Overcoming The Daunting New White Belt Phase

A friend, Sean Foster, recently asked me on behalf of some white belts on his team to share some of my insights about how white belts can stay motivated through that rough “I don’t know anything” phase and make it to the blissful “I kinda think I might sort of know something about something maybe” phase. I’ve been training off and on (far more off than on) since 1999, and got my blue belt less than a year ago, so I think I may be qualified to share on this matter…

For starters, the most difficult part of being new is getting your butt kicked on a daily basis and never seeing an end in sight to that. It is what it is. It’s going to happen. When I started improving it was largely based on figuring out exactly where I could be strong. This is different for everyone, some people prefer a certain guard, and some people are great on their feet, some people really like a specific dominant position. Find a place where you can actually seem to make your training partners work and when you feel particularly downtrodden ask to start there.

One thing that I never really did much when I was brand new was flow drilling. Flow drilling is basically a choreographed roll. What you do is establish a cyclical set of positions that allow both partners to work both sides of the roll. For example: Partner A starts in Partner B’s guard, Partner A passes Partner B, Partner B recovers and then sweeps, Partner A recovers guard, Partner B passes Partner A’s guard and Partner A recovers and sweeps ad infinitum. Doing this with increasing levels of resistance can really build your confidence in specific techniques or situations and I think it’s something that has elevated my game substantially. If I could start it all over again, go back to 1999, I would have done far more of this and far less regular free rolling.

Another key to longevity is humility. Realize that you don’t know anything and that the more you learn the less you’ll know. Just realize that. Ask a lot of questions, be open minded and remember there are going to be a lot of people on the mat who are going to have a lot of opinions, collect all of those opinions and see which ones help you. Find yourself an upper belt (purple or higher) that you can relate with, and try to get them to help guide you. There’s an old saying that Iron sharpens Iron, you need to first refine your iron before you can sharpen your or anyone else’s iron…

Stay with it. Keep coming back. Remember that the more time you put in on the mat, the better you’re going to get. Cross train and compete as much as you can/can afford to. By doing this you get to field both what you’re learning as well as the quality of your school. Not all schools are created equal, and you may realize that everyone at your school sucks, but there might be a school across town that is far better. When you’re a new white belt switching schools is far more acceptable than when you’ve already been promoted by your coach, not that you should be eager to move around but there is a pretty broad market out there and you should make sure that you have found the best fit for your needs. Pick a place that sets high standards.

Don’t be discouraged by failure. You will fail. A LOT. Failure is the path to learning, learning is the path to success, and therefore failure is the path to success. There’s nothing wrong with falling down, getting back up is what’s important. Either you win, or you learn. And always remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Don’t be a spazz. It’s better to let people kick your butt until you get good than to inadvertently hurt your teammates.

That’s pretty much the wealth of knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years. Does anyone else out there have any thoughts for Sean’s teammates?


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