Sep 01

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt II

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt IIBack when I was a white belt, I was consistently partnered up with three upper belts. Their names were Tyler, Sulaiman, and Coleman.

The things I learned from each of them had a formative impact on me.  So what I’m going is to go back and relive those experiences to some degree and highlight the lessons learned.


I probably rolled with Tyler most of all in the first year or two. He was good.  Imagine rolling with someone who is big and strong but also technical. That was Tyler.

Our rolls mainly consisted of me getting smashed in those early days. He used to play a kind of open closed guard.  It was strange. It was almost like he was initiating a scissor sweep but he didn’t often use it to sweep. Instead he caught me with some sneaky and fast armbars there.

Without question, the worst situations to be in were those times when he passed my guard.  I had some truly terrifying experiences when he would snap on americanas from mount or side control. The speed with which they went from possible threat to legit danger was lightning fast.

I was never hurt, but it was just so quick.

Dealing with that level of pressure forced me to develop half guard.  All the other positions were too difficult to get to consistently. So I started working half guard, and it started getting better and better and better til it started to work.


Every roll with Sulai was a sprint when I was a white belt. He was so explosive that he forced you to match that pace or be run over.

The one thing I remember most of all was the hellish experience that was known as his closed guard.  He was always so active and aggressive that it was a constant fight for survival. Armbars, cross chokes, and hip bump sweeps over and over again.

It was relentless.

I attribute to him my defense in the closed guard. I’ve spent some thinking about it, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve been submitted by cross chokes or armbars from closed guard within the last two years or more.


I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Coleman was a bully. He seemed to take some personal enjoyment from all the pressure he would bear down on you from positions like mount, half guard, and closed guard.

Within that pressure, like a snake, his hand would slide across your throat and lock in the ezekiel. He mastered that choke, and he could do it from almost every position. There have even been times when he has submitted people with the ezekiel from the bottom of mount.

I was on the wrong end of that choke many times, and those experiences taught me its effectiveness.

I learned that lesson well.

From All of Them

I took a lot of beatings in those early days as a white belt, but it was great for me. It significantly increased my threshold for discomfit, and it made matches with most other white belts seem effortless.

Those experiences are a major factor behind the success I had competing when I was a white belt.