5 Things Every White Belt Must Learn Before Blue Belt

When you first sign up for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, you can feel like you're drinking from a fire hose. Everyday you are bombarded with new techniques, strange movements, unknown terminology, and somehow you're expected to just figure it out while you are out of breath, sweating profusely, and being smashed by all your training partners.

To simplify things for you, here are the top 5 things you must learn at white belt:

Good Hip Movement

You will constantly hear coaching advice to move your hips better, and it turns out it's always true. That's why I created these two videos for solo hip movement drills you can do at home or as warm-ups before training:

This video explains the value of good hip movement when escaping side control and fixes one of the most common mistakes white belts make without realizing it:

Defensive Posture

Most humans (and I'm assuming you are one) have a natural instinct to push or grab their attacker. This is OK when no one really knows anything, but in a BJJ setting it means getting your arms busted and wasted your strength. Instead, you need to learn to keep your arms safe. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this means keeping your arms bent, elbows to ribs, and hands by your face AKA T-rex arms AKA boxing posture AKA Home Alone posture.

Survival Instincts

Beneath any specific techniques or positions are more basic instincts and habits. When you're a white belt and most of your time is spend in bad positions, the survival instincts are what you need to keep you alive.

These are the key survival instincts to develop:

  • Not panic breathing, whether that is hyperventilating or holding your breath
  • Staying mentally composed even under stressful, high pressure positions
  • Not turning the wrong way to give up your back or giving away worse positions
  • Defending your neck when in danger of chokes
  • Keeping your arms in when in danger of armlocks
  • Developing base and balance to not be easily knocked over or swept
  • Always inching your way towards an escape
  • Saving your strength and explosiveness for the critical moment it's needed

Positional Awareness

The sooner you learn the positional hierarchy, the easier everything else becomes. This refers to the idea that ground fighting is made up of superior and inferior positions, and knowing which one you are in tells you what to do next.

Traditionally, the positions stack up from best to neutral like this (assuming you're on top):

  • Back control/rear mount
  • Mount
  • Knee-on-belly
  • Side control
  • Turtle
  • Half guard
  • Open guard
  • Closed guard

If you're on the bad side, read that list in reverse to see how it goes from neutral to worst.

You need to know the positional hierarchy by heart, and more than that, you need to recognize where you are in it throughout a match. This will give you a clearer understanding of what you should be doing and what your next goal is.

Side Control Escapes

As a white belt, you will spend most of your time in bad spots, but chief of among these is always side control. That's why you need to put in extra work learning side control escapes. The only way you'll learn is by spending a lot of time underneath it and working your way out. Escaping the other bad positions like mount and rear mount are important too, but side control is the most frustrating and common place to find yourself if you're not in a good position.

These videos will give you the basic idea of what to work on:

As a white belt, you have so many things to learn that you can become paralyzed by information overload. The cold hard truth is that BJJ is very complex and it is normal to struggle as a beginner. But now you know not everything is equally important to beginners, and you can prioritize the skills I listed here. Developing these first will save you many headaches because they will keep you safe as you develop the rest of your skills.

Matt Kirtley

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