Dear New Blue Belt: Here’s What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Be Worrying About

The transition from white to blue belt in jiu-jitsu is huge in terms of progress and emotional weight. Finally, you’re not the newest person on the mats. You’re kind of legit — a “colored belt” at last. But once the excitement dies down and reality sets in, you may start to feel nervous. Do you even deserve this belt? Will newer students look up to you? Will your coach be disappointed in you if you lose in competition or get submitted by white belts?

Look, it’s a lot, and there’s a reason the stereotype of the “disappearing new blue belt” exists — a lot of new blue belts can’t handle the pressure after getting promoted, and it’s easy to quietly bow out of training entirely. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, it’s helpful to know how much of that pressure is actually there and how much of it is stress you’re placing on yourself.

Stop worrying about not being an instant success at the blue belt level. As a white belt, you likely competed against other students who probably had a maximum of one or two years’ BJJ experience. As a blue belt who may have been training for a year and a half, you may go up against an opponent who’s been training for five years or even more. Now, your opponents probably know a thing or two about jiu-jitsu, and you will likely lose a few competitions before you start winning. Your coaches will, of course, be rooting for your success, but there’s no reason to feel like you’ve let them down if you don’t immediately make your way to the top of the podium.

Start worrying about being a role (roll?) model to your teammates. White belt life means getting smashed in nearly every roll, but also having the luxury of freedom from any responsibilities aside from showing up and being a good teammate. As a blue belt, you have those same responsibilities, plus a few more. You can no longer get away with not knowing proper gym etiquette, and you can’t plead ignorance if you act disrespectfully in the gym or at a competition. Newer students will look up to you (remember how you once thought that blue belts knew so much?), and whether or not you feel like you deserve to be a role model, you need to act like one.

Stop worrying about suddenly having to be able to tap every white belt you roll with. Your skill level in jiu-jitsu would’ve been the same today whether the belt around your waist were white or blue. The white belt who submitted you last week is probably going to still be able to submit you now, and that doesn’t mean that you’re unworthy of your new rank. Your promotion doesn’t give you new powers — it just provides recognition for the ones you already have.

Start worrying about being a target for everyone. Being a blue belt puts you right in that sweet spot of knowing enough to be a challenge, but not knowing enough to beat everyone who sees you as a challenge. This isn’t a bad thing — it’s just something you have to be aware of. Lots of jiu-jitsu practitioners treat white belts with care. They give them room to work and generally don’t try to pull off weird or IBJJF-unfriendly submissions. As a blue belt, assumptions will be made about you. Your teammates will start going harder on you, as your rank is a reminder that you are more dangerous than week-one students. It will more often be assumed that you can handle rolling with heel hooks and wristlocks and neck cranks, and you’ll have to at least recognize those threats when you see them so that you can defend yourself. You’re not on your own now, but you’re not the baby of the family anymore either.

Stop worrying about whether or not you’re good enough to deserve a blue belt. Progressing in jiu-jitsu is like watching a puppy grow — you don’t notice it day by day, but comparing today’s version to the one that existed six months ago, the difference is obvious. Worthy to remember, too, is that as a blue belt, you’re still very much a beginner. No one is expecting you to even be good at jiu-jitsu — they just assume you can kind of hold your own and have a semblance of understanding for what you’re doing. Getting your blue belt is like graduating from high school or getting your learner’s permit while learning to drive, and at this stage, you’re still a long way from earning your doctorate in stunt driving. You are still going to be frequently confused, and you’re still going to make plenty of mistakes that you don’t know how to fix. Everyone else is going to understand this when they roll with you, and you need to understand it about yourself so you don’t hold yourself to an unfairly high standard.

You may have leveled up, but your jiu-jitsu journey has just begun. Let your new rank motivate you and drive you forward rather than allowing yourself to be held back by the expectations you associate with it. As long as you keep showing up, just as you had to do to make it through your white belt career, you’ll continue to improve, and little by little, you’ll feel like you’re fitting into your new rank rather than growing into it.


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