If you find yourself getting tapped left and right by everyone, trying to figure out why the things you learned in class didn’t work, and going home beat up but happy, then you might be a new white belt! If so, then this post is for you.
You can jump start your jiu jitsu journey by learning what elements of the sport you should focus on first. Rather than waste time making it up as you go, keep reading to see what sort of concepts will make BJJ’s learning curve a bit less steep!
Key Things To Focus On As A White Belt in BJJ
So what does a new BJJ white belt need to look out for first and foremost? Safety! Picking up an injury within the first few months of starting is a great way to change BJJ from a sport you do to a sport you used to do. While rolling may feel like a life or death competition, the truth is the stakes are actually super low! Err on the side of tapping too early rather than fighting tooth and nail to prevent submissions that are locked in.
Long term you’ll be able to learn how to escape late-stage submissions, but while you’re getting started its better to spend your valuable rolling time experiencing more positions.
Safety starts with tapping but will quickly go beyond that, moving to “safe in attacks” to “safe from attacks.” Even when you are in bad positions, like the bottom of side control, you can take steps to improve the position and reduce your opponent’s attack options. For example, a classic white belt mistake is over-reaching. When you are constantly extending your arms away from your body you are giving away armbars and chokes.
Learn to make frames while keeping your arms close to your body. Small changes like this can radically reduce the amount of time you spend tapping to armbars!
You don’t have to look for offensive options, yet. Instead your goal should be to figure out how to survive and even become comfortable in bad positions. A early trick to boost your survivability is to work on playing closed guard. This position pits your opponent’s upper body against all four of your limbs, allowing you a safe haven from which to launch attacks and sweeps.
On the literal flipside, there will be times when you find yourself in the top position. When you’re just starting out you may not know how to attack, or perhaps you only have a vague notion of how to perform one submission. Rather than flail madly for an improvised finish, focus on controlling the top position. The practice you get maintaining position will pay greater dividends later than any sloppy armbar attempt will.
You don’t have to take my word for this – the prominent YouTuber Chewy, of Chewjitsu, presents similar advice in this video of tips for new white belts.
Beginner Tips: Playing Closed Guard
The first thing to know about the guard is that people shouldn’t be able to pass it. When you’re just starting out, this position is not about attacks, but rather about being able to stay there as long as you wish. Once you feel safe in this position, you can begin to more aggressively seek attacks and sweeps. Too often new white belts will throw caution to the wind and launch ill-advised attacks that result in their guard being passed.
In order to be safe in the closed guard, you need to use your legs to control the position, not just your arms. While controlling your opponent with your arms is the more easily visible part of the guard, your legs are significantly stronger and are the true reason the guard is so dangerous.
The legs alone are not sufficient to have a robust closed guard, be sure to use your arms and establish strong grips. Try to control your opponent’s arms with grips at the ends of their sleeves. In no-gi you’ll probably find greater success using two of your arms to control a single arm.
In the short term you goal is simply to remain safely in the guard. Once you can keep your opponent stuck in place you can begin adding in attacks and sweeps.
Beginner Tips: Passing Closed Guard
As a new white belt its unlikely that you’ll spend much time on top of the mount or side control, however, you probably will find yourself spending a lot of time in your opponent’s closed guard. Learning to pass the guard is an essential component of BJJ, and the task is far from simple.
Just like before, your first goal is to be safe from attacks. However, once you feel safe your goal switches to passing the guard. If you’re on top and are just holding onto the position you are missing the point! When you’re on the top position it is your job to be passing!
Two important tips to begin passing any guard are to establish good posture and to deny your opponent their grips. If you have established your posture and have prevented your opponent from getting grips you’re well on your way to passing the guard!
If you’re not sure what good posture looks like, be sure to check out our article on the five best passing positions!
An important thing to keep in mind when you’re passing the guard is to remember that you are not in a position to attack submissions. There are essentially zero reliable attacks you can implement from inside the closed guard. Instead of trying to collar choke or americana your partner, work on establishing your posture and passing!
Everyone’s jiu jitsu journey begins at white belt, and it can be a trying time. While these tips won’t magically make everything easy, learning the basic premises of survival and passing will help make your first few months more productive and enjoyable!
When you’re on the bottom, your goal is simple: survive. The closed guard is a great tool to boost your survival rates!
When you’re on top of the guard, your goal is to pass. Once you’ve passed the guard work on controlling top positions. There will come a time for submissions, but for now just concentrate on positional control.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.