When many of us think of BJJ role (roll?) models, mental images of high-level brown and black belts come to mind. We look up to our coaches, professional athletes, and the “upper belt” students within our own gyms, and unfortunately, with that admiration often comes unfair comparisons.
As lower-ranked students (particularly blue belts) look upward toward where they’d like to be one day in their jiu-jitsu journeys, those who want to be coaches or academy owners in a few years might get stuck in the “one day” thought pattern — “One day” they’ll be good enough to mentor someone else, “one day” the lower belts will look up to them, “one day” they’ll be seen as more than “just” a blue belt.
What they may not realize, though, is that blue belts can be some of the most important mentors on a white belt’s BJJ journey.
One of the most important figures in my early jiu-jitsu days was, at the time, a blue belt. In my white belt eyes, though, he may as well have been a black belt. He was so good. He crushed me in every round and then spent considerable time filling my head with valuable technique advice and encouragement. I was fully convinced, with my whole heart, that he would go on to become a world champion. Training with him felt like I was training with the Next Big Thing in jiu-jitsu.
As it turned out, my teammate was just a very standard blue belt. He did not go on to win anything more than a few gold medals at small local tournaments, nor did he take on any grand pursuits to become the owner of a high-level BJJ academy. He was (and remains today, as a brown belt) an ambitious hobbyist — dedicated to his own goals and helping others achieve theirs, but otherwise average.
I say this not to talk down on my friend’s jiu-jitsu skills, but to emphasize that while he wasn’t anything “special” in the jiu-jitsu world, he was crucial to my development as a jiu-jitsu student. I thought the world of him, and the idea that he would dedicate his time and effort to me, a know-nothing white belt, was a reminder that my journey was just as valid even though I was a beginner. When my struggles on the mats held me down, he would boost me up, and though I’ve told him how instrumental he was to my path in jiu-jitsu, I know that he thinks that nothing he did was anything special.
I think about my old teammate any time one of my blue belt friends expresses a desire to be a coach one day, or when they tell me about a white belt who looks up to them. There is often a sense of “Why do they admire me when there are so many other upper belts to look up to?” and the reason is that many blue belts are in the perfect position to be mentors to their less experienced teammates. White belts are often self-conscious of their position on the “BJJ food chain,” and blue belts are in that sweet spot of being more advanced than them, but not so advanced as to be unapproachable.
If you’re a blue belt wondering if it’s too early to step into a mentorship role for a white belt, stop questioning and start doing. You don’t have to be an emerging prodigy or successful competitor to be worth looking up to. You earned your blue belt, and that means that your coach wants you to be marked as someone who can take on such a role. It’s okay — and perhaps even preferable — that you’re not more advanced. There’s still plenty that you can offer for newer students, and if you envision yourself coaching in any capacity one day, this is the perfect time to start learning how to communicate techniques and concepts to people who aren’t familiar with them.
Don’t let your own perception of yourself get in the way if you want to help your white belt teammates. Some of the best jiu-jitsu role models are extremely “average” for their level, and your lack of a purple belt or competition record shouldn’t be what holds you back from taking on a “big sibling” role in the gym, if you wish to step into it. Your mindset is all that’s stopping you, and if you can overcome that, then the next generation of jiu-jitsu students will also follow in your footsteps.