Ask DeBlass: Welcoming the New White Belt with Kindness

Whether readily admitted or not, the goal for every practitioner is at some time the black belt.  In the quest for this mystical and far off goal, it is easy to forget those early days, those first days when we had no idea what was to come next.  In this edition of Ask DeBlass, Professor DeBlass reminds us that the most important belt is not the one we seek, but the one we run from the hardest and left behind are the classmates who needs us most.

Enter the White Dragon

He walked in the door of the academy because a friend or maybe a co-worker had said he would be accepted. He was not very athletic; he never had too many friends and he has always been a bit overweight. As he walked to the back changing area past the students training he kept his head down, because he didn’t know if saying hello or bowing was appropriate.

The white belt is one of the most important promotions of every martial artists life.--photos courtesy of Tom DeBlass
The white belt is one of the most important steps of every martial artists life.–photos courtesy of Tom DeBlass


First Impressions

He was very embarrassed because the first introductory gi that he tried on was too tight. As he walked back out of the locker room to ask for a different gi, he saw some of the students looking in his direction. He gave a quick nod but they were too busy to nod back as they were very focused on their own training. As he waited for the next uniform, he watched everyone on the mats move so flawlessly.  His stomach turned in knots because he could not imagine how he could possibly do the things they were doing.

After a long wait in silence, he’s given the new gi and returns to the locker room to get dressed.  He walks back out onto the mats with his hands sweaty from anticipation and trying to tie his belt on his own. During the introductory lesson he had trouble with his jumping jacks, he can not do a full push up, and he did a break fall awkwardly the wrong way rolling his ankle.


Breathe In, Breathe Out

As simple as the lesson is he’s out of breath. He looks around the academy and he sees groups of people talking smiling and laughing together, and he continues to beat himself up over not knowing how to do a jumping jack. He was too embarrassed to tell the instructor he needed a break, so he blamed it on his ankle.  He quickly walked back into the locker room, out of breath and nervous, and feeling alone and out of place. He handed the uniform to the lady who seemed nice but didn’t smile and walked out with his head down. Today was his first BJJ class and it was his last.

A packed class of new students at Ocean County BJJ--photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass
A packed class of new students at Ocean County BJJ–photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass


We ALL Serve the White Belt

First of all, if someone ever leaves feeling the way I described above, it is a tragedy. It is important to recognize that this is how we can expect many new students walking through our academy doors to feel. They are nervous. They are scared, and they need us. We need to remember how scary it could be for people first coming through the doors and seeing everyone already on the mats locked in mock combat. Many people trying out our wonderful martial art are looking to be a part of something. Treat them like this is the most important day of their life. Greet them with smiles, shake their hands and give them compliments, remind them mistakes are supposed to be made. Let them know we are here to get them in shape. Welcome them, make them want to stay, show them that the nerve-wracking decision they made walking through the door was worth it. Do this for every student because today is the first day of the rest of their life and yours.


BJJ Golden Rules

1.  Smile More–This goes for everyone, but especially for the experienced student welcoming a brand-new or recently started student.

2.  Encourage Everyone–Help the new white belt by letting them know, you were there at one time.  This will go a long way to showing them that if they, too, persevere, their BJJ will improve.

3.  Be There for Them–Whether this means partnering up when they need someone to work with, or being there when they have questions, just do not ever allow them to think they’re on this road alone.  The BJJ community is a powerful place that should be full of friends and supporters.



  1. love this article. it’s so true; the more important thing you can do for a white belt is remind him or her that you’ve been there, it’s a hard road, but it will get better with determination. a smile and some encouraging words go a long way!


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