The Correct White Belt Mindset In Jiu-Jitsu
by Ryan Young, Professor, Kama Jiu-Jitsu

Recently, I was asked by a white belt from another school who frequents Kama Jiu-Jitsu’s FB Pages…

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What’s The Correct Mindset For White Belts In Jiu-Jitsu?

While there are some “universal” mindsets we all need to have as white belts, there are also several mindsets that are unique to people depending on the “subset demographic” they are part of.

Correct Universal Mindsets For White Belts In General

1. Don’t Have As Your Next Goal, Your Next Promotion

This cannot be stressed (or said) enough. Your belt color is NOT important!

(Sure, it’s easy for a black belt to say, right?)

In fact, asking your professor about your next belt promotion is simply not the right thing to ask because it shows you are not keyed on your performance metrics and goals. Instead, you’re focused on what other people think of you, whether it be people in class (junior belt holders often “look up” to senior belt holders), or people outside of class (“You’re a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu?!”).

In other words, leave your promotion up to your professor’s discretion, and let him worry about it.

If your professor has a “timeline” program that outlines to you when you will earn each rank based upon how many classes you attend, I’d say that professor has gone the “Tae Kwon Do Route” with regard to belting his students.

i.e. “For every 50 classes you attend, you get a stripe on your belt. Each belt has five (5) steps. So for every 250 classes you will rank up to the next belt. Our belts are white, blue, purple, brown, black. Based on that, figure on you attending 1000 classes to reach black belt.”

Going “timeline” is not bad, per se. It’s just not “traditional,” which takes little account into your attendance, but more emphasis is placed on your command of the concepts and sequences of Jiu-Jitsu before you are considered for a promotion. For example, Grand Masters Relson and Rorion/Royce took attendance. Master Rickson and Professor Dave never did.

We understand that people like “targets” to shoot for, and like to have “an idea” on when they can expect to earn their ranks. The problem is with jiu-jitsu, given so many variables in the rate one achieves his accomplishments, making sure everyone makes the same strides using a general timeline approach leads to inconsistencies in accomplishments among people of the same rank. That would then explain how you can have a room full of purple belts (for example) with hugely varying levels of knowledge and execution abilities. The only common things among them will be 1) they’re at the same school, and 2) they all attended the same number of classes. What they each got out of each lesson becomes irrelevant.

To take it a step further, there are many schools these days that will actually sell you a “blue belt membership,” which is a set dollar amount you pay up front to “earn” your blue belt (or purple belt, etc). Some schools will even sell “black belt memberships.” It makes total sense in a business sense. For instance, how many fitness gyms do you know of that offer 5-yr (or even “lifetime”) memberships? Essentially, that’s the same thing. It’s neither good nor bad. It just “is.”

2. Get A Good Command Of All The Body Movements Required To Build Your Foundation

For example, you need to know how to correctly do a forward roll, backward roll, “shrimp,” break-fall, “upa,” etc, etc. These movements are necessary to be efficient and effective in the more complicated sequences.

3. Work On Developing A Good “Base”

The better your base, the less “movable” you become to your opponent; standing, or on the ground.

Without a solid “base,” you have nothing, as Prof Dave says. It also explains why he spends so much time teaching how to establish your base in various situations.

4. Don’t Worry About Submissions…

…yet. Leave that subject for a later time. You’re more likely to injure yourself or someone else trying to slap a submission on at this point. You have not had the “time in” you need to develop the feel for when an injury is about to happen.

For white belts, submitting your opponents is the least of your worries.

5. Worry About Having A Killer Defense

You cannot submit someone unless you can defend yourself long enough to “earn” and hold a submission position. If you cannot “earn” position on someone, all your submission training time up to this point was wasted.

6. Ask A Lot Of Questions.

Sounds pretty self-explanatory, especially if you’re unsure about what to do.

7. Overcome Your Natural Instinct To Panic When Things Get Uncomfortable

In fact, if you’re comfortable in a certain position, you’ve either conquered the concepts of the position (relative to your current opponent) and need to find another position to be “UNcomfortable” in, or you need to start handicapping yourself (i.e. letting him start mounted on you) vs this particular partner because his offense is no match for your defense. We do this a lot when training with lower belts.

In other words, SEEK discomfort and work out of it!

“Subgroup” Mindsets

1. Women

Try to get past the fact that you’re “rolling around” with big, heavy, sweaty guys. That mindset tends to be a limiting one, since it distracts you from the task at hand; to learn to defend yourself against a what…?

A bigger, heavier, stronger man who will be attacking you with bad intentions.

The men in your academy will generally have the mindset to help you; an advantage a woman often has over her male academy mates.

Also, avoid letting the guys go “too easy” on you; you want them pressuring you. If they don’t present realistic pressure, you won’t be getting all you need out of the training. Remember, no ATTACKER will be going easy on you – so be sure to remind your partners in class not to do you any “favors,” where possible.

Think of it this way… Our bodies (bones, muscles, and mind) get stronger when we “pressure” it. We want to bend it and push it (“hurt” it), but not break (injure) it. That activity causes the body to reinforce the areas where we were pressured, so that next time it happens, we can withstand a little more. The reinforcements get layered on little by little. Soon, our bodies can handle much more than we were able to handle just months ago.

Eventually you, as a woman, will be able to handle the attacks of the men going (just about) full force!

Now, compare that to an untrained man on the street. He’ll be in for a rude awakening!

2. Men of Small Stature

Focus on learning the precise movements in every move. Do not try to use strength (that you likely don’t have) on your opponents. Instead, concentrate on playing the angles and placing your weight in the exact right spots. Never try to “muscle” something; in the off moment you are actually able to make “muscle” work, consider yourself lucky and get back to honing your technical abilities instead.

3. Men of Large Stature

The most difficult thing to do if you’re a big, strong dude is to NOT be big and strong. It’ll be difficult, but you need to “turn off” your natural tendency to use your strength to “power yourself through” a bad situation. Try to think “little.”

Remember, as big and strong as you are, there’s always someone bigger and stronger. Your worst nightmare, will be someone bigger, stronger, AND more skilled in jiu-jitsu (or fighting).

Get in the habit of playing small while you’re still a white belt. If you ever get to purple belt playing “big,” it’ll likely be too late to make the changes you need to make. Your habits will be well-formed by then. I’ve seen it happen many times over they years while I was a student. Now that I teach, I make it a point to reinforce in our big guys that they need to give up on the strength they have. If you go many years training using your bountiful amounts of strength, you’ll likely never be able to change things up to the point where your skill makes the necessary leap to “legitimately” earn a brown or a black belt.

4. Those With Injuries

“Sucking it up” only works when you hurt or ache. If you’re actually injured, trying to train through them will cause more damage in the long run than the waiting you’ll do in the short run. Your journey is just starting. Don’t be sucked into this whole “no pain, no gain,” or “pain is weakness leaving the body” philosophy.

They’re wrong, if you’re truly injured.

5. Overweight Participants

If you’re overweight and just getting started in jiu-jitsu, you need to start “easy,” work up to “moderate,” and eventually get to going “all out.” Generally speaking, someone becomes overweight due to a combination of eating more calories than your body can burn in a day, and having a sedentary lifestyle. Depending on your level of “overweighted-ness,” you need to give your body (muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, brain) time to acclimate itself to this new stress you’re subjecting your body to.

Don’t rush things. Ease into this. As you slowly (over the course of months) ramp things up, you will see massive improvements to your body composition, stamina, mental toughness, and physical fitness. Don’t try to do what you “used to be able to do” when you were younger. Take it day by day, and you’ll come out golden!

6. Athletes

Athletes always want to show themselves (and others) why they’re athletes. They generally have more strength and stamina than their classmates and often end up doing the same as the “Men of Large Stature” do; that is, use their physicality (strength) to power out of a situation that could just as easily be handled with a slight shift in angle, weight placement, or thinking.

Believe it or not, it’s best to relax through things, and not use your physicality when training as a white belt. You’ll only end up increasing your chances of injury, while slowing your learning.

Happy Training!


Kama Jiu-Jitsu is the Rickson Gracie Team Academy founded by Professor David Kama (4th Degree Rickson Gracie Black Belt). Prof Dave began his teaching duties for Master Rickson in 1993, when he began running Rickson Gracie’s Laguna Niguel, CA academy. Upon Master Rickson’s retirement in 2012, Prof Dave renamed Rickson Gracie Laguna Niguel to Kama Jiu-Jitsu, Part of the Rickson Gracie Team.

Today, Kama Jiu-Jitsu has four (4) academies in CA (Irvine and Laguna Niguel) and TX (Flower Mound and Trophy Club) where Dave and his team of black belts teach the traditional Rickson Gracie style of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to members of all ages.

Come in for your free trial today!