A Little Helpful Advice For White Belts

This post is for all of the enthusiastic first-year Gracie Barra students out there. Starting Jiu-Jitsu is both an exciting and frustrating time.
You have gotten a taste of the incredible art that is Jiu-Jitsu and are seeing new techniques every week in class – and, frankly, every time you look at your social media news feeds and the techniques posted on your favorite bjj channels. It is also frustrating because more often than not, you are the proverbial “nail instead of the hammer” and also, you are overwhelmed by the immense number of technical moves in Jiu-Jitsu. Where do you even begin?
Have you checked out the GB Online Instagram account?
I teach the GB Fundamentals class at my school and here are the mistakes (and some advice to correct them) that I see most often in the class that is mostly made up of white belt students. This advice, if applied, WILL help you improve faster!
Try the moves your instructor shows in Fundamentals
Your problem as a 1st-year student isn’t a lack of available knowledge…it is TOO much information for you to process! There are hundreds of thousands of technique videos on social media. Which are the ones that you need to learn at your current level of experience? You only have a few precious hours of training time each week.
The GB Fundamentals Curriculum has identified the MOST IMPORTANT techniques for each position that you need to master AT THIS STAGE of your study of Jiu-Jitsu. The spinning, inverted fancy Instagram moves can come later.
Right now, you need to learn those core, basic techniques that will allow you to survive in rolling and build the foundation for your later advancement to the GB2 program.
The GB1 Fundamentals curriculum has simplified the mass of Jiu-Jitsu knowledge into a manageable set of basic moves. These are the moves that you should be trying to focus on AT THIS STAGE OF YOUR LEARNING. Forget the Instagram flashy stuff for now – instead, try to work the moves that you are seeing in each class.
Ask questions
Last week I observed a match between 2 white belts. It was an action-packed battle between a small, fast guy and a much larger, but still technical white belt. During the roll, the smaller student managed to get around to the back of the bigger guy only to find that he didn’t know what to do. He made a few attempts to get his hooks in, gave up, and moved back around to face his opponent and continue the match.
I was watching the roll with a brown belt coach and said to him under my breath “He doesn’t know what to do from there. Let’s see if he asks about it after the roll?” The student didn’t ask the available and willing coaches. Why not?
He encountered a situation in a roll that he didn’t have a technical solution for. This is the cue for him to ask “I got to my training partners back, but I didn’t know what to do. What should I try to do next time?” In this way, he learns from a failure in rolling. Only you will know what your biggest problems are…don’t be afraid to ask the available and willing coaches about the specific problems that you are having. It’s the fastest way to improve!
Follow your small successes
Early on in your training, you will start to experience some small successes with certain moves. Great! Take this as a sign from the Jiu-Jitsu Gods that these positions are going to be your best positions and a major part of your game in the future.
For example, let’s say you are doing well with the Toreando or Bullfighter Guard Pass to side control. Learn the fine details of the guard pass – the grip variations, the timing, the different ways that your opponent will try to defend. Go deeper into that technique instead of learning 5 other passes. You find yourself in side control top a lot after the pass. Now make it a priority to get a few high percentage submission attacks from the side mount top. This will build on your starting success and make you stronger. You will have a few strong positions that you have confidence in.
These successes will only fuel your motivation and drive you to train more and get even better!
See also on GB Blog: GB Inspiration: Prof. Flavio Almeida on overcoming struggles
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt