The Best Black Belts Have White Belt Mindsets

I attended my first Grapplers Quest almost 9 years ago. It was amazing.

Back then, we didn’t have access to the large amounts of high quality footage we have now, so watching high-level BJJ in person was one of the only ways to see what the top competitors were doing. For me, this meant being exposed to passes and sweeps I had never seen. Wilson Reis was fighting that day in the black belt division, and he was using deep half guard.

I didn’t know it was deep half guard, but it left a huge impression and made me a fan. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to train with Wilson.

Something funny happens as we progress in jiu-jitsu. We see so many techniques over the years that we start to lose our sense of amazement. When you first seen an armbar, it’s incredible and new and captivating. But eventually armbars start to seem boring. You get comfortable setting them up from a variety of places and then you move on to something more interesting.

Being a white belt is a wonderful thing, you are a blank slate. Everything is new to you. You learn from everyone! Fellow white belt with more stripes than you give you pointers on things they have figured out. The blue belts help you get through the drills. Purple belts tell you to stop being a dummy and keep both hands in or both hands out so you stop getting triangle. The brown belts show you all the crazy chokes they get you with. And the black belts show you pretty much everything!

But something funny happens, as you progress you get very picky where your information comes from. You may think lower belts have nothing to offer you or that you are an expert in certain areas. I have been doing triangles for 10 years I got to have them figured out by now, right?

Keeping a white belt mindset is important. You can learn from everyone! You might not sign up to take a private lesson from a white belt, but working with them and even teaching them can reveal some insights into technique that you hadn’t thought about before. Try to keep that sense of excitement you had when you were starting out and saw a new position. Don’t be one of those guys that just scowls and says, “X is not part of my game.”

When I moved to Philadelphia, I started training at BJJ United under Jared Weiner, but I have learned just as much from my new training partners. I have picked their brains about how they set up different takedowns, foot locks, passes, and half guard—oh man, so much awesome half guard.

I had gotten in the habit of stepping over the head in deep half guard in order to force reverse half and pass from there. During my first black belt match, my opponent kept attempting to take my back and came pretty close, and no matter how much I worked and scrambled, I could not escape his half guard or his reverse half. I felt in danger the whole time I was there! When I came to BJJ United, one of my training partners played a similar game from the reverse half. I ignored at the beginning, but over about a year, he took my back more than anyone else! Eventually, I realized I was being stubborn and needed to learn and work on this style of half guard, and that meant humbling myself and asking questions.

No matter how far we get, we can always learn from other people. World champion black belts are not the only sources of knowledge in the BJJ world. Keep your white belt mindset. Learn from everyone.