14 things I wish I knew as a white belt

You’ve just started as a white belt and you have a ton of questions and are quite possibly feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth, well here I’m going to bring you the 14 things you need to know so you can nail being a white belt.

This article is predominantly geared towards grappling arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Judo and Jujitsu but many of the sentiments can apply to beginners in other martial arts.

  1. Every Black Belt has been where you are

Never forget this, everyone starts out a white belt but not everyone ends up a black belt. The journey to the Dan grades is tough and only a few who start make it but those that do have once stood in your shoes. The journey is long and tough, but those black belts got there through hard work and determination and you can get there too.

  1. Don’t give up

No one ever said it was going to be easy and the first 6 months can be particularly gruelling. There will be moments when you feel like you have leaped forwards and others where you wonder if you have made any progress at all. But always remember nothing worth learning can be taught overnight and you must take a longer view of progression. Those who are the most skilled have dedicated a significant amount of time to getting to the top.

  1. Commit to training as regular as you can

This point sort of fits in with the point above, the more time you spend training the quicker you will be able to progress. If you train 4 sessions a week for 6 months your going to develop faster than someone who has been training less frequently in that period. Even the most physically gifted will suffer from not committing to regular training.

It always worth remembering the commitments of a 30 something parent are way more demanding than those of a free spirited 20-year-old, so if work and life commitments prevent you from getting on the mat as regular as others you shouldn’t worry about it too much.

  1. Enjoy being a white belt you’ll never have it again

Depending on where you train and how you train there is often a hierarchy at play. Higher grades will hate losing to lower grades and will feel a pressure to maintain their status by dominating the lower grades in sparing, this is particularly true in BJJ which has a high amount of sparing.

If this is your school you’ll never have it better than being a white belt, threes no pressure to succeed and the ultimate freedom to fail. When sparing with the best higher-grade training partners they will actively seek to put themselves in bad positions just to try and work a way out again and this can be a great learning experience for both of you.

  1. Get in shape

No matter what your training you will always benefit from maintaining a good level of physical fitness, this will help you train harder and with more intensity, so you can get the most out of your sessions. You don’t have to become a gym rat but improving your cardio and lifting weights can have a beneficial impact on your training. If you started off out of shape you can bet starting a new martial art will have an impact on your waistline and general fitness levels.

  1. Use resources away from the gym

We live in an age where you can find almost any book at the click of a button and fortunately there are a ton of books out there that cater to all martial arts. Reading a book can be great for a new white belt it helps you grasp some of the fundamental ideas underpinning the system you are learning. On top of this there are loads of great videos being posted on Youtube every week which can help you develop away from the mat.

  1. Always listen to the instructor

This one goes without saying but I’m going to put it in here anyway, that guy at the front teaching the class probably knows more about what they are teaching than you’ll ever be able to learn. Always be respectful to the person taking the class if you don’t respect the instructor why would you be training there.

  1. Always turn up on time

Turning up a few minutes late every now and again is understandable but routinely not being on time is just plain rude. You might think the warm up is boring and not much will be missed by creeping in 5 minutes late but its disrespectful to the instructor and other people attending the session.

Often it gives the impression of arrogance and can create resentment amongst your peers. If they have just slugged it out through the warm up why should you be able to turn up late and get straight to the fun bit. I once attended a class where the instructor made everyone do the warm up again because somebody decided to turn up late!

  1. Focus on your successes and work on your failures

As a white belt there are going to be a ton of failures but each one will offer a new opportunity to learn. You shouldn’t become to bogged down in your short comings and instead try to focus on the small successes. The only person you are really competing with is yourself and you should aim to walk away from each session a better version of yourself than the one who walked in through the door.

Don’t worry if some who started the same time appears to be learning quicker everyone develops at different paces. Just remember to focus on your own success and congratulate others on there success too.

  1. Don’t dwell on being promoted and enjoy training

So many people who start a martial art become fixated with progressing from a white belt. Depending on what art you train the length of time you spend as a white belt will vary quite significantly. For instance, in Judo or traditional Jujitsu there are more belt levels than in BJJ. Its usual for a Judo or Jujitsu practitioner to advance several grades before someone who trains BJJ is promoted to a blue belt.

  1. What will my first grading be like

I know I just told you not to focus on this too much, but I understand it’s an area of intrigue for white belts. Gradings tend to vary quite a bit even within the same arts, some will be very technical, some are physically demanding, and others can come off the back of competition success. If you train for a while its likely that you will be invited to attend a grading or maybe one will take place during your regular training session. This is a good opportunity to understand what is expected of you and get you mentally prepared for what will undoubtedly come your way if you can dedicate yourself.

  1. Everyone can teach you something

If you spend enough time training you will learn something new from almost everyone, whether it’s the latest internet craze, an unbelievable submission pulled off in an MMA fight or just a subtle technical adjustment. As a white belt you will have more to learn than most so the opportunities are everywhere.

One of the strange things about grappling is that after completely dominating you a training partner will frequently offer you advice on how to close holes in your game to stop it from happening in the future. If you approach your training with an open mind you will find that most people enjoy helping you improve almost as much as they enjoyed taking you apart.

  1. Tap, keeping tapping and be quick about it

If your training in a style that involves submissions make sure you tap early to avoid injury. If you’ve been caught just accept it, tap, and move on. Too many white belts get caught up trying to muscle there way out of trouble or being to proud to tap. Granted no one wants to be tapping but you will learn so much more from 6 weeks of training than you will from 6 weeks of being side lined with an avoidable injury.

  1. Have fun

If your enjoying practice, then you will find it so much easier to keep returning and as a white belt you should be full of unbridled enthusiasm as you start out on your journey. People start training for a range of different reasons but the thing that keeps them coming back more than any other is enjoyment. Don’t be to hard on yourself, be respectful but don’t be too serious and remember to always have fun.