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Things I Wish I Knew As a White Belt
Once you start BJJ and fall in love with the seemingly endless road to black belt, you will change as time passes into a different practitioner. As with any long-term endeavor, such as high school, a career or marriage, you are not the same person going in as you are at the end--not that BJJ or marriage ever have to end. Our ideas and skill sets become more refined over time. Our goals and priorities may shift. This is normal in the course of human endeavor. It is also common to look back at the early stages of anything and wax nostalgic or even have some regrets. These are some things that looking back on the white belt days, I wish I would have known or done differently. If you're just starting out, maybe these things will help you in your journey.
I wish I had made nutrition and conditioning a priority
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an amazing physical activity that encompasses strength and cardio exercises all "rolled" up into one. Before BJJ, the most difficult activity I had ever done was train for a half marathon and looking back, it paled in comparison to the all over body workout that the average BJJ class was.
Early on, without making any nutritional changes, you will most likely experience some positive benefits of the intense physical exertion of studying BJJ. But over time, if left unchecked, your nutrition and overall fitness will hold you back. It could hamper you from employing certain techniques, rolling as much as you want, and ultimately is just bad for your health. It is strange to look back and see that as my skill in BJJ progressed, I was able to allow for my nutritional habits and overall fitness to suffer because my BJJ made up for it. Now looking back, I wish I had taken a harder look at my routine and worked to eat a better diet over the long term and not just for short dieting cycles. I also look back and wish I had incorporated some sort of consistent conditioning program to keep my overall fitness at a higher level. I believe by doing this, I would have gotten more knowledge and enjoyment out of the earlier belt levels and I believe you can do the same.
In the video below, world champion Bernardo Faria shares his insights on additional physical training focused specifically on conditioning and whether or not you should employ that in your training routine.
I wish I had worried less about the next belt
Jiu jitsu has been compared so often to a marathon as opposed to a sprint that it's become cliche. We are human beings. Something has to motivate us to stick with something for 10 or more years. There must be a target, namely the black belt that is driving us to continue. This might be a secondary goal to things like better health, confidence, and the knowledge of the martial art, but it is still a goal. And as we progress, practitioners have a tendency to focus and stress about "that next belt." Whether it is blue, purple, brown--our culture of immediate gratification pressures us to always be chasing that next reward. Though in hindsight, it's probably easier said than done, I wish I had worried less about each belt promotion and concentrated on the bigger picture of jiu jitsu and how to be a better martial artist and practitioner.
Often times around the point when someone is getting close to achieving their blue belt, or immediately after, their motivation to train begins to waver. This occurrence has been facetiously referred to as "blue flu". Learn more about the symptoms of blue flu before it has a chance to take hold by checking out our article at BJJ Fanatics on "blue flu" here.
I wish I had only compared myself to me
BJJ is a competitive endeavor. It's easy to compare yourself to your teammates, your competition opponents, your coaches and instructors and even world-class heroes that you follow on social media. It's important to use the "others" in BJJ for positive motivation and not to compare yourself to them. You are the only one with your current situation and skill level. You should look to these people as motivation and compare yourself only to you. By making it a priority every class, every week and every year to be a better version of you, you will get much more out of your training than by constantly comparing yourself to others in your class.
No matter what your current belt level, it's never a bad time to reflect on all of your past experiences and see if you could be doing anything differently to make sure you get the most out of your training and end up being the best black belt you can be. By making some minor adjustments to how you eat and adding some conditioning, you can open up all sorts of new BJJ games that you never thought possible. You will be able to train longer and harder, recovering better. Also by focusing on the long term goal over all instead of obsessing on that next belt promotion, you will decrease your overall stress levels about your progression. And finally, focus on you and how you are doing compared to you. If we all focus on improving, even slightly each day, it won't be long until we are tying that coveted black belt around our waists and helping others achieve their goals.
Whether you are just starting on the road to black belt or you want to go back and build a stronger foundation with all of the moves that will stand the test of time, check out Travis Lutter's 2 DVD Instructional "The Road to Blue Belt" with all of the techniques proven to work on the mats and in the MMA cage.