Inverted Gear Blog

Answers to 5 Common White Belt Questions

Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be a bewildering and socially awkward experience. You are dropped into a new culture with all its own rules and traditions. To ease some of that tension, I have written answers to a few of the most common questions that beginners ask.

Does it matter what color gi I buy?

Check your school’s rules, but a white gi is always a safe bet. Blue is normally fine too. Black is probably OK but some new students worry it will draw too much attention.

The reasons to check with your school first are that some require white gis or require you to buy a school gi. More liberal BJJ associations like the BJJ Globetrotters allow everyone to wear whatever colors and patches they like.

Do I have to wear a rashguard under my gi?

Again, check if your school has rules about this, but usually it’s not required, though wearing one is much more common these days and I recommend it.

Back when I started BJJ, men went bare chested and women wore sports bras and t-shirts under their jackets. Somewhere along the line it became popular to wear rashguards instead. Having had my face pressed in many a hairy man’s chest, this is a trend I fully support.

How do I remember everything I’m being shown?

I have yet to find a better way to remember techniques than writing a training journal. Keeping a detailed journal can be difficult at first because a single class can be overwhelming, but your recall will get better with practice.

How do I deal with feeling so sore after training?

Nothing will prevent you from feeling some soreness, but these can help:

  1. Good sleep.
  2. Drinking plenty of water.
  3. Eating healthy.
  4. Taking a day or two off to rest.
  5. Stretching and foam rolling.
  6. Massage.

In the long run, your body will adapt in many ways that lessen the soreness. You should start a habit of working on your mobility and strength now to guard against the more serious injuries that BJJ athletes are prone to.

How soon before training should I eat?

You know your body and its quirks better than me, but I recommend you eat something healthy about an hour before class. Give yourself enough time to not feel it sitting in your stomach when you start bouncing and rolling around.

Good choices for snacks are oatmeal, granola, peanut butter, whole grain bread, fruit, and nuts. If you are on some kind of diet or bodybuilding plan where those foods are not recommended, then this question and answer was not for you.


If you still have more questions you’re afraid to ask, put them in the comments below and I’ll work them into the next installment. Thanks for reading!

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Giant Blue Belts and Giant Shipping Problems

After realizing that I had neglected my mount escapes, I’ve dedicated the last several weeks revisiting and refining how I deal with this position. My escapes weren’t terrible, but my preference for guard meant that I was rarely forced to fight out of mount.

As I forced myself to let people mount me, I had flashbacks to being a white belt stuck under the giant blue belts I used to train with. The horror. Sweat dripping on me. My chest crunching. The steady inch toward a higher and tighter mount. Even though it’s been years since I’ve felt that desperate under mount, part of my desire to work on the position is driven by those memories: I know how bad the position can get, so I need to take it seriously to keep a position from going from bad to worse.

So every training session, I ask a few big guys to hop into mount, give me pressure, and get mean.

While I worked on this mount project, I found myself underneath mount somewhere else. Our fulfillment company moved locations, and while I won’t bore you with all the details, it was a perfect storm of unfortunate events that left us way behind. Some orders took over two weeks to ship, some of our inventory was lost only to be found in a different box weeks later, and our new shipments were still waiting to be updated while we finished organizing.

As our inbox started to fill with “Did my gi ship?” requests, we kept our elbows tight and started to work our way out from underneath this terrible situation. We updated everyone on what was going on. We went to the warehouse and rolled up our sleeves and helped moving boxes and shipping orders, something we haven’t done since the warehouse was located in my parent’s basement. I have continued to spend two days a week at the warehouse.

Through this whole ordeal, I was able to stay remarkably calm, and we are slowly working our way out. While we are not completely out yet and it still sucks to be under mount, I would say we are at least getting back to half guard, and working our way back to closed guard soon. I will continue making my three-hour drive to the warehouse on Monday mornings to help ship and organize our inventory, and we hope to be back to shipping our orders within 48 hours soon.

In the meantime thank you for all your patience. We are not happy about how these events played out, but when you’re stuck under mount, your best bet is to admit that you’re in a bad position and be proactive about tunneling your way out. You might want to ignore it and just hope that it gets better, but that’s not how any of this works.

Face the problem head on and get to working that upa.

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How to Impact the Sport Without a Gold Medal

I was going back through the Inverted Gear blog archives looking at some of the more popular posts, and I came across Nelson’s “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu goals that do not involve becoming a world champion.” I think part of why this article resonates with so many people is that it speaks to an unspoken fear in a sport that heaps admiration onto competitors: By not competing (or not competing well) we are somehow not doing “it” right.

Competition is an important facet of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it’s not the only facet. There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but I can understand how the intensity and prowess of fulltime competitors can leave your own jiu-jitsu journey feeling unimpressive and inconsequential. I can understand because I’ve been there (and might be there presently, depending on when you read this).

Based on a recent Reddit thread where a brown belt whom I respect very much admitted to tapping to a highly competitive blue belt, I suspect that this feeling is far more pervasive than many would admit.

My theory is that our community equates championships and big competition victories with impact. It’s an easy and clear way to identify the people who are pushing the technical envelope and taking the sport to new and even more nuanced heights. Deep down, I know that my own desire to be competitive—despite my inability to do so—is driven by a passion for making a difference. A gold medal can signify a meaningful contribution to the sport we care so much about, but what if that gold medal is out of reach for any number of reasons?

You can still make a difference in the sport. And in many cases, I would argue that the impact you can have is far more important than the impact of hitting the top of a podium, even if it doesn’t come with the glitz and the fame.

Here are 5 ways that you could leave your mark on the sport without ever earning a gold medal:

1. Be an excellent teacher. I’ve lamented before about the fact that instructors don’t get a lot of press coverage, but that doesn’t mean that their impact is any less significant. Whether you are training future world champions or leading a great self-defense class, teaching is perhaps the most important and productive thing you could do to build jiu-jitsu up. You don’t have to run an academy either. You could informally mentor other students, pick up a class to help out at your gym, or start to teach on YouTube once you have the chops to do so.

2. Use the sport to do good. This is different from my suggestion to teach in the sense that you use jiu-jitsu as a conduit to address a problem or to serve an underserved population. Tap Cancer Out is a great example of this idea executed to the extreme, and Groundswell Grappling Concepts is an example of this idea executed with a balance of business and social responsibility. You don’t have to start your own organization, though, to do good with BJJ. You could help fundraise as part of a Tap Cancer Out event, or perhaps you could volunteer for youth programs, maybe mobilizing your training partners to join you in the process. There are also roll-a-thons and whatnot. With some thinking, I bet you could channel your BJJ into something positive.

3. Be a positive voice on the mat. Again, there is not a lot of glamor to this suggestion, but there is always a need for people who are outgoing, welcoming, and supportive on the mat. You might not end up in the jiu-jitsu history books for being the first person at your gym to welcome a new student or to be the one that doesn’t let someone else experience the awkwardness of “last picked” when people pair off to train, but I promise you the person you help will remember and will be thankful. Taking on this role is actually more difficult than it sounds to do consistently, but it’s powerful in its own way.

4. Contribute to the discussion. Jiu-jitsu is always in need of more thoughtful people contributing to the growing discussions around the problems and opportunities in our art. Start a blog. Start a podcast. Be an active and constructive contributor in online discussions. Film some videos. The media scene around BJJ is busy and disorganized, but there are still openings for people to do new and interesting things. Your audience won’t be massive, especially when you first start, but if you stick with it your voice can help to guide at least part of the sport. Pro tips: Consider starting local, covering your immediate jiu-jitsu scene and the people in it, and also go easy on yourself as far as production value is concerned. I got my start with a hand-me-down laptop, a bootleg of MSWord, and a $100 BestBuy camera (before smartphones).

5. You don’t have to run a BJJ business. Making an impact is hard, and sometimes our passions can get the better of us, leading us into commitments that we aren’t ready for. I’ve seen a lot of people start t-shirt companies or open gyms long before they were really ready (guilty on this front, myself), so try starting small with one of the previous suggestions before you empty out your savings on a new project. It’s okay if BJJ is your passionate hobby and not your entire life. In many respects, those people are the most important parts of BJJ even if their names never end up in lights.

I hope that eases some of the pressure you put on yourself as far as competition goes, and at best I hope to see your contributions making a difference in the future.

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5 Tips for New Instructors

While at the BJJ Globetrotters USA Camp in Maine this past weekend, I talked with a brown belt who was anxious about teaching at a school he was going to visit as he continued his trip through America. He had only taught a handful of classes before, so he was not sure what he would do yet. Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, here is the same advice I gave him:

Stick to the basics.

You do not need to impress students with how many cool or strange techniques you know. You just need to make them better at grappling. The basics will get you far. Even the advanced students who may be tired of practicing the fundamentals will still benefit.

Speak loudly and confidently.

Students respond to instructors who are engaging and seem to know what they are talking about. If you mumble and act uncomfortable in the spotlight, students will zone out or not take you seriously. Develop a convincing “I know what I’m talking about” voice. Even if you’re not that confident, fake it til you make it.

Do not over-explain or show too much.

Similar to not teaching anything too fancy, do not try to be “too smart” when explaining your techniques. Of course you should be detailed, but most students reach information saturation. It’s better to show the move briefly and highlight the key points first, then come back to it in more depth after your students have had a chance to practice it.

Copy lessons by your favorite instructors.

You can get overwhelmed by the prospect of coming up with a good class if you have not had to make one from scratch before. Instead of stressing over how to be entirely original, just recall your favorite lessons by your instructors and copy those. There is no shame in copying a good thing here.

End with live training and people will forget your minor mistakes.

As long as you make people break a sweat and put in some good rounds of rolling, most students will forgive minor mistakes. Keep an eye on who is partnered with who if you have any concerns about safety.

As you can probably tell, the trick to starting as a new instructor is the same as it is with anything: start simple, don’t overcomplicate it, and copy someone who knows better when you’re unsure what to do.

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4 Tips for Big Pandas

When I started BJJ I was 185 pounds. I have drifted upward since then (I don’t regret a single taco), and for the most part I have been considered one of the big guys in the room. As someone that has spent most of his BJJ career on the 200+ pounds range, these are some of the rules I follow in order to train in a way I can both develop my game and keep my training partners happy.

1. As someone blessed with extra gravitational powers, you can apply more pressure than most of your training partners. This does not mean you need to roll like a maniacal steamroller, flattening anything in your path. If there is a big weight or skill discrepancy between you and opponent, you don’t have to apply all of your pressure. Sure, use enough pressure to finish whatever pass you are working on or to hold a top position, but try to move, improve your position, go for subs, and be mindful of the build and frame of the person beneath you.

2. Ask yourself the question, “Did I get that sweep/submission/escape because my technique was right or because I am a giant panda?” I often encounter big guys that grow accustomed to being the only big guy in their gym and develop bad habits because of it. These habits become apparent when they meet someone of similar size or an equal or higher skill level. It’s an eye-opening experience when a big part of your game is suddenly nullified because you are no longer the larger grappler.

3. Don’t neglect your bottom game. While as a larger guy passing and takedowns can become your comfort zone, you will find yourself on the bottom eventually, and having a guard game that can handle a bigger opponent is important. Yet again don’t fall into bad habits here. Develop a game with an opponent your size in mind. Look at guys like Pe de Pano or Bernardo Faria for guys with great guards. While guard is important, make sure you work on your escapes as well. While rolling with a 260 pound black belt recently, I was painfully reminded that I had been neglecting to work on my mount escapes, and it is now something I will be working on for the next few months by starting my rolls from there as often as I can.

4. Work on your mobility and flexibility. Newcomers to BJJ are often stiff as a board, and this is especially true for bigger guys, even more so if they spent years in a less than ideal strength training routine. Pay attention next time Americanas are taught. It is very easy to spot the big bench pressers in the room. Tight hips, legs, and back muscles may keep you from performing certain things like triangles, inversions, or dynamic movements, but if you keep training and working on your flexibility, you will be able to do them down the road. When I started BJJ, my hips were so tight I had a really hard time getting triangles. I even injured my knee once adjusting one on a bad angle.

There is nothing wrong with being one of the bigger guys in the room. It’s not like you have much of a choice in most cases. What you can choose is how you approach your training and how you think about your body and your training partners. If you are diligent about being technical and develop self-awareness as to your habits and your own weaknesses, you can refine your technique to the point that you can both take care of smaller training partners and handle the challenges that a larger opponent presents. Hopefully this can help some big guys starting out in BJJ.

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