Do You Have A White Belt Mentality?

Flickr/Creative Commons: parhessiastes

There’s a saying that I hear sometimes: “Don’t lose the white belt mentality.” This, of course, doesn’t refer to some of the negative aspects of being a white belt (bewilderment, spasticity, over aggression etc), but rather refers to the absolute open-mindedness that white belts should ideally have: the willingness (and ability) to learn from anyone. But what are some ways to retain this mentality? And how can we manifest and take advantage of it?

For starters, I like to take a look at some examples of the “white belt mentality” in action.

For me, the best way an experienced practitioner can exhibit the “white belt mentality” is by desiring knowledge regardless of its source. I’ve seen a lot of instances in which upper belts turn away knowledge and experience simply because it may hurt their ego. For example, I’ve seen brown and black belts avoid rolling with talented and athletic blue and purple belts out of fear of getting tapped out. People who retain that “white belt mentality” don’t care if the person’s a white belt or a black belt — they just want to roll and get better, and if the other person has their number, they want to experience that and use that information to improve. I always say I don’t judge someone by who they can tap out, I judge them by how they handle getting tapped out. Everyone gets subbed; people who truly have a healthy attitude toward training use getting subbed as an opportunity to learn, just like (you guessed it) white belts.

Another way that a person can exhibit a good “white belt mentality” is to have the ability to acknowledge their own shortcomings. Beginners, by their very nature, lack: they lack knowledge, they lack experience, they lack coordination, and they lack technique. But so do even the highest level black belts. We all lack somewhere, somehow. Being able to acknowledge and admit this is actually really good because it opens the door to development.  They say you can’t teach someone who’s perfect.  Accept your imperfection and spend your time on the mat trying to become just a bit better every day.

The white belt mentality also means that you try to find new information from every training session and every roll. Very often we see higher belts get into a rut and not seem to be interested in training. They’d rather guard their ego and sit on the sidelines than explore the jiu-jitsu experience.

Perhaps the best thing an upper belt can do is adopt the mentality outlined above. It makes one’s experience on the mat far more enjoyable and encourages real growth in the sport/art.

The white belt mentality doesn’t mean that you’re weaker than your training partners or that you lack whatever knowledge you have. It means that you are willing and able to absorb new information regardless of its source; it means that you take the steps necessary to enjoy your jiu-jitsu experience on a day to day basis.

Do you espouse the white belt mentality? If yes, how? If not, why not? The bottom line is the white belt mentality isn’t about lack of experience. It’s about lack of pretentiousness, seeing things with an open mind and enjoying them for what they are.


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