Starting BJJ can be a very daunting prospect and it doesn’t ever get much easier, with the white belt years being the hardest that you’ll ever experience. People often talk about the “blue belt blues” but realistically, white belt is where most people will quit from the sport and it’s where you’ll have the toughest time. It’s the time period where there’s an intimidating amount of information you don’t even know yet, and it can seem impossible that one day you’ll have all these movements become second-nature. With that in mind, let’s simplify things and narrow it down to five things to focus on more than anything else:
Don’t Waste Time At The Wrong Gym
People change gyms all the time, especially at the beginning of their journey. It’s important to make sure your gym suits you, or you simply won’t stick with it. If you’re a middle-aged professional who just wants to learn a new skill one or two nights a week and get fit doing so, chances are a high-level competition school will be a little out of your depth. Likewise, if you’re a hungry teenager who has dreams of being a world-champion one day, a community-centre gym that runs a handful of sessions a week isn’t going to be enough for you. Don’t be afraid to try all of the gyms in your area before you eventually settle down on the one that will be your home.
Tap Early, Tap Often
Sure it’s a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right. There really is no shame in tapping at any point during your progress through the BJJ ranking system but especially not at white belt. People will often catch you with submissions or set-ups that you’ve literally never even seen before, and you’ll find yourself in deep waters quicker than you realize. It can be tempting then to try and fight your way out but unless you know an actual escape from that position, flailing or holding on tightly is at best just prolonging the inevitable, and at worst going to lead to an injury. Rather than spend the next few weeks on the sidelines, if you’re in a submission and you don’t know how to get out, tap and try again.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
We’ve all been there, stuck underneath someone with devastating top pressure and feeling as though our soul is being squeeze from our body inch by inch. It sucks, and the secret is that it never stops sucking either. Even elite competitors will feel the same discomfort that you do on your first day, the only difference is that they know that nothing is going to break and they’re not going to sleep. It can be hard at first and a lot of people tap to top-pressure, but the sooner you learn to recognize the difference between discomfort and pain, the better.
Take It One Step At A Time
As we said earlier, the sheer amount of techniques you’ll be shown over the first few years can be incredibly daunting. So simplify it yourself, and pick one guard or submission to work on at a time. Maybe one day you get shown butterfly guard and you find it comes a little more naturally than the things you’ve been struggling with in the past. Stick with it and try and get to that guard every time you roll, adding more sweeps and submissions to your arsenal as the months go on. This is what most experienced grapplers do and it’s the easiest way to see clear, measurable improvements to your game.
Don’t Be Afraid To Slow Down
The white belt death match is a thing you’ll see often in BJJ gyms around the world, but when two higher belts roll together it can often seem like neither one of them are putting any effort in. They are putting effort in of course, and the fact that they’re being economical with their movement certainly helps give off the impression they’re not. The main thing they’re doing that the white belts aren’t, is relaxing. Newer grapplers often get tunnel-vision and focus on trying to kill each other instead of remembering to try the technique they’ve been learning lately. Any practice is good, but relaxed and focused practice is infinitely more useful and yields much quicker results.