Get the most out of your white belt journey with this advice
Being a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is difficult but rewarding. You’ll feel highly motivated to learn new techniques and become better, but you’ll also spend a lot of time learning difficult lessons and tapping a lot. Here are some useful categorised tips to help you on your journey.
White belt BJJ tips
- General tips
- Learning tips
- Technical tips
- Mental tips
- Books, YouTube channels and websites for more white belt tips
1. Find a good gym
The first tip for any white belt is to verify that you’re actually going to a good BJJ gym. All the other tips on this list will be much harder to implement if your gym is not a supportive place. It’s also mentally much easier to change gyms at the beginning of your journey rather than later on. A good BJJ school has the following ingredients:
- The instructor is friendly and supportive, especially to beginners
- The instructor has a clear lineage (search for them or their instructor on BJJ Heroes)
- The instructor has a black belt or at least a brown belt in BJJ
- There’s a large percentage of coloured belts (blue belt and above) that regularly train at the gym
- The coloured belts are friendly and supportive, especially to beginners
- The gym suits your goals e.g competition, MMA, self defence or a middle-of-the-road gym which caters to a range of different goals
- There’s no odd or cultish behavior
- The gym is convenient for you to travel to and has a convenient schedule
2. Train consistently
Training on a regular schedule will ensure you’re consistently rolling (sparring in BJJ terms), learning new techniques from your instructor and getting experience on the mat. Training five days in one week and one day the next week is unsustainable, will interrupt your learning, and might also lead to injuries. Choose a training frequency you’re comfortable with and then stick to it.
3. Train two or more times per week
Even if BJJ is supplementing other training you’re already doing, you should aim to attend at least two classes per week, with three usually being the optimal number for most. This number of classes per week ensures you get enough experience sparring, and exposes you to a variety of different techniques from your instructor each week. It also helps you progress at a rate similar to most of the other students at your level, helping you to feel motivated and enthusiastic to keep training.
4. Roll frequently
Rolling can be intimidating when starting BJJ, but many invaluable lessons are learned during sparring like balance and pressure, so it should never be neglected. The more you roll, the more opportunities you’ll have to perfect your defence, try out new techniques under stress, and see how your jiu jitsu style fares against opponents of different styles and body types.
Ensure when you’re starting out that you participate in all sparring rounds in each class. Even if you’re exhausted, you’ll get a lot out of it like opportunities to train your defence.
5. Partner up with all shapes, sizes and skill levels
Always be willing to mix things up and roll with opponents of different sizes and body types. This gives you the ability to see different jiu jitsu styles and techniques and it exposes you to the variety within jiu jitsu. This extends to rolling with coloured belts too. Don’t be afraid to roll with them. You’ll have to play defensively, but you’ll learn a lot in the process.
6. Don’t neglect your fitness and conditioning
While BJJ is a great way to get fit, you should go one step further and try to regularly train your strength and conditioning. This can help with injury prevention and help you to enjoy your time on the mats even more by enabling you to be more competitive.
7. Tap out early and always warm up
While BJJ is arguably safer than many other grappling arts, it still has its fair share of injuries. When training in class, you can help to avoid this by always warming up, and by tapping out early when put into a submission. Failing to do this can see you sidelined for weeks or months.
8. Respect and take care of your partners
Everyone’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu journey relies on having a steady supply of partners to drill and roll with. Respecting your training partner is an important way to ensure you always have a partner willing to train with you. This means you should:
- Avoid injuring your partners
- Avoid submissions which the instructor has not authorised in your gym or at your belt level e.g neck cranks or heel hooks are often prohibited for white belts
- Wear a clean gi and no gi clothing
- Practice good hygiene
- Be friendly
- Be a good sport
- Pay attention during class and be a good drilling partner
9. Try to implement techniques you learn in class in your rolls
As you train more, you’ll find certain techniques work for you better than others. Eventually this can cause you to get comfortable and avoid trying new techniques. Luckily in most BJJ gyms, in each class you’ll be taught a new technique which you can try directly afterwards during sparring. This is a great way to mix up your jiu jitsu style and expand your game.
10. Don’t panic and remember to breathe
Your initial rolls as a white belt will be difficult and you’ll often find yourself in bad positions like bottom mount. It’s easy to panic at this stage, buck wildily and try to throw your opponent off. Resist this urge and try to calmly remember your escapes and save your energy for these.
Part of avoiding panic when rolling is also to avoid holding your breath. This makes it much harder to recover during the roll and also makes it harder to execute techniques.
11. Have fun
Above all else Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is fun. Don’t take it so seriously that you stop enjoying yourself. Accept failures as part of the experience, make friends at your gym, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Also, you don’t need to be constantly pulling off submissions at all costs to have fun – a successful sweep or takedown can be enjoyable too.
12. Take notes
Notes are a great way to solidify what you’re learning or being challenged by each week. You can simply record what you learned during class, or go one step further and also write about your rolls for the class, what you did well and what you could improve next time.
Notes don’t just have to be written either. You can record video of your rolls (with your training partner and coach’s permission of course) or of techniques you’re learning after class.
13. Drill regularly
Consistently drilling techniques allows you to understand how a technique works before you try it in a roll with 100% resistance from an opponent. Many techniques in BJJ require small details to make them work successfully, and drilling helps you to remember these details during a roll.
14. Use deliberate practice
Deliberate practice is one of the ways masters of various disciplines get so proficient. Deliberate practice is when you focus your practice on something specific with the goal of improving your performance. An example might be improving your mount escape performance by doing 15 minutes of mount escapes with resistance after each class. You might do this practice at various levels of intensity, record yourself doing them and then review it later to make sure you’re doing your escapes correctly.
If you’re doing deliberate practice on armbar escapes, you might let your partner put you in an armbar position and then try to escape for five minutes. If you escape or get submitted you can reset and go back into the armbar position and try again.
15. Ask questions
If you’ve followed the first tip and joined a good supportive gym, this tip is a logical extension. Many higher belts enjoy showing techniques and explaining why they use certain techniques over others or how they would escape out of a specific position. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions.
16. Learn the basic positions, submissions, movements and escapes
One of the most difficult things to get my head around when starting BJJ was the basic positions and how they fit in with each other. It all felt like a jumble. I didn’t know the value of one position over another, particularly because I also didn’t know any submissions or sweeps from each position. This made rolling harder and more confusing than it needed to be.
One way to shortcut your initial journey in BJJ is to be able to recognise the six basic positions and know which positions are better than others. There are also basic movements like shrimping and bridging, and basic submissions too. These are some of the fundamentals of BJJ, so it should be your top priority to be familiar with them all.
Our guide to the basic positions, submissions and movements written by black belt Mohamed Omar lists all of them plus gives you a hierarchy of positions from best to worst.
17. Learn the sports rules of BJJ
Even if you don’t plan on competing, it’s useful to know the basic sports rules of BJJ. There are a number of different organisations with their own rulebooks, but the largest is the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). The IBJJF rules basically give an athlete points for obtaining advantageous positions, passing the guard or carrying out successful sweeps, or an instant victory for a successful submission. Knowing the points value for different positions or techniques will help you get a basic understanding of what your goals should be when rolling. Also read the ruleset to see what techniques are illegal.
18. Focus on defence, survival and escapes
As a beginner in BJJ you’ll be constantly rolling with partners who are more experienced than you, so you’ll be defending more than attacking. This means you’ll need to focus on defence early on. Investing time into your defensive skills is always a good idea to help round out your skills so you can patiently look for submission or sweep opportunities.
To do this, consider learning and consistently drilling at least one escape from the major negative positions such as bottom mount, side control, back control and knee on belly. It’s also a good idea to learn defensive skills while in someone’s closed guard, such as how to posture and how to keep your arms from being separated from your body.
19. Learn 1 – 2 techniques from each position
A good rule of thumb to expand your knowledge when starting BJJ is to focus on learning one or two techniques from each position both from on top and on the bottom. When you’re on the top the technique might be a submission, and when on the bottom the technique might be an escape or sweep. The basic positions include:
- Back control
- Knee on belly
- Side control
20. Focus deeply on one technique
As you start to get more proficient in BJJ, you might want to start spending more time perfecting a specific technique. For many white belts this might be a favourite submission or sweep which you can do some further research on. An example might be the armbar, which you can then:
- Learn different setups
- Perfect the finishing mechanics
- Learn counters to common armbar escapes
21. Learn how to put pressure on opponents from the top
One of the common mistakes I made as a white belt was not correctly applying pressure when I was in top mount or side control. This meant I would fight hard to get one of these advantageous positions and then lose them soon after.
Putting pressure on your opponent when you have a top position like mount or side control requires you to make some small changes to the way you put your weight on your opponent.
From side control this can include getting onto the balls of your feet and driving into your opponent, and in mount it can involve getting a low mount and driving into your opponent using your chest.
Videos about how to put pressure on your opponent from the top
22. Compete at least once
Competition is a great way to test your jiu jitsu at a more intense level. It’s also a great way to force you out of your comfort zone and expose you to opponents at your own weight class with varying styles. It can be daunting, but it’s a rewarding experience you should try at least once. But before you compete, ensure you know how the points system works, the basic positions and have some submissions you’re comfortable with.
23. Plan and prepare for your journey to the next stripe or belt
Many gyms have a syllabus showing you what techniques or skills you’ll need to know in order to be considered for your next belt or stripe. Other gyms might even have an official grading or test you’ll need to complete. Become familiar with the techniques and skills on this list and start making progress towards it now. Set aside a little bit of time each month to focus on some of these techniques, and try to use the required skills in your sparring rounds.
24. Focus on skill instead of strength, weight or speed
Strength, speed and weight are great attributes to have when rolling, but they should never make up for sloppy or non-existent technique. For example you may be one of the heaviest athletes in your gym and may rarely find yourself on the bottom of side control or mount because of this, but that doesn’t mean you should never train your escapes from these positions.
Another example is when you’re performing sweeps in live rolls. Make sure you’re remembering all the details and not making up for gaps in your technique with your strength.
Even if strength, speed or weight is your key advantage, there will come a time when you’ll face someone with the same attributes, and then you’ll need to rely on your technique.
25. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques
As you roll more you’ll start to use the same techniques that work for you. This is fine in the beginning, but eventually you’ll need to try new things. Don’t be afraid to try new guards, passing strategies or submissions, even if they backfire a few times at first.
26. Accept tapping out
Part of training long term in BJJ is accepting that you will tap often. Many times you’ll tap to training partners who are better than you, and sometimes you’ll tap to training partners that capitalise on one of your mistakes, or just get lucky. Regardless, tapping is a great way to acknowledge that you might need to refine a technique or focus more on your defence. It’s also important to tap early enough during a submission to stay injury free.
27. Be patient
Panicking and expending all of your energy trying to burst out of bottom side control might work sometimes, but as you face more advanced opponents all it will do is sap your energy. Being patient and waiting for the right time to move will not only conserve your energy, but might make your escape or counter more likely to work. Patience is also important for submissions, where it’s usually best to secure your position before even grabbing an arm or leg in order to make it more effective.
28. Enjoy the journey
BJJ is not a sprint. Many practitioners spend anywhere from 1 – 2 years to even get their first belt. The next belts can take even longer, with a black belt taking anywhere from 8 -12 years in total depending on your journey.
BJJ is also complex and can be difficult to learn at first. For these reasons it’s important to realise that your skill level will take time to improve, and will only do so with consistent practice. Getting your black belt can be a good goal to aim for as long as you know it’s a long term goal. Try to have other intermediate goals too such as aiming to learn and specialise in a new guard once per year, to compete etc. Look below for more white belt goal ideas.
29. Set useful goals at white belt
Aim for some worthwhile stretch goals when you’re at white belt. Some good white belt BJJ goals may include:
- Competing once or competing on a regular schedule e.g once per quarter
- Asking to roll with at least one coloured belt each class
- Learning one different guard style in addition to closed guard
- Being able to recite the points values of different positions and movements
- Regularly attending class three times per week
- Going for a run once per week in addition to regular BJJ classes
- Participating in all sparring rounds each class
- Know and attempt at least one submission from each major position
- Know an escape from each of the major positions
- Attend one expert BJJ seminar
- Successfully prepare for and complete any required gradings
Good books, websites and YouTube channels for more white belt tips
Below are some useful resources for white belts looking to improve themselves on and off the mat.
- 5 Rules for White Belts
- The Blackbelt Blueprint:: An Intelligent Approach to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
- A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (free)
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique
- Absolute MMA St Kilda – Melbourne
- MMA Leech
- Stephen Kesting
- BJJ Fanatics
- Bernardo Faria
- The Grappling Academy
- BJJ Fanatics. An instructional site which sells instructional videos on every BJJ topic imaginable. There’s also a great beginners section with some excellent videos.
- Grapplearts. A website by black belt Stephen Kesting with a large number of articles and videos on a range of BJJ topics.
- BJJ Success. We may be biased but our blog has a large number of helpful blog articles on a range of topics relevant to beginners including the best podcasts, apps, gis and more.
Did we miss a tip? Let us know below!