3 Pieces of Advice for White Belts

90% of his success was just showing up.” Woody Allen 

On BJJ related internet message boards there are several popular topics that arise again and again.
Two common themes that continually come up are:
Q: “I am just starting training in bjj and want to progress as quickly as possible. What advice do you have for me?”
Q: From more experienced belts: “What advice would you like to give to your whitebelt self when you first started out?”


Here are 3 pieces of advice that I received early in my study of Brazilian jiu-jitsu that have been the most helpful to me.

1) Imagine your opponent is stronger than you
cat-sees-lion-mirrorWhen you are learning a new technique (which will be every class as a new white belt!) you must approach the technique assuming that your opponent is bigger and stronger than you are.

After all, we are NOT learning jiu-jitsu in order to defeat smaller, weaker opponents!
The techniques of bjj as developed by Grandmaster Helio Gracie depend on optimal leverage to allow the smaller person to defeat the larger stronger. The techniques should work without excessive use of muscular strength. If you must use a lot of strength to complete the technique, how effective is this likely to be when you encounter a stronger opponent?

Are oyu grunting and grimacing with effort trying to get that kimura? Not very effective at all!

Observe a 150 lbs. blackbelt dominate and submit a much heavier blue belt. How are they doing it? 
Understand that the basic techniques of bjj should be able to be applied without an excess of physical strength. It is up to you to learn the correct leverage to apply all of your moves in the most efficient method possible. Pay attention to correct leverage and do not rely on your physical attributes.

2) Just show up


Over the course of your training in bjj, there will be many ups and downs. 

You will have classes where you seem to be making great leaps forward in your techniques and your progress is rapid. These are great days to be on the mat! And then shortly thereafter, there will arise periods where your opponents seem to have solved your game and even your best positions do not seem to work.

There will be days where you can’t wait to get to the academy and try the newest positions that you have been developing. The time during rolls passes all too quickly. And then there will be periods where just getting to the academy seems like an overwhelming task. Your mind will look for every excuse to not go to bjj class. Bjj feels more like a work obligation than a passion.

Just as in life, we are all subject to the highs and lows of our training. It helps to remind ourselves that our journey in bjj is not a smooth, linear upward progression, but in reality, many periods of progression interrupted with frustrating plateaus.

Director Woody Allen famously said that 90% of his success was just showing up.

On those days when it is a struggle to get to the academy, remind yourself that once you get warmed up on the mat and drilling some techniques with your best training partners, you will feel better and be one step closer to resuming your progress again.

“A black belt is just a white belt who didn’t give up”

3) Do some physical conditioning outside of class

At first this seems to be contradictory to Advice #1. But when we examine it more closely we can see that it isn’t.

One does not need to be the strongest person in the academy to enjoy success in training. But you DO need to be strong ENOUGH to execute the movements properly. One of the first signs of fatigue during rolling is the degradation in the execution of technique.
Observe the difference in the guard of the bjj fighter early in the match compared to after exhaustion has set it. 

Not tired: moving the hips from side to side; changing the grips; sitting up and attacking; initiating the exchange
Tired: pulling with arms instead of moving hips; back of head on the mat because abs are fatigued; holding on defensively; reacting to the exchange

Put simply: when you are tired you get sloppy and can not correctly execute your technique!

There are many options for physical conditioning outside of bjj class: running for cardio, lifting weights for strength, yoga for core and flexibility etc. 
In a future article we will discuss some of these methods in more depth. For now, accept the idea that in order to maximize your performance on the mat, you will have to do some homework off of the mat.

What is the favorite piece of advice that you received on your own bjj training?

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ

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