Give A White Belt Your Back

We have all seen those new white belts who walk through the door and are confident and ready to change their lives . . . until they realize they can’t tie their belt and the warm ups are killer.

Then they normally begin the class and attempt awkwardly whatever moves the instructor is showing and usually fail pretty badly. They ask a ton of questions trying to understand their new Rubik’s Cube, but are still unable to grasp what they have begun.

Then they get to roll and think all that wrestling around with the boys is going to help, but it doesn’t.

For most white belts, the first day of rolling is the hardest. All of this is somewhat necessary, but the continual beatings are not. In some academies, white belts are seen as the practice dummies and in many cases are never allowed to get good positions on the upper belts.

I think this is a problem. While it is important to show new students that the art is complex and that the ranking system is truly legit, we also have to allow them to practice. This makes sense doesn’t it? You wouldn’t go to basketball practice and then never get to handle the ball. Why should BJJ be different?

Some people will argue that white belts should only be able to practice new positions when they are earned, either against a lower ranking or less athletic white belt.

The problem is that if we wait until new students can earn the pass or back-take, they will miss out on a lot of potential growth. Does it make sense to have a great passing game, but then have nothing else because no one lets you really practice?

The other problem is that it makes white belts depend on strength. Stronger and more athletic white belts will often get to practice their dominant positions more often than the weaker ones.

Allowing white belts to get dominant positions helps us, too.

You read that right! When we train with other upper belts, they recognize when they might lose a position and may work something else.

Conversely, new white belts do not know this. If white belts get your back, they will hold on as much as possible and try to sink in the choke without much worry about anything else. I often think that, when in a dominant position, white belts can be even more dangerous. This is not because they are better, but because they will use everything they have on one position rather than try to work multiple positions. This then makes us work harder to escape the singular position.

What do you think about the topic? Are you an upper belt who lets white belts get into good positions and then works the escape?


  1. Very wishful thinking.. Most of the time training among higher belts is only done with someone of the same belt or highter.

  2. Thank you for sharing our link! I very much enjoyed your blog post. Very insightful and full of thought provoking tips. I almost always give up good positions to lower rankers. I actually enjoy working my escapes to see if I can pull them off over trying to submit them which isn’t as much of a challenge. Often times I’ll wrangle them into using a position that I’m working on so I can develop sweeps etc. from there. Right now I’m doing that very thing with the 4:00 O’clock and 8:00 O’clock positions so I can get my timing and set ups dialed in for Shane Taylor’s sweep series we in the middle of sharing with everyone.

    Lots of fun. Best wishes to you guys. We hope to one day share the mat.

  3. If he’s not proficient enough to take your back then he’s likely not proficient enough to threaten your defense when you give up your back. It’s a waste of time. He can practice back attacks in drilling or against other whites.


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