Advice for White Belts
You took the plunge and started jiu-jitsu! Everything is new and wonderful and strange and confusing. Looking back on it, my time as a white belt was probably the most fun. That’s when you’re experiencing so many things for the first time. You get to feel the excitement of seeing the basic techniques with fresh eyes. You won’t fully appreciate it at the time, but those fundamentals are going be the classics you return to again and again for as long as you train.
Now is the time to really enjoy learning from trial and error. No one will look down on you for screwing up as a white belt. You may feel pressure to perform, and of course you should try your hardest, but no one will remember your “failures” at this point. Do your best, learn from your mistakes, and ask for help when you need it.
Use your newbie enthusiasm as fuel to build to a regular training routine. Now is the time to form habits that will keep you training for years to come. Start eating better and keeping a sane sleep schedule so your body and mind are ready for class. Your hyper-enthusiasm will die down eventually, and when it does, you’ll need workaday attitude in its place to keep you showing up to train, even on the days you had to drag your feet to the gym.
Once your body can handle it, add a simple strength and conditioning routine. You don’t need to go crazy with HIIT training with a high-altitude Bane mask like you’re filming a UFC pre-fight promo. Find a simple but smart routine that balance out the ways BJJ will overdo certain muscles and underdevelop others. Injuries will be one of the biggest obstacles to training for a lifetime, and you want to strengthen your body against the preventable ones. This is the advice I most wish I followed as a beginner because BJJ will screw up your joints if you don’t do handle it early.
You will be so excited when you get your first stripe! You will dream about getting that glorious blue belt wrapped around your waist. Don’t be surprised if when that day comes, your excitement is mixed with anxiety. You’re not alone.
Advice for New Blue Belts
You’re getting the hang of this. Keep your excitement burning but settle in for the long haul. You’re just getting started. (Spoiler: the same is true when you reach black belt.)
Don’t let the pressure of the new belt get to you. You may really hate doing poorly with those dirty white belt scrubs now. Who was watching when you failed to effortless subdue every opponent who dared stand against you? Will they talk about you behind your back? Are they counting taps? Worse yet, did sensei see?
Chill out. Just keep training and do your best. Enjoy your successes, but you can avoid the emotional rollercoaster by developing a healthy sense of Stoicism.
Keep working on your weaknesses. Your belt may have changed color but the reality is that you likely need to work on the same things that got you to blue belt: escapes, defenses, survival instincts, and good posture. This will go a long way towards easing your “new belt performance anxiety.” You can start adding in more fun stuff like developing your guard, learning to pass guard, and maintaining dominant positions.
Don’t be quick to write off a technique just because you’re not good at it right away. Blue belts (or even worse, some white belts) can be quick to dismiss a difficult new technique. Keep the open mind you had as white belt. Watch instruction with fresh eyes, and drill like the technique was meant just for you. When a move makes you feel stupid or uncoordinated -- assuming it’s a fundamental and not some gimmick from YouTube -- be glad for that. That move has the most to teach you. Put in the extra effort to really learn it.
Even if you don’t end up making it part of your game now, acting like it will broadens your knowledge and adds to your movement repertoire. This is especially important if you have dreams of becoming an instructor. You’ll need to be able to teach a wide variety of techniques, even ones you don’t personally prefer, because others will need to know them.
Until Next Time...
There you go! That advice should help you through those rough first few years. The key takeaway lessons should be: train a lot, take care of your body, keep an open mind, enjoy your enthusiasm when you feel it, and show up to class even when you don’t.
Next time I’ll talk about how to approach training into purple and brown belt. Let me know if you have any specific challenges you’d like help fixing.