The White and Blue Belt Prescription
The journey to black belt is a long and winding road that will find you having many moments of frustration and many more of ecstatic joy and move through the various color belts achieving what few people ever attempt. You participate in one of the most challenging and rewarding martial arts and sports on the planet. The lessons you learn in the average BJJ class, can make you a better problem solver, help you get healthier and even save your life. As a new practitioner just starting out, looking far down the road can be very daunting. Here are some ideas to keep you focused on the important things, especially on days when you're questioning yourself and your progress on the mats.
Have Fun and Soak Up Everything You Can White Belt
Looking back and thinking about my first few classes as a white belt, one of the only regrets I have is being too worried about performing a move and then moving on to the next move, like I was punching a card that would eventually have enough moves on it to warrant a new belt promotion. If I could go back to my white belt self, I would tell him first and foremost to breath more and to practice each move more. As an older more experienced BJJ practitioner, I now realize that time on the mat is the only key to progress. As a white belt, try to take as many classes as you can. Listen to as many experienced BJJ teammates and coaches as you can. Let these conversations be somewhat one sided as you mostly listen. I often find myself finally "hearing" advice or tips that were given to me almost 10 years ago when I first started. Soak up these little nuggets of insight and store them away for a time when you're ready to truly hear them and understand.
Establish a Routine and Stick With It
When I reflect back on all the people that were white and blue belts when I was just starting out, the first thing I notice is that many are not training any longer. For whatever reason, people let life get in the way of jiu jitsu. I'm sure a small percentage never really enjoyed it and maybe found an activity that they enjoyed more, but for the most part, I find people let the demands of school, work and family take them away from something they truly love. This is a mistake and should be changed immediately. The benefits of jiu jitsu can help make you better at your job and school in areas of time management, focus, and perseverance to just name a few. The release of stress that can be found from consistent BJJ training can yield untold benefits at home as well. The camaraderie that's developed on the mats can help you be a better friend, spouse and parent.
All this to say that the only thing I see as a common denominator in the success of people who started training around the same time as me is that we never took time off. By establishing a consistent schedule, whether it was 2, 4 or whatever number of days or classes a week, you guarantee a certain degree of progress. By training only three hours a week, you are investing less than 2% in your development. You are worth far more than that and by analyzing your schedule, no matter how busy it is, I'm certain that you can free up an additional percentage or two to dedicate to your health, wellness and BJJ skill level. A great piece revealing the secret to getting good at jiu jitsu can be found here.
Focus on Fundamentals As You Begin Getting Closer to Your Blue Belt
It's very easy to get lost in the thousands and thousands of techniques and variations available today. Going back to the previous point above about trying to accumulate moves instead of really immersing oneself and understanding a technique fully, it's easy to get distracted by the latest fancy move. But at the end of the day, it's the fundamentals that persevere. I'm not even referring to actual techniques, but instead things like posture, proper gripping, hip movement, and not being flat on your back when you shouldn't be. In the video below, world champion Bernardo Faria gives his prescription for what beginning jiujiteiros should focus on.
Should You Compete As a White or Blue Belt
The last point I'd like to discuss is whether or not you should compete as a new practitioner. The answer is about as simple and as complex as your average BJJ technique. Yes, you should, IF it is something you want to explore and a way you want to test your technique. No, you shouldn't, IF it is not something you are interested in. The vast majority of people on the mats DO NOT compete and that is completely ok. Competing in jiu jitsu can be seen as another skill that must be trained. Many people have no interest in that side of the sport, instead focusing on the other positive benefits from their training. If you do decide to compete, it's important to set proper goals and expectations, ideally working with your coaches and teammates who perhaps are more experienced in this area. Another way to prepare is to find resources that support this competition goal for you.