Monday, July 25, 2011

Being a White Belt Is Hard

Being a white belt, especially in an art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is very difficult. It is very easy to get discouraged, to become disillusioned, and to give up.
When you face people who have been at class just a couple of months, or even days, longer than you, and you come up short ever time, the thought of just packing it in is very attractive.
You feel that the upper belts are picking on you, that everyone picks up the movements faster than you, and, worst of all, you can not do all of the exercises in the warm up.

My advice... relax, and take a deep breath. Remember your place and your job in class. What is that? To learn. To ask questions. To participate.
Because I am just a helpful guy I have a few things that you should concentrate on in every class.

  • EVERYBODY has been where you are at.  Even Roger Gracie started with a white belt around his waist and a blue belt smashing him in side control.  This time of struggle and hardship binds you in the fellowship of the art.  It also will cement your friendships with those you train with.  Look to your fellow white belts for a sense of solidarity.  I guarantee you if there is a blue belt that smashes you, or a purple who always catches you in the same submission, the other white belts have experienced the same.   Find out what they did to counter or escape!
  • I have yet to meet a person of any rank not to want to talk about the submission or sweep that they just pulled off.  If you are the one being submitted or swept, ask the submitter or sweeper what was it that they did, and why they were able to pull it off.  Chances are you will find a trend in the answers and be able to improve on another aspect of your game.
  • Your main job in class is to ask questions.  Ask so many questions that the instructor tells you to shut up, be quiet for just a couple of moments, then ask some more.  I have watched the basic guard pass being demonstrated perhaps 100 times.  I find something new each time I see it, and every question reveals a different point of view on the pass.  Have no fear of looking or sounding stupid.  You are a white belt, and are supposed to be looking and sounding stupid.  Might as well perpetuate the stereotype.  Ask the question.
  • The reason that you are getting swept, smashed, submitted, etc is because you are doing something wrong.  Most of the time it is because there is something wrong with your base.  Concentrate on your base.  When you do techniques in class watch carefully the base of the instructor as he/she demonstrates the movements.  Notice how low they keep their hips, or that they always have at least three points of base when executing a movement.   Notice how they remove their opponent's base to pull off the technique.  It is all about base.  
  • There is no magic bullet.  Sorry.  I wish there was.  However, perfect technique is the closest thing you can get.  Try to lean the techniques and their details, so you can pull them off.  The best example of this is the escape from side control.  Getting out of this position is one of the more difficult things there is.  The more experienced the guy is on top, the more difficult it is to escape.  The heavier the guy is on top, the more difficult it is to escape.  Only technique can save you.  So pay attention in class, and learn the ways to escape.  Ask questions!
  • You are going to get smashed.  You are going to get submitted.  You are going to get swept.  Accept this as part of your training, and try to figure out what happened before the smash, submission, or sweep to figure out how to avoid it in the future.  Part of being a white belt is learning humility.  It is learning how to leave your ego at the door. 
  • Above all, your time as a white belt will teach you about overcoming adversity, and it will teach you about yourself.  There will come a time when you are being smashed, you can't escape, you can't breathe, you will be as helpless as you have ever been in your life.  What you do in that moment will reveal your innermost character flaws, and teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.  If you don't like what you found there, you will have opportunities to improve, and to become the person that you want to be.
  • Your general fitness will improve the more you come to class.  You will eventually be able to do all of the warm exercises.  You will eventually be able to roll for the entire time.  You will eventually be able to compete, physically, with the other students in the class.  Your body will improve itself according to the stress put upon it on a continual basis.   You will be surprised how your cardio and your strength will improve.  BUT it will only improve if you consistently show up for class.  That means at least 3 times a week.  Most guys you see improving by leaps and bounds are showing up 5 or more times a week.  Mat time maters!
Being a white belt is hard, it is also one of the best times in your progression.  There are few expectations on you.  No one is looking to roll through you or submit you as a notch on their bed.  No one is looking to you to have the answers.  No one is surprised when you make a silly mistake.  
Have fun, and try hard.  Participate!

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