Keep The White Belt Attitude

The white belt can be the most exciting time in your study of jiu-jitsu. Sure, you can feel frustrated with trying to remember all of your techniques and most often you are the proverbial hammer and not the nail – which goes along with starting to learn any complex, new skill.

It is exciting because every class brings a new solution to a problem you have experienced. Each class reveals an awesome new move that you can add to your rapidly increasing arsenal of techniques. It is a really fun time in your jiu-jitsu.

The new white belt student often learns the most from other, more experienced belts in the class. Your training partner may not be a black belt (yet!) but they can help with correcting the details of whatever move that you are trying to drill. The white belt student is usually very receptive to advice from other, more experienced students.

Watching interviews with some if Gracie Barra’s most experienced instructors like Prof. Carlos Liberi and Prof. “Draculino” Magalhaes I was struck by how they emphasized the importance of keeping the “white belt attitude”..

The white belt attitude is a combination of enthusiasm for learning and an open, receptive attitude to learning from others.

In conversations with GB Professors who teach students of varying degrees of experience, the instructors often relate how they learn technical details from their students! During the technique portion of class, the blue or purple belt student will call over the instructor and demonstrate some variation on the move that everyone is working on. “Professor, John is trying the move this way and it seems really effective. What do you think?”

The instructor’s eyebrows get raised “Hey, let me try that!” Sure enough, the new variation seems like it has great potential to be added to their body of knowledge.

A black belt learning from a jiu-jitsu student of much lower experience? Yes! It happens often.

The art of jiu-jitsu is so deep that it is impossible to have a complete understanding of every position. There will always be other jiu-jitsu guys who have spent considerable time studying an open guard style or leg lock control that you are not as familiar with. They may lose as a lighter colored belt than the black belt, but that doesn’t mean that they can not teach the black belt some new details about a great position.

This is the “white belt attitude” that those senior GB Professors were trying to communicate. An openness of mind to new information from other sources.

At first, I would expect a senior Professor with 20 or 30 years on the mats to have a more conservative attitude to accepting new information. What can there possibly be in jiu-jitsu that they have not already seen? A lot according to they themselves!

These experienced instructors have seen so many innovations in techniques and positions from students over the years that they understand that valuable information may come from unexpected sources. Thus, they maintain an open receptive attitude towards learning from everyone.

A second characteristic of this “white belt” attitude towards jiu-jitsu is to greet new information with enthusiasm. A continued attitude of enthusiasm towards learning is essential if jiu-jitsu is going to be a central part of your lifestyle well into the future.

One of the most interesting aspects of jiu-jitsu for black belts is the continuous evolution of new positions that keep learning fresh even though they have already seen many things during their time in jiu-jitsu.

It is important to keep that enthusiasm for the new input and maintain that excitement you had when you saw a triangle choke for the first time. Keep that “white belt attitude” in your jiu-jitsu!

See also on Gracie Barra : Drilling : How To Do It Right

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam
Instagram: @markmullen.bjj