(Photo Credit: Richard Mossotti)
“The Four Pillars of a BJJ White Belt”
by Mike Bidwell
Everyone starts at white belt but quickly forgets exactly how that feels. It’s an amazing time where every class brings new information and what seems like a constant stream of “ah ha” moments. Along with all the excitement comes endless frustration and confusion. Why is BJJ so challenging at the beginning levels? Part of it is that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is just a tough martial art: physically and mentally. It’s not like other martial arts where you can sort of trick yourself into thinking you are better than you really are. Here’s a good example: If two adults take a striking class they will hit pads, throw kicks and punches in the air and maybe even spar with a partner. (In most cases, people don’t spar 100%.) Why because of injuries, safety concerns, etc. But in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you can actually “spar” or grapple at 100%. Why? Because the “tap” gives you the “out” when you need it. In other words, you can grapple your partner at 100% effort and resistance and when you get into “trouble” you can tap and exit the match safely. If you were doing standup sparring at 100% the only real measurement of absolute success is an actual knock out. Now of course you can spar 100% and see what happens…but that probably isn’t the safest way to train! So my point here is that BJJ gives you instant, 100% feedback. You grapple someone and they catch you in a submission and you tap out. Immediately you know that you lost. There’s no question or debate or “what if” scenarios…you lost period!
When you are a white belt you will more than likely tap out way more than you will ever tap out others. For the most part this is as it should be. If you’ve never wrestled or grappled before your expectation shouldn’t be that you would be good right away. Nobody is ever good at anything at first. Have you ever tried snowboarding? You will spend more time on your ass than a Miyao brother (I actually like them a lot that’s a compliment really). Snowboarding like BJJ, it is very difficult at first. Like most things in life, you have to suck at it before you can be pretty good and you have to be pretty good before you are good… and so on it goes. In order to progress on your journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you will need to build a solid base early on in your training if you are to survive. In this blog I will cover what I believe are four pillars that are vital to a beginner BJJ student.
(Photo Credit: Richard Mossotti)
Pillar I: Tell your narrative and stay committed to it.
Why are you starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and what do you expect to get out of it? These are very important questions that will act as your guide and beacon throughout your first year of training. Your narrative is your story. What do you want your story to look like? Sit down with a notebook and write (in the present tense) what you expect to gain from your first year of training. Start it like this…”Now that I’ve been training BJJ for one year I have lost thirty pounds, got two stripes on my white belt, competed in my first tournament…” This will help you clarify your goals and objectives regarding your training. Take your time and be as specific and detailed as possible. Why one year? You can’t start BJJ thinking that you might quit. Make a commitment with yourself that no matter what you will stick with it for one year! This gives you time to create real momentum. Remember, unless you’re seriously sick or injured, you have to stay committed to your original goal to train for a minimum of one year.
Pillar #2: Have an accountability partner
Not knowing anyone in your BJJ class can be very intimidating and for some people a path to quitting. Your accountability partner can be anyone who you train with that helps you adhere to your goals… and you do the same for them. How do you find an accountability partner? It can be something as simple as recruiting a friend or family member to attend class with or maybe you befriend someone from class. Having someone to share your BJJ excitement with is very important. It gives you someone to train with outside of class, someone to share rides with and most importantly someone to help you stay committed to your goals. If you can get your significant other to train with you then kudos! That alone will prevent future arguments over your “insane addiction” to BJJ!
Pillar #3: Take copious notes
Go and buy a notebook for your BJJ notes. Bring your notebook to class with you and take notes during class. By taking notes you will extend your attention span, recall information more effectively later, and allows you to be a more active learner. If you were taking a college course taught by an important speaker you would take notes right? BJJ isn’t cheap and you are learning one of the most complicated martial arts on the planet from someone who is an expert…why wouldn’t you take notes? In addition to taking notes in class it is also important to take notes after randori (live sparring). Ask yourself two important questions: What did I do right? And what did I do wrong? This will help you set goals and benchmarks. In addition, take specific notes on specific partners. Your grappling partners are your truest benchmarks. Write down how you think you did? What is working and what’s not working? This will help you mark your progress and record your first year of training. Which will also be valuable later on in your training when you look back and reflect on your time as a beginner.
Pillar #4: Ask for help!
Remember, your instructors are there to be your guide. You have to always trust that they have your best interests in mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also don’t be afraid to trust their judgment! You never ask; “when am I getting my next stripe?” Let your instructor be your instructor. Other than that, your instructors are more than happy to answer your questions. Of course don’t take advantage of their time. If you have a lot of questions or just need some help with your training, schedule a private lesson. Private lessons are a great way to get some extra guidance from your teacher. If you cannot afford private lessons, ask some of the upper belts in your school. Most decent blue belts can answer most “white belt” questions. Blue belts are also great because they just spent a great deal of time not too long ago as a white belt. Take advantage of this excellent resource.
(Photo Credit: Richard Mossotti)
- The more you train, the more you’ll get out of it! You can either “dip your toes” or “jump in headfirst”. BJJ is a very complicated martial art. You will never “get it” by training once a week. Make a commitment to train a minimum of 2-3 times per week. Like the saying goes, the more you put in the more you get out of it! How deep down the rabbit hole do you want to go?
- If you’re over 40 or coming off an injury etc. Be smart with your training partners. Don’t grapple with the crazy 20-year old that tries to rip everyone’s head off! If you’re attending an open mat then pick safe, trusted partners you feel comfortable with. You’ll quickly figure out who the crazy ones are and who are the safest students. Don’t be afraid to ask the upper belts to grapple with you (especially brown and black belts).
- Attend Open Mat. Don’t be afraid to attend open mats. Some of your most valuable lessons will take place in live training. Plus this is where you will develop and hone your grappling skills, improve your cardio and really experience the most exciting part of BJJ training!
Check out this crazy technique video from Mike!
Mike Bidwell is a BJJ Black belt by day and aspiring Ninja by night. Mike is a Black Belt under Ken Kronenberg (Team Tai-Kai / Balance). Mike competes regularly in the masters divisions and also runs the popular www.BJJAfter40.com website. In addition, Mike’s 8-year old daughter Valencia runs the www.TheGiProject.com website where she collects and sends new and used gi’s to “at risk” and underprivileged kids throughout the world so they can participate in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.