Unlike most Martial Arts, progressing through the ranks in Jiu Jitsu is a long-term process and can sometimes take quite a few years just to earn your first colour (blue). Some students train for fun and fitness while others are more focused on competition. Some students train casually a couple of classes a week while others commit to training almost every day. Some students are young and athletic while others may be older and not as fit or strong as they once were!
Whatever category you fall into, you still need solid fundamentals. At our gym, we grade white belt students based on our white to blue belt curriculum, consisting of 40 techniques that the promoting student must demonstrate confidently and precisely. Depending on how much time you spend on the mats, this can take from one year to many years before you’ll be competent enough at these techniques to move to the next level.
The curriculum is in place for white belts because it is important they develop good habits and fundamental movements early, plus every student will have the same level of knowledge and technical ability regardless of their size, strength, gender or age. In most cases, the reason a student doesn’t promote to blue belt is because they cannot perform the fundamentals in the curriculum to a satisfactory standard or they don’t train regularly enough. You may feel you completed these techniques well, but your coach has seen some flaws in your movements that need correcting, showing them that you are not quite ready to promote.
But I smash the other white belts in sparring!
Comparing oneself to other members is not a great indication of your progress. Maybe you are 20kg heavier and stronger than your teammate of the same skill level? Are you using technique to “smash” these other members or are you just using your size and strength advantage to bully them around? Size and strength do make a difference at that level, no matter what anyone says! In this current time of Covid-19, competitions are few and far between, so you can only roll with your teammates to rate your progress. If that is the case, choose someone close to your size and skill level, or even a fellow student just above your level of skill! How do you go against those members?
Let go of the ego and roll to improve your technique as opposed to rolling to “smash” and win at all costs. Tapping is part of training, we all do it! While rolling (sparring) is important, smashing your teammates does not mean you have the technical knowledge or ability to progress to blue belt.
Constantly making the same mistakes
As a white belt, it is important you take notice of the instruction your coach provides and repeat it with your partner over and over until your coach moves on to the next technique or detail. If your coach corrects your technique or gives you advice but you continue to make the same mistakes, you are obviously not paying attention to them or maybe you are getting confused with technique videos you have watched or instruction from other people. Whatever the case, while there are various ways to perform any given technique, the curriculum techniques must be performed uniformly by all students to demonstrate not only their understanding of the technique and movement, but also to show they pay attention and listen to their coach.
Regular training is important!
As mentioned above, people train Jiu Jitsu for various reasons. Some people take it quite seriously while others love the social and fun aspect of training. Over the years I have seen members train consistently for a couple of months, then disappear for months before returning and struggling to keep up with the level they were prior to their leave. Others have stuck with training consistently 3 days a week and have shown even progression over that time. Other members have trained fairly regularly, once or twice a week with a week off here and there and have not progressed but also have not gone backward.
Regular training is key to consistent progress. I would suggest three days a week minimum but hey, life gets in the way sometimes! You can only do what you can. A belt promotion shows you are able to demonstrate the skills required for that level. If you don’t train regularly, it will take longer and make it harder to develop your skill to the level of competency required by your coach.
Attitude is as important as skill
Most of the topics discussed already have a lot to do with attitude. Smashing other students and going for the kill every roll is just an ego boost. Sure, there are times when hard rolls are beneficial to your training. But crushing that 55kg girl and submitting her ten times in a round is just being egotistical. So too is bragging about your abilities. Telling people how good you are or how you can beat this person and that person. Don’t be that student.
Learn, absorb knowledge and enjoy your training. Be respectful to your teammates and help them improve. When rolling with smaller students, put yourself in bad positions and practice escaping them. If they tap you, so what!? Look at why you couldn’t escape and fix the problem! Try doing moves technically correct, rather than blasting your way out just because you can. In turn, not only will you help your training partner, but you will show massive improvement in your own game!
You earned your blue belt, congratulations!
Your hard work paid off! You paid attention in class, turned up regularly and drilled the techniques over and over. You approached training with a good attitude and helped yourself by rolling smart and helping your teammates.
But guess what? That pretty piece of blue cloth now tied around your waist hasn’t changed a thing. You still have the same skill as the day before. Don’t stop training now! Keep up the regular attendance, be a good role model for the newbies, continue absorbing knowledge and adding to your repertoire of techniques and principles! Jiu Jitsu is a long journey, so savour each achievement on the mats and continue to progress!
So, you didn’t get promoted?
I have seen people get angry and/or upset when they didn’t get that stripe or new coloured belt. Some people might even quit training! Personally, if I don’t promote a student and they show a poor attitude in the following days or weeks to come, may it be sulking, not training, not talking or being distant and not their normal self, etc, that shows they weren’t ready for their promotion anyway.
I have also had students come to me after a grading and ask what they need to work on to progress to the next level. Yes, they were slightly upset, but they understood their coach held them back for a reason and they genuinely want to work on these issues and improve. Showing a good attitude shows you respect your coach’s decision and you understand they know when you are ready! I’m sure most higher ranked practitioners can look back at their white belt self and laugh, remembering when they thought “they were ready” for their blue belt!
So what if you didn’t get promoted? Try to put that behind you and concentrate on your training. Focus on your learning and improving your abilities not with a belt colour in mind, more with your own development! Trust your coach knows when you are ready for that promotion!
Everyone has their own journey. Some students will grade faster than other students and some take much longer to promote. Don’t question your coaches’ decisions. Jiu Jitsu is a long journey and students should focus on improving instead of being obsessed by belts. Besides, that coloured piece of cloth doesn’t give you magical guard powers!
I get that a promotion can be a recognition of your progress and be a huge motivator to keep training, but motivation fades and is temporary in such a long journey ahead. Rather than relying on motivation to keep going, try self-discipline. Over the years of training to come, discipline will keep you going when the motivation disappears.