The white belt stage might be the most nerve-wrecking, seemingly clueless, overwhelming yet beautiful stage of the quest to black belt.
Every person within their first years training will be preoccupied by the overwhelming amount of terminology, the positions and how to even get there, when submissions will start presenting themselves, the labyrinth-like guard passing, and the million-and-one guards. They’ll seek help from old faithful YouTube, and attempt anything that helps them survive training with the upper ranks, from flying submissions to heel hooks. And let’s not even open the conversation about making the decision to start competing.
To make your way through the Red Sea of the first years of this lifelong addiction, I might be missing the two stones, but here are the 10 commandments that will become the basic principles of your lengthy quest.
I. Thou Shalt Embrace the Suck
Alright here comes a hard to swallow pill... YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING.
But the best part about it is, you’re not supposed to! White belts are white belts for a reason, you’re a newborn, an infant in this art. So yes, you will be beaten by pretty much everyone, even people you think you shouldn’t lose to. Get used it, learn to love it, accept the role of punching bag because it’s not going to end anytime soon. Relish in the fact that there are absolutely no expectations and a world of things to learn.
II. Thou Shalt Not Train Through Injuries
The Gentle Art as we know it, is not really all that gentle. Sure, you’re not getting punched in the face, but unfortunately there will be some nagging injuries from time to time. As much as you’ll hear “train through it” ...please don’t. You hate to hear it, but you don’t quite know what you’re doing well enough to be able to protect your injury and keep training. Take a couple of days off, rest it, ice it, wrap it, whatever it is, the mats will be there when you get back.
III. Thou Shalt Not Consult YouTube
It’s intriguing, captivating and oh-so-tempting. We all fall victims to the enchantment of the flying raging armbar of death and the rolling fiery gogoplata of fury. The endless supply of bolos from Mikey Musumeci and Edwin Najmi’s flying triangles. But for the love of Carlos Gracie... Just don’t.
IV. Thou Shalt Focus on the Fundamentals
We get it, they’re boring. You’ve seen the scissor sweep and the bridge and shrimp so much you dream about it. But newsflash hotshot... THEY WORK, and they haven’t gone away for a reason. You don’t need to learn a berimbolo yet, and you do need to know how to escape side control. Don’t look for immediate success, but look for good long-term habits that will ensure you will be untouchable in the higher ranks. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than seeing a purple, brown or black belt not know proper defense once his offense gets shut down.
V. Thou Shalt Not Attempt to Coach a Higher Rank
Let’s go back to Commandment number one and remember that pill we talked about... you don’t know anything. There’s nothing more annoying than a white belt telling you how to do something better after you just submitted them. Respect the knowledge of those who have come before you or get served a big slice of humble pie.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Be Delusional
Some higher ranks might let you get away with things from time to time to let you catch a break and let you work some techniques. The most important thing to remember is, don’t let it get to your head. Just because you submitted that blue belt, doesn’t mean you’re ready for a blue belt, and just because that black belt let you pass his guard, doesn’t mean you ACTUALLY passed his guard. Take the inch, don’t get greedy by wanting to take the mile.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Worry About Belts or Stripes
Patience is a virtue you will need a great amount of in this sport. Don’t try to be flashy and impress your professor to show you are ready for that stripe or blue belt. Truth is, if you have to showcase to get noticed, you’re most likely not ready. Coaches and Professors pay attention, it’s their job, and they have years of expertise and their own criteria on what they’re looking for in order to promote their students. The best you can do is be a sponge of knowledge. Pay your attention to learning as much as you can and everything else will fall into place.
VIII. Thou Shalt Not Be Stubborn
Tap early and tap often. Don’t be stubborn and injure yourself because you let pride and ego get in the way. If you don’t like getting your ass handed to you, you picked the wrong sport. Instead, ask how the person was able to catch you, so you learn how to not make the same mistake again.
IX. Thou Shalt Compare Thyself only to Thyself
It’s easy to get discouraged when you see everyone around you moving a certain way, or people on Instagram with their highlight reels. The most important thing you must remember is that everyone is on a different path, and everyone learns and progresses at different rates. Even if you get a slightly better comprehension of something one day, that’s already one thing you are better at than the day before, and that is all that should matter to you.
X. Thou Shalt Remember to Have Fun
Why do anything in this life if you don’t look forward to it? Jiu-Jitsu is an unorthodox way of life, but it’s one of the most fulfilling you can come across. Truth is, this stuff is hard, and you’re not going to make it any easier on yourself by overthinking it. Relax, breathe, enjoy and just keep shrimping.