Dear White Belt: That New Technique Will Make A Lot More Sense Down The Road

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Image Source: Issys Calderon Photography

Unless you’re naturally athletic or have been training for a long time, learning techniques in jiu-jitsu is hard. We have to force our bodies to move in strange ways, and between all the names, steps, and details we go over in class, it’s a miracle we manage to remember anything at all.

Even as a purple belt, I struggle hard with learning new techniques. I half-joke that my greatest obstacle is the difference between left and right, and even though deep down I know that I know a good bit of jiu-jitsu, it’s sometimes hard to remember just how much I’ve learned over the years.

I got a gentle reminder of this during last night’s class as we reviewed a few sweeps from x-guard, which is one of my favorite positions to work from. But as I overheard a newer student tell his drilling partner, “I don’t know where to put my legs. This is a lot to remember,” I had a flashback to when I was in that position almost five years ago.

The first time I was introduced to x-guard was such a nightmare that I can remember everything about it years later, from what corner of the gym we were drilling in to who my partner was. I had no idea which leg should go where, I could not get the sweep if my partner was offering the slightest semblance of resistance, and I rationalized my inability by telling myself, “It’s ok, I’ll never use this anyway.”

Since that horrific day as a white belt, I’ve been re-taught the x-guard a few more times by various instructors, and each time made a bit more sense. It was like gradually adding pieces to a puzzle, and rather than seeing the big picture right away, it began to take form piece by piece. I picked up on new details that I wasn’t capable of grasping when I was a beginner and had to face the challenge of getting the basics down.

The white belt I was would have never believed that I would ever tell my drilling partner, “I love this guard. I use it all the time.”

Particularly when you’re not yet experienced in jiu-jitsu, you can’t expect yourself to pick up on every technique right away. But if you keep training, you’re bound to see it again. You may only recognize bits and pieces of it, but over time, it will start to come together. You may use it (accidentally or intentionally) in live rolling and think, “Hey, we practiced that a few weeks ago!” (Or maybe your opponent will use it against you.)

The longer you spend training, the more your techniques will start to build on top of each other as well — a De La Riva sweep may make zero sense to you until you learn a scenario in which you’d need to use the De La Riva guard. Personally, I couldn’t make sense of how to position my body for triangle chokes until I learned how to transition to one from a failed armbar from guard.

The fight to remember new techniques may be one you’ll always have to deal with, but don’t let it frustrate you into quitting. Keep a technique journal, film yourself practicing the move, or see if your teammates would be willing to drill it with you sometime if you want a better chance of remembering it. But remind yourself that the more you show up to training, the more you’ll see this move. Who knows — it might end up becoming one of your favorites.

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