What I Have Learned Rolling With New White Belts

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Some colored belts do not think they can learn anything from rolling with new white belts. 

I used to be one of them.      

When I walked into the academy and saw nothing but inexperienced “newbs” practically falling over each other, I would ask myself why I even bothered enduring the hour-and-ten-minute trek to the gym.    

But as has often been the case in martial arts and life, I was wrong.     

Rolling with new white belts has helped me immensely as a jiujiteiro.  It has taught me to deal with aggressive opponents, allowed me to share what little knowledge I have with others, and most importantly, it has humbled me.       

I could prattle on for hours about all the benefits of training with the lowest echelon of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but my conscience would not allow me to bore anyone to that extent. 

Instead, I will simply leave you all with four things I learned rolling with new white belts.     

They can help you train for aggressive opponents

As an animal lover, I have never wanted to be a bull fighter.  However, sparring with a new white belt a year ago forced me to do everything except don the flashy clothing and black hat. 

Every time the bell rang, this BJJ newcomer would charge at me with his nostrils flaring, grab whatever he could, and frantically push and yank his way to a takedown. 

If he ended up on top, he opted for a grind-and-smother method, driving his elbow into my face until there was not a layer of skin left. 

If he landed on the bottom, he would buck wildly, gritting his teeth, grunting, and using everything in his power to deflect my barrage of submission attempts.    

The poor guy wore himself out quickly, but thanks to new white belts like him, I am learning to defend myself against strong, aggressive opponents.    

Most higher-level white belts and colored belts use a slow, technique-based style of sparring to subdue their opponents.  They are great technicians, but poor teachers when it comes to dealing with wild attacks.      

New white belts, on the other hand, have proven to be a treasure trove of information on dealing with the blitzkrieg-style grapplers I am likely to face if I ever get sucked into a street fight.            

Their moves can be surprisingly effective

Most new white belt techniques can be easily deflected, if not entirely ignored. 

However, some of them are surprisingly effective.   

Case in point: about a month ago I was rolling against a brand new addition to our gym. 

I had a ten-pound advantage over him, so I went easy.  I let him pass my guard, left my arms out so he could attempt an armbar, and even gave up my back.        

All of sudden, I found myself in a heap of trouble, though.

As I lay on my stomach, he climbed onto my shoulders, wrapped his legs around my neck, cupped his hands under my chin, and tried to yank my head off.   

Though the move did not hurt, I could not get him off of me.  I tried pushing him off, but accomplished little more than grunting.  I tried twisting my body around, but almost choked myself. 

Eventually, he loosened up, and I passed his guard and choked him from the mount.  But as I walked away, shaking my head at my embarrassing performance, I had to admit, he had controlled me.    

Rolling with him taught me to never underestimate anyone with bad jiu-jitsu. 

After all, bad jiu-jitsu is not bad fighting.      

They can cure an inflated ego instantly

In martial arts, an ego is like a fever: it is a sickness, but you are bound to get it at least once. 

Unfortunately, I have been infected with an ego many times throughout my martial arts career.  Sometimes it was after I tapped an upper belt.  Other times, it was because I managed to survive a round against my instructor without getting tapped. 

Whatever it was, it infected me; and the worst part was, I did not even notice it. 

Luckily, I found the perfect medicine: getting tapped by a brand new white belt. 

However good I thought I was, tapping to a kid whose white belt was still stiff was like someone throwing a bucket of ice water in my face and yelling, “Get over yourself!” 

Granted, it was some tough medicine to swallow, but it was good for me, and I have my fellow white belts to thank for it.                       

I owe it to them

I am not good at jiu-jitsu. 

In the six (yes, six) years that it took me to get my blue belt, I have competed five times and lost four times in the first round.       

But however good I am, I owe almost everything I know to the instructors and upper belts who took the time to grind me into the mats, point out my mistakes, and help me fix them. 

Why, then, shouldn’t I extend the same courtesy to new white belts?  Why shouldn’t I impart what little knowledge I have on them in the hope that it will make them a little better? 

Am I here simply to improve my own jiu-jitsu?  Wouldn’t that make me selfish at worst and an ATM for my instructor at best? 

Yes, it would. 

But thankfully, helping new white belts has reminded me that being a jiujiteiro is not simply about me. 

It is about my school.    

7 COMMENTS

  1. Really, you don’t say? You learned something from a white belt? Perhaps it never occured to you that said white belt came from another system, is a black belt and could DOMINATE you!
    Too many bjj BLUE belts thing they’re teh d3adly and get destroyed by a white belt with 2 months training in another style. The bjj “black belts” get humbled by other system blues! Kajukenbo or judo anyone?
    Can the attitude and learn from everyone you can!

    • Ironic that the gist of your post should be about losing ego and attitude when the tone of said post is permeated with both

  2. As a 46 yo blackbelt I sometimes demure from rolling the new white belt. I don’t always bounce back from injury quickly and after nearly 14 years on the mat I’m kind of over it, the mindless aggression, the use of strength, etc. Of course as a coach I owe it to them, but a room of purple, blues and 1-2 browns can sometimes do that. Anyone who is calm I’m happy to pass things on to. Other times, I’m happy to bash those I’m told to bash to demonstrate the art. So quite frankly, there’s no hard and fast rule.

  3. As a white belt of several months respect all students, whatever belt level they are. Everyone from the same school of training should be working to help all the other students improve as in a team effort. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Checking egos at the door is probably humble advice.

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