jiteiros rolling their eyes at newer students or growing frustrated with an unending stream of questions. They go online to complain about a white belt coaching other white belts or worse yet having the nerve to give them to critique an upper belt’s technique.
We forget what it’s like to be a white belt, and in many cases, we are much harder on them than we should be. Before a newbie pushes you to frustration, keep these things in mind:
- The sport needs white belts. New students keep the sport growing, and a new student likely means that more people outside of jiu-jitsu will hear about the sport. By the time you get to purple belt, everyone you know is aware that you train and is sick of hearing about it.
- The depth of jiu-jitsu is overwhelming, and it’s getting worse. There are so many techniques and positions to learn—all with varying names and terminology—that a white belt is hopelessly outmatched. If a white belts asks a lot of questions, be nicer about answering, and don’t be afraid to remind white belts that it’s okay that they don’t know everything yet.
- Because white belts are often the first of their social circle to enter the sport, they can sometimes feel like they have a responsibility to be a jiu-jitsu missionary, which means having to speak authoritatively about the art. They don’t have enough knowledge, of course, to get it all right, but no one talks to them about how to balance their enthusiasm. Again, they mean well, so don’t be too hard on them.
- Gyms are really bad about teaching jiu-jitsu culture and tradition. A white belt is rarely given an explanation of gym decorum or an introduction to the culture of our sport as a whole, so it’s not the white belts' fault when they forget to bow or don’t wash their gi every training session. When you expect someone to learn these things by feel alone, you put an unfair amount of pressure on that person. Higher belts should talk to white belts about these things!
- White belts don’t know what they don’t know, and they have no way of knowing that you have answered the same question a thousand times, so be patient. Higher belts helped you when you were a white belt. Pay it forward and lend a hand.
Go help someone new.
Do you have a story about an upper belt helping you when you were new? We’d love to hear it!