There is a lot of talk about the “Blue Belt Blues,” but the plight of the white belt has often been overlooked. The road from white to blue is full of landmines, potholes, and broken dreams. We have all been white belts and had that deer in headlight look, feeling of being the worst person in the room, and constantly feeling self-conscious about your skills and abilities. If BJJ were easy, every white belt will reach the blue belt level, but the reality is many drop out due to the time, patience, persistence, and desire required to train multiple times a week for one to two years. The retention of white belts is key to any academy’s ability to build a solid foundation of students for sustainability and growth. Here are eleven realities of the white belt whimpers.
Six months into training, new guy taps you: You have been training three to four times per week for the past six months and starting to feel like you are getting a hang of this BJJ thing. During live training, you are matched up with the new white belt that just started training last week. You decide to go easy on the novice, but within thirty seconds, the quick and agile newbie uses the guard pass taught in class to pass your guard and quickly catches you in a kimura he learned by watching UFC. It happens to everyone, from white belts to black belts, so don’t get discouraged. Even LeBron James gets dunked on every once in a while. If you step on the mats getting submitted by anybody and everybody will happen.
You didn’t get a rose on promotion day: It is promotion day and you have been training consistently and moving well during your rolls. You are hitting on all cylinders and hoping to get that coveted stripe that validates your hard work and gets you a step closer to blue belt. As each name is called, you are thinking “if guy who only trained three times this month” earned a stripe then I am a shoe-in. As each name gets called, you start getting nervous. When the coach says that’s a wrap, you now know what it feels like when doves cry. You can’t get promoted during every promotion ceremony. Your coaches are watching you and have been in the coaching and promoting game long enough to know when you will be ready for your next stripe or belt. Just keep training and learning since not all progress needs to be measured by a piece of tape.
Students you started with are advancing faster: There is a special bond among white belts who start at the same time and grow together on their BJJ journey. However, due to factors like athleticism, injuries, training volume, body type, and previous dance or wrestling experience, you fall behind the rest of the group. It can be disheartening to see your peers advance at a faster rate than you. Just know, BJJ is a long journey with many ups and downs and breakthroughs come at different times for different people. Just maintain your enthusiasm and focus for training and know the time and hard work you put into BJJ will payoff in a mentally and physically healthier body, new friends, and having fun learning a new hobby.
You and your training partner can’t figure out a technique and just sit there: We have all been here before. The coach demonstrates an advances, multiple-step technique and all of a sudden you feel like you are in a quantum physics lecture. You try to drill the technique and get lost. Then your training partner tries to do it and is on the same boat as you. You both look up and the coach is across the mat helping another group who is also struggling. Eyeballing the upper belts drilling the move just confuses you even more. There are numerous steps to learning a technique with many small details to continually refine it. Chances are you will struggle with more advanced moves and flows and that is to be expected. It can be frustrating, but just know this has happened to everybody. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from coaches and upper belts.
Your body type prevents you from performing techniques: You are a heavyweight with short, stubby legs and zero flexibility, but your coaches keep demonstrating body triangles and berimbolos. Each attempt to drill the technique is a comedy of errors as you flop around. It is easier to close the button on your jeans the day after Thanksgiving then it is to lock your legs correctly on the body triangle. After a few attempts, you are told it is all about the angles, but in reality you are just a size 12 trying to fit into a size 6 dress. As your tool box of skills grow, you will develop a game and style based on your preferences, strengths, and body types. Not all techniques will be ideal for you, but it is still good to know them and try your best to drill them.
You are sore and beat down: You love BJJ and increased your training volume and intensity. That is when your body started to feel sore and beaten down. Your muscles feel inflamed all the time and your neck is sore from getting choked multiples times per workout. Eventually your body will adapt to the increase in training volume, but it wouldn’t hurt to improve your diet, increase your sleep and rest time, and consider supplements like amino acids and fish oils to help with the soreness.
You are wondering if you are at the right school: You signed up at the first place you tried out or went for the biggest and best school in your area, but it just doesn’t feel right. You might not be clicking with the coaches and other students or the school’s class schedule just doesn’t fit. If you aren’t feeling the vibe of a school, then you aren’t alone. Many people tryout schools and then shop around after six to twelve months for a better fit. Don’t let one poor training experience hold you back from continuing your BJJ journey.
You are told to stop spazzing: During a rolling session, a more experienced training partner tells you to relax and stop spazzing. You didn’t think you were spazzing, but there is a good chance you were. Don’t take it personally since everybody spazzes at some point when they start training. Use it as a learning experience to evaluate how you are training. Focus on technique and movement rather than aggression and flailing arms and legs. Relax and realize it is just rolling and not a life and death struggle.
First tournament doesn’t go the right way: You started training five times a week and were rolling well against your peers. You felt great going into your first tournament and then got a rude awakening in your first match. In your mind, you pictured yourself on the podium, but in reality you were quickly taken down by a former all-state wrestler who then chokes you out. Everybody has bad matches in BJJ, including world champions. It is all part of the learning process and nothing to be embarrassed about. Keep in mind fifty-percent of the entrants in tournaments are gone after the first round and 75% are done after the second round. Its just the reality of the game. Work on your take down and submission defense and you will look great next time!
You waited too long to tap: You don’t want to tap and believe you still have some fight left in you. Then all of a sudden you hear and feel some pops and tap too late. It’s a harsh, but real lesson in BJJ that we can’t truly learn or grasp until it happens. In the future, just tap and restart. There is no shame in tapping and everybody does. It is also much cheaper than getting a MRI and being on the sidelines for a few weeks.
The blue belt bully owns you: Every gym has one. The blue belt who is a nice guy off the mats, but enjoys tormenting you on the mats. You have rolled against him every class for the past year, but still haven’t scored an advantage on him and have been mercilessly tapped out from every position multiple times each round. The cruelest part is you know he isn’t even trying. Use these rolls to build character and set goals for these rolls that don’t equate to winning the round such as getting tapped fewer times than you did the last round and working escape techniques when he gets in dominant positions. Eventually the gap will start to close.