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5 Habits of Highly Effective White Belts

A Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu student's first year is the most exciting and challenging time in their journey.

It’s the most exciting time because you have entered a whole new world of Jiu-Jitsu techniques and concepts. Every class reveals a new technique that answers one of your problems on the mats. You got stuck in a position or submitted by an arm lock, and the very next class, your Gracie Barra Professor dedicates the class to deal with the exact situation you just faced.


You meet great people on the mats daily and help each other improve your skillset.


On the other hand...it can also be a great challenge, and you will have periods of discouragement. There is just so much to learn, the names of the techniques are challenging to remember, and the sheer amount of information seems overwhelming sometimes. The technique you drilled in class seemed like it would make a difference in your rolling success... only to have it fizzle in live sparring. Progress can sometimes seem nonexistent, and everyone but you seem to be getting better.


We hear you. You are not alone. This article is written with you in mind.


We want to share some helpful tips, cautionary advice on common miss-steps to avoid, helpful resources, and time-tested wisdom that will help you navigate these difficulties that seem common to most of our experiences of starting in Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu.

Habit #1 - Be Patient

In this modern age of instant gratification and lifestyle hacks, Jiu-Jitsu will force you to slow down. Most GB black belts have been training for over ten years. That's A LOT of hours on the mats over a long period of time.


There are hundreds of Jiu-Jitsu techniques that you will see and need to acquire some level of skill with. For example, the GB1 - the "GB beginners" program has 85 separate techniques in the 16 weeks curriculum. This is going to take time to be exposed to and assimilate.


To progress as fast as possible, you need to be patient. This might sound like a cryptic piece of advice, such as a riddle uttered by a wise old Kung Fu master to a young grasshopper student. But it's true. You must build your foundation on the basics of Jiu-Jitsu before diving into all the advanced positions.


One of the reasons that the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt is so respected is that it is so difficult to achieve. Easy achievements have little value. Difficult things are valuable.


Part of our frustration can come from feeling like we are not achieving a certain level within the time that we expect. We "should" be as good as another of your training partners that started near the same time we started. You "should not" be still having your guard passed by other white belts.


But these expectations often are not founded in any objective standard that applies to all of us. We come into Jiu-Jitsu with unique attributes, previous athletic experience, and potential.

Habit #2 - Enjoy the Process

Professor Isaac Dull of GB Matriz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, says that he thinks most students quit in their first year because of the self-imposed pressure they place on themselves.


"Enjoy the journey. Don't worry,” says Professor Isaac.


“Don't put pressure on yourself to prove anything. Don't focus only on the physical aspects of training - winning rolls and submitting your training partners. Be aware of the other benefits that you get from Jiu-Jitsu in your life. Most importantly...enjoy the process."


The message here is to give yourself time. Understand that the process of learning and graduating through the colored belts and acquiring all of that technical knowledge will take a long time.


Focus on enjoying each class and accept that learning Jiu-Jitsu is a long-term investment in your life.

Habit #3 - Be Consistent. Not Heroic.

It's not uncommon for a new Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu student to become so infatuated with training that they start training every day, start doing CrossFit to gain a physical edge, watch hours of technique videos late into the night, and are up on all of the latest tournament results and trendy positions. "Go hard or go home" is their mantra.


However, this intense regimen can quickly lead to physical and mental burnout. In the worst cases, they drop out after their initial fast start and are never again seen at the Jiu-Jitsu school.


In a different, lower-key approach, we see the new Jiu-jitsu student who sets a goal of training at their Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu school three times a week consistently. They tighten their diet up a little. They spend some time reviewing techniques on GB Online as their Jiu-Jitsu homework.


As the weeks and months go by, we see their face in all of the class photos. They may not have the most natural talent or the most free time to devote to Jiu-Jitsu. But they are consistent. They have found a way to incorporate training as a regular part of their lives. It's sustainable.


It's not all about training super hard for a short period before a tournament and drifting away afterward. "Don't be heroic, be consistent," is a favorite quote on the attitude of training for the long haul


A well-worn piece of Jiu-Jitsu wisdom remains as true today as when it was first spoken: "A Jiu-Jitsu black belt is simply a white belt who never gave up."


Acquiring a high level of Jiu-Jitsu skill and earning a black belt isn't about brief bursts of furious activity. It's about consistent effort applied over a long period of time.

Habit #4 - Focus on the Right Things

As with many life endeavors, mastery of the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu leads to excellence. Yet the world continues to look for the shortcut, the magic hack that will turbocharge your progress past all other people.


This holds true in Jiu-Jitsu as well. More specifically, when new students look for the latest, secret moves and positions that will propel their game to the next level. It seems that following every major Bjj competition, some new technique innovation creates a ripple of excitement in the Bjj competition community.


The problem is when first-year students who have yet to achieve any level of proficiency with the basic techniques get distracted by the newest tournament move and abandon the more valuable basics they have been working on.


This tangent takes them away from focusing their precious, finite learning time on the fundamentals that will truly make a positive difference in their game and squanders it on low percentage techniques that require an advanced level of attributes and skill to make work.


So what are the right things?


Quite simply, the techniques that your Gracie Barra Professor teaches in your GB1 or GB2 class.


These expertly organized sets of techniques are designed to build the skills you need in the order you need to learn them. These so-called basic techniques build the foundation of your Jiu-Jitsu, allowing you to start using the more advanced, sports-specific positions eventually.


A Gracie Barra Black Belt Professor told a group of new students in the GB1: "There are no secrets, no magic techniques in the advanced classes." The most important techniques to build your Jiu-Jitsu are taught in the GB1 and GB2 programs.


This is the reason why YouTube and Instagram technique videos get such a bad rap from Jiu-Jitsu instructors. The moves are flashy and creative, and fun. But spending hours learning how to do an advanced rolling back take isn't the key to unlocking your Jiu-Jitsu game. Mastering the basics is.


We've all witnessed the Jiu-Jitsu student that is obsessed with the next stripe or belt promotion. They want to know how long it takes to get a blue or black belt. "When do I get my next stripe?" they ask. They gossip about who got a stripe and who didn't deserve it, and so on.

You may even have witnessed a student become so frustrated with not receiving a promotion that they felt that they deserved that they left the school!

Goal-oriented people care about milestones as they work toward a big goal. A stripe or belt promotion can provide much-needed positive motivation for a Jiu-Jitsu student. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the recognition for your discipline and hard work by your Gracie Barra Professor.


The problem is when some students become disproportionately focused on belts. The most important things to be focused on are improving our skills and enjoying the process. The stripes and belts will come as a by-product if you consistently work hard. But training to get the next promotion removes your focus from what should be your priority, and you risk frustration if these promotions aren't coming according to your internal schedule.

Habit #5 - Supplement your learning online

Let's preface this next habit by saying that your primary method of learning Jiu-Jitsu should be going to class regularly at your Gracie Barra school and learning directly from your Gracie Barra Professor. There are a lot of details that comprise a technique that may not be apparent when observing the move being performed. There are "invisible" elements - as Professor Braulio Estima likes to say - too many techniques must be felt to be understood. It's not possible to learn Jiu-Jitsu only by watching videos.

With that caveat out of the way, many Jiu-Jitsu students love watching Jiu-Jitsu videos to learn new techniques and analyze high-level competition matches. Who among us has not gone down a "YouTube rabbit hole" until 2 am watching technique videos?


The problem for Jiu-Jitsu addicts is not a shortage of videos...it's the opposite. There is just such an overwhelming amount of Jiu-Jitsu content available online that the less experienced student doesn't know where to start. And not all of that video content is from credible, legitimate sources.


The best way to supplement your learning with Jiu-Jitsu videos is NOT by watching a hundred random, disconnected techniques with varying degrees of quality of instruction. The most productive way is to study videos that reinforce the positions you are learning in class. You can often see things differently when you stand back and observe from a distance - like you do when watching a video.

If you learned a triangle choke from the guard in this week's class, it can be beneficial to watch how Professor Rodrigo Fajardo or Professor Victor Estima teach the same position in the GB2 curriculum at GB Online, for example. Watching the video can reinforce what you saw in class. They may introduce a new detail that sharpens your understanding of the triangle. A different entry to the triangle seems to click with your guard game, and you can add to your knowledge of the triangle choke.


The best Jiu-Jitsu video instructionals teach the techniques progressively and systematically. Videos that are organized around a specific position - the Outside Hook Guard, for example - and build skills sequentially.


GB Online is an excellent resource for Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu students to supplement their Jiu-Jitsu learning. You can "deep dive" into a specific position with a course by one of the GB Online Professors - for example, I love the course on the Single Leg X-Guard with Prof Ana Laura Cordeiro. Or you can follow along in the successive weeks of the GB Curriculum and study that week's position.


When we want to learn about a subject of interest, extra "homework" is important, and GB Online provides an excellent, well-organized, and searchable platform for the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu community. Check it out.



Blog Written by Mark Mullen, a Gracie Barra Black Belt


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