The most important day of anyone’s jiu-jitsu Journey is the first day they step on the mat. That day you receive your white belt signifies a willing commitment to face the unknown.
A friend might have endlessly talked about BJJ changing their life, or you’ve finally seen enough UFC events at the Wing House to convince you to give it a shot and see what the chatter is about. So, you decided to enroll.
But the first day walking into a gym is a struggle for everyone. The ex-jock-alphas have something to prove, and the meek homebodies are terrified at the faces of everyone else in the room staring back at them. A feeling of uncertainty rushes through your veins when a room full of sweat-soaked grapplers huddled in groups talking about their sparring sessions attempts to welcome you to their tribe. It feels like a trap, and it is.
You’ll soon realize that even though they are welcoming you with a warm and inviting smile, everyone is waiting to tie you up in tiny knots until you submit, lying defeated in a puddle of your bodily fluids.
Being a white belt sucks. Getting your ass kicked is your only job. The techniques appear useless, and every day, you are just showing up for another participation trophy. But, if you stick it out, things start to happen, and you learn to survive. The chaotic madness of a rolling session starts to make sense. Specific techniques your professor showed have managed to stick in your brain, and now instead of just flailing around like a fish out of water, you’ve started to do jiu-jitsu, and guess what, this shit works!
That process is complicated, and anyone with the fortitude to struggle through it deserves my respect. White belts are dumb and don’t understand how to control their bodies while rolling. But they are humble enough to know they are dumb. That is until they get their blue belts. Then everything changes.
When a grappler receives their blue belt, they’ve earned it. There is no debating that. They’ve learned how to survive and figured out how to use enough jiu-jitsu not to be a practice dummy for higher belts. Struggling through the endless beat-downs and the constant feeling of hopelessness and stifling claustrophobia it takes to get to that point was unimaginable for most people before they started training. So, when the day comes that someone acknowledges your effort, it feels exhilarating, and any Blue Belt will be delighted to share their views and advice on the topic, trust me. You don’t even need to ask them.
As a Blue Belt, you earned a place in our tribe. But please, don’t act like you’ve got this Jits thing figured out because you can pass a new white belt’s guard that hasn’t been off his couch in five years and hold him in side control until the bell rings to end the round. There is still a bit more for you to learn before you can start your lucrative seminar circuit.
This disconnect is why Blue Belts are notoriously the most difficult to coach. Being a white belt sucks so bad that once you’ve gotten past that point, you think you can conquer the world. The mere act of surviving and now incapacitating a resisting opponent feels like having a superpower, and it is, but relax. Holding someone down might be a great way to stay in the match, but jiu-jitsu is about more than just control.
Blue Belts are usually sweepers, guard passers, and pinners. And this system serves them well. When you’ve spent the better part of a year learning to survive, nothing seems more relaxed than keeping an opponent from being able to kill you by holding them down. But to evolve to a purple belt, you’ve got to learn to be a killer, so you’ll need to give up a little of your newfound confidence as an aggressive hugger and start going for submissions. This process is going to suck too, which leads me to the next reason I hate Blue Belts.
They usually quit.
Only 25% of new students will earn a blue belt, and less than 10% of those who make it will go on to purple. At my home gym, there is a running joke I tell my students. I won’t learn your name until you get your purple belt. Because odds are, I won’t need to.
At the Blue Belt level, it will be the first instance a grappler will experience a plateau in their game. An experience that any black belt will tell you never stops happening.
As a white belt, there is no place to go but up, so every time you step on the mat, you feel like you are improving. But Blue Belts stop improving if they don’t learn to give up ground and try new things. You can’t learn to kill if your only strategy is staying alive. Advancing towards a submission means letting go of holding your opponent in place, and this adjustment will leave you vulnerable to their attacks. An overconfident blue belt must recognize that the only way to move ten steps forward is to take two steps back.
Unfortunately, not everyone can go through that disappointment twice. So Blue Belts drop like flies.
Jiu-jitsu is empowering, and the confidence built from training is expected and deserved. But Blue Belts hold a special place in the pit of everyone’s stomach because they don’t recognize their newfound hold on the art is only a tiny drop from the well it will take to fill their jiu-jitsu buckets.
So, to any Blue Belts reading this, please take note. I know most of you already think you’ve learned this lesson, but you haven’t. Yes, I’m talking to you. Promise me you’ll pretend to listen when I explain it again. And most of all, don’t quit when you can’t figure out why you’re not getting better. It’ll happen one day, and remember, when you finally get your purple belt, I’ll likely still hate your cocky ass, but at least I’ll learn your name now.