Everyone Was A White Belt Once
Remember back to the first time you walked into a Jiu-Jitsu Academy. How was this experience for you? Were you nervous? Were you intimidated? Did you have any idea of what you were walking into? Did you even know what Jiu-Jitsu is? Did you feel like a fish out of water in your first training and rolling?
When you have been training Jiu-Jitsu for sometime it becomes difficult to remember life without Jiu-Jitsu. It becomes difficult to see the world through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know Jiu-Jitsu. As all people do, you can sometimes make the mistake of thinking all people see the world as you do. I have observed some scenarios play-out of recent that have reminded me that it is always important to remember that you were a white belt once too, and sometimes it is very important to consciously relate to the experiences of the white belt. As Jiu-Jitsu practitioners I believe we all have a responsibility to promote this martial art we love, and to assist those who are similarly on this journey, or about to embark on it. And this sometimes requires us to empathise with those who are at different levels on this journey.
Here is an example of my own experience as a white belt. My first experience of Jiu-Jitsu was at an MMA school. Fortunately I already had a Muay Thai (striking) background, so whilst I was nervous, I was not perhaps as nervous as I would have been had I walked into a pure Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Having had a Muay Thai background I knew I could hang with the strikers at the school, and I had planned to just dabble in BJJ alongside of this. But like many people, in the intended pursuit of MMA I fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu. On joining my first MMA school I had not trained Muay Thai for sometime and had been lifting weights for the past year. I was very large and muscular at the time, possibly 110kg of lean muscle. In starting BJJ I was just like most larger guys; I was not accustom to the movements in BJJ, I was awkward in my movements, and unintentionally rough with my opponents. I consider myself a nice person, so in looking back on it I feel I was liked by others, however, in looking back I feel I was avoided by some in training. In retrospect I feel I was avoided by such people as they feared they could be injured rolling with me, or did not enjoy the experience. I didn’t form any bonds or connections with the higher belts or more technical guys which furthermore makes me suspect now that I was being avoided. But I was not wrong in my actions, I was just training to the best of my knowledge at the time, and with the tools I had at the time. I feel what would’ve helped me back then was a senior belt taking the time to pull me aside and explain to me what my objectives should be in training, explain to me that what I was doing was not advancing anyone’s training. Explain to me that slowing down, thinking, and striving for smoothness in my movement would be more advantageous for me in the long run, and all of those training with me also. Of course over time I worked this out naturally, when people are avoiding you, in the process of logic thought you are eventually going to put 2 and 2 together. But I feel the entire situation could have been avoided, or at least sped-up, if someone of a higher rank had just taken some time to better educate me in the etiquette of training. Basically, I feel as though as a white belt I was thrown into the deep end; I was not educated on the way I should behave or the etiquette of the gym, I was not informed on the way I should approach training, I did not know the rules of the gym. It was more a process of watch and learn.
So now back to the first questions. Were you nervous and intimidated when you first walked into a gym? If your response is yes, the new white belt walking into your gym is also likely nervous and intimidated, so maybe just take a moment of your time to help them feel comfortable. Did you have any idea of what you were walking into or what Jiu-Jitsu is? If your answer is no, please take the time to pull the new white belt aside and help educate them on this. Did you feel like a fish out of water when you first trained or rolled? Again, a shared experience from a higher belt can help one feel more at ease with this, and a few words of wisdom from a higher belt can better educate one on how to approach such situations. I truly believe that all higher belts have this responsibility to help the lower belts, and to help make their experience as enjoyable as possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn and enjoy Jiu-Jitsu. As we are all aware first impressions last, and a few bad experiences from the get-go can rob someone of a potential life changing journey. Think back again to when you were a white belt…I’m sure these small niceties and pointers would’ve helped make your transition into Jiu-Jitsu a more enjoyable and smoother one….
Thanks for reading and happy rolling,
Co-owner at Flow Martial Arts