Hey White Belt, Chill — You’re Supposed To Suck

Photo Source: Issys Calderon Photography

Being a white belt in a sea of colored belts can feel a lot like being a guppy swimming amongst sharks. Here are all these people who know how to break limbs and choke people unconscious, and then… well, there you are. You might know a few cool techniques, and you’ve probably gotten a lot better since your first class, but once you go up against someone who actually knows what they’re doing, none of that really seems to matter. All you can see is how good they are and how terrible you are.

But seriously, that’s a good thing.

The white belt stage is probably the most paradoxical of all the belt levels. On one hand, you will never again see such a massive spike in progress in such a short amount of time as you do between your first day on the mats and the day your professor ties your blue belt around your waist. On the other hand, even as you’re learning a ton of new techniques, you’re going to be really, really bad at them. You might leave class super pumped about how you learned a triangle choke and a triangle escape and — holy guacamole — how you can transition to an armbar from a triangle, but chances are you’re not going to be able to properly execute them on someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Because of this, you’re going to become discouraged. You’re going to feel like you know nothing. You’re going to feel like you suck. And the reason for that is because you do know nothing, and you do suck.

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Honestly, though, thank goodness for that. All those blue and purple and brown belts who are whoopin’ your butt now would probably feel pretty lousy if they put in years and years of hard work only to be easily bested by someone who only has six months’ worth of jiu-jitsu experience. While there are some white belts who seem to have been given an X-Men-like mutation that makes them stupidly good at jiu-jitsu, most people are going to require at least a year of consistent and smart training before they actually feel like they kind of know what they’re doing. If you’re a white belt who’s destroying all the brown belts in class, you’re either a prodigy or those aren’t real brown belts.

Jiu-jitsu is hard, dude. There’s a reason it takes so long to get promoted, and there’s definitely a reason why so many people quit before they even get the chance to be good. There’s a lot to learn, and you’re probably not going to be comfortable with the details that will take your armbars from “meh” to marvelous for a few more years. Just like you have to be able to draw a circle before you can create something that rivals the Mona Lisa, the basics you learn as a white belt are going to be the foundation for all the smaller, more complicated things that will make you “good” as you continue to make progress. And until you’ve built that solid foundation, the details that more advanced practitioners have learned are going to be the reason they can so easily demolish you.

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Trust me on this — if you put in the time and effort, you will be good one day. It might take a bit longer than you expected, but it’ll happen. For now, you need to embrace how terrible you are at jiu-jitsu. Everyone you admire has been in your place. They’ve held back tears of frustration after a particularly brutal class, they’ve lost sleep going over what they did wrong during a roll, and they’ve felt like jiu-jitsu simply “wasn’t for them.” You’re not a particularly lousy white belt — you’re just a white belt.

The good news is that unless you quit, you won’t be a white belt forever. There’s going to come a day, in fact, where you might even miss these days of being invisible on the mats. Right now, nobody expects you to be good. They’re not going to try to test themselves against you the way they might see if they could tap out a purple belt. They’re not going to think of you as “the brown belt who still makes blue belt mistakes.” This is the only time in your jiu-jitsu career where the only thing that everyone expects of you is to show up and survive. Appreciate it while you can, because one day, you’re not going to suck anymore. And that, too, is kind of going to suck.

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