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Nov 20

Advice for white belts: ask these questions

Being a white belt is hard. You get smashed in the gym, and at times, it can seem that you’re not improving.

As a community, we lose a lot of people at white and blue belt. That’s why I’m trying to put myself back in those shoes and visualize what I would do differently if I had to do it all over again.

That’s the impetus behind this post because these are the questions that I would ask more often.


Am I doing this right?

In many class environments, the instructor is not able to pay attention to every student. That means that if you perform a technique incorrectly, it might not be noticed and addressed. In that situation, you might be able to self correct, or your partner may be willing and knowledgeable to help.

Those two possibilities exist, but it’s best to ask for help. You never know. It’s possible that a crucial detail may have been forgotten in the initial demonstration, and that might be the one piece you needed.

The willingness to ask and the appreciation of assistance will help you not only to improve your technique but also to build relationships within your gym.

How does this feel?

On one level, we learn technique by acquiring technical understanding, but on another, we learn by gaining intuitive sense. When we drill, we have the opportunity to learn more than just the technical steps, and it starts with asking this question.

The goal is to get valuable feedback from your partner while you’re drilling. For example, if you’re doing an armbar from closed guard, there are several points where you can develop a better sense of how the technique must be performed.

One is when you get the elbow across your center line by either moving it or moving yourself around it. If your partner can pull the arm back across, then you have something to address. You’ll only know that though if you ask your partner to give you light resistance at different stages of the technique.

Can you drill with me after class?

If you made a habit of staying after class for at least five minutes, you would gain more than four additional training hours a year for every day of a week you train. So if you trained three days a week, it would add up to thirteen hours. That compounds over time, and you can also increase the minutes to speed up the process.

It also helps you develop the mindset that you’re responsible for your own training. No matter your environment, instructors, or training partners, you have the opportunity to improve your experience. You just have to take advantage of it by asking the right questions and pursuing knowledge as a lifelong goal.

Can I apply this in any other situation?

Everything in jiu-jitsu is interconnected. It’s helpful to think of it as a complex web or a multidimensional puzzle. If you learn one piece, that knowledge becomes more valuable as you learn how it connects to everything.

It also becomes easier to learn.

That’s why black belts can generally learn any technique faster than white belts. It’s because they’re building on a foundation of prior knowledge, and the more associations that exist between old and new knowledge, the easier it is to learn the new material.

So to acquire that ability to learn jiu-jitsu at a faster rate, you want to start piecing the puzzle together for yourself. It starts with learning how concepts and movements can be applied broadly and how positions and techniques connect to each other.

What should I focus on?

Your instructor has a specific criteria for what is considered basic technique. It may differ from anyone else’s, but you’ll have to ask to find out. Also what you may need to work could be different than anyone else.

For those two reasons, it’s helpful to have two types of discussions with your instructor.

The first is an initial discussion after you’ve been training for a few weeks. Make a quick list of what you’ve learned so far and ask what else has to be added to the list in order to gain a firm foundation for learning.

Every three or six months, make a list of the positions and techniques that you want to improve on. Then review it with your instructor.

These are quick sessions but they accomplish some specific goals. The first is that it demonstrates that you’re serious about learning and that you’re taking personal responsibility for your development. That will pay dividends down the road. The second is that the feedback you receive will give you increased focus and clarity. And the third is that the whole process will help you speed up your learning.


Ask these questions. You’ll be surprised by how it changes your experience.

There’s no doubt of that.