BJJ White Belt: The Start of Your Jiu Jitsu Journey
The BJJ white belt is the start of every practitioner’s jiu jitsu journey.
They say that the jump from white belt to blue belt is one of the hardest and most significant promotions in the entire BJJ belt system. Of course, the ultimate goal of every practitioner is to one day receive the very coveted jiu-jitsu black belt… but hey, everyone has to start somewhere!
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the most effective martial arts in the world, and so it’s said that getting a BJJ black belt is a lot harder than getting a black belt in other martial arts (not that it’s a competition or anything…).
This article goes over the basics of the BJJ white belt journey, including the basics of what it means to be a white belt, and how a white belt can get promoted to blue belt. The article also includes tips for white belts about what to focus on in training, as well as how to avoid common pitfalls/obstacles.
Are you a white belt who wants to learn how to accelerate your BJJ progression? Read on to learn how!
BJJ Belt System: The Basics
The white belt is the first belt in the BJJ belt system. It represents every jiu jitsu practitioner’s starting point and is the first step on the long road to BJJ black belt.
The BJJ belt system (for adults) goes like this:
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
They say it takes about 10 years to get a BJJ black belt. In reality, it’s difficult to say how long it will take each practitioner to get to black belt, considering that every practitioner’s journey is unique.
However, regardless of how long it takes someone to move through the ranks, every practitioner starts their BJJ journey with a white belt around their waist.
What is a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
A Brazilian jiu jitsu white belt represents a beginning practitioner. For the most part, these practitioners come to the art with little to no previous experience in grappling.
A BJJ white belt is typically unfamiliar with the main positions of the sport/art (e.g., closed guard vs open guard, mount vs back control). However, with the popularity of mixed martial arts nowadays, and with the growing popularity of BJJ, it’s not uncommon for students to start training with some basic information about the main positions (i.e., guard, mount) and submissions (i.e., triangle, RNC).
Every practitioner’s BJJ journey is different, and some people get their blue belts quite quickly, while others might spend years as a white belt (especially if they’re training inconsistently). That said, the average time a practitioner trains as a white belt is 1-2 years, but this can vary depending on many factors – including training frequency, skill/knowledge, dedication/attitude, and competition experience, among others.
How do you earn stripes as a BJJ white belt?
In Brazilian jiu jitsu, getting promoted is a big deal to a lot of people.
Stripes, also referred to as degrees, signify progress within a given belt. The stripes are applied to the black bar on the practitioner’s belt, usually with white tape. There are 4 degrees for each belt from white belt to brown belt. After the fourth degree of each belt, the next step is for the student to be promoted to the next belt.
In some schools, the first stripe on a white belt means you are finally able to attend/participate in the sparring classes. In these schools, a student is required to learn a number of basic techniques and positions before being allowed to join sparring – in part for this students’ safety, and in part for the safety of the other students in the class.
If it takes a student 2 years to receive their blue belt, then in theory, that student would receive one stripe every 5-6 months to mark their progress. Indeed, some academies promote students based on amount of time spent training, whereas other academies promote students more so based on merit, demonstration of jiu jitsu specific skills/knowledge, and performance in competition.
What should a white belt focus on in training?
Unfortunately, there is no universal curriculum in Brazilian jiu jitsu training. That means that every academy will have a slightly different idea of what white belts should be learning. It also means that every academy will have a slightly different idea of what a white belt needs to learn before they are ready to be promoted to blue belt.
That said, there are some key points that most professors/instructors would agree upon regarding what’s important for white belts to focus on in training.
First, white belts must learn how to defend and escape from submissions and bad positions. This includes side control escapes, mount escapes, and back control escapes. The bridge and the shrimp/hip-escape are two of the most important movements for a white belt to learn, as these movements are at the foundation of most (if not all) positional escapes. Similarly, a white belt should learn the basics for preventing, defending, and escaping the main submissions, such as armlocks (i.e., straight arm lock, kimura), strangles (i.e., RNC, double-lapel), and leg locks (i.e., straight ankle lock).
Second, a white belt should learn the basics of all the major positions and how they fit together. For example, white belts should learn how you can transition from closed guard to open guard to half guard to closed guard again. When passing the guard, a white belt should learn how to go from inside an opponent’s guard to side control to mount to back control, for example.
Third, a white belt should learn how to put basic attacks together to form sequences that they can apply in sparring. This involves sweeps, guard passes, back takes, and submissions. White belts don’t need to learn everything at once, but they should learn a few sweeps, a few guard passes, and a few submissions. While it can be appealing to learn fancy back-takes and elaborate submissions, white belts should really be focusing on the high-percentage techniques that have been around the jiu-jitsu game for a long time. So, before learning how to do the berimbolo, it’s wise to first learn armbars, triangles, guillotines, and the other high-percentage techniques.
Common white belt mistakes
Ego is one of the biggest killers of BJJ progression.
First, ego prevents learning, because ego will make it so that you avoid uncomfortable situations where you’re forced to come face to face with the fact that you’re not good at something. Placing your ego aside and being a good student is the only way to really get better at an activity, BJJ included.
Second, ego will get you injured. White belts (and some colored belts too) need to recognize when they are in a deep submission and escape is no longer an option. Considering the fact that you likely won’t be very successful in sparring as a white belt – at least, not at the beginning – you need to adopt the “tap early, tap often” approach for training. There’s nothing wrong with tapping to a submission, but there is something wrong with letting yourself get injured in training because you can’t accept the fact that you lost an exchange with a training partner.
As mentioned above, “tap early, tap often” is not only a saying related to ego – it’s also about staying healthy enough that you can continue to training consistently. When your body is broken because you sparred too hard, or didn’t tap early enough to a submission, you have only yourself to blame.
Yes, accidents happen, but there’s a lot you can do to prevent injuries. The biggest thing you can do is train smart. Training smart also includes adding some strength and conditioning training outside of jiu jitsu. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but a basic and consistent lifting program is a great way to keep your body healthy and injury-free.
Trying to learn every technique
The world of Brazilian jiu jitsu is vast and exciting. With YouTube, you can watch thousands of hours of BJJ content for free. It can be easy to want to learn every technique you see, but that will be a waste of your valuable training time.
You don’t need to know a dozen escapes when you’re stuck in a triangle, and you don’t need to get good at every type of strangle to win a sparring round. Focus on the major, high-percentage positions and techniques and try to be successful with a few of them in training .
Everyone wants to get promoted, and so it can be easy to become jealous of your training partners if they make it to blue belt before you do. Just know that if you keep training consistently, and you keep improving every time you step on the mats, there’s no doubt you’ll get promoted to blue belt eventually. Does it really matter how quick the promotion comes?
Belt/rank envy won’t help you get better on the mats, and it certainly won’t make your professor/instructor promote you any faster. When it comes down to it, a belt is really only there to keep your gi together. And hey, if you’re training no-gi, you won’t even wear a belt! So just keep training and don’t worry about when you’re going to get promoted. Trust that you professor/instructor will know when it’s time to promote you to blue belt.
Other FAQs about the BJJ White Belts
Do you automatically get a white belt when you start training?
Every Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner starts their BJJ journey with a white belt tied around their waist. For some grapplers, their time at white belt might be extremely short. This typically happens when someone comes into jiu-jitsu with previous high-level grappling experience, such as wrestling, judo, or sambo.
However, just because someone has experience in another grappling art doesn’t mean they will automatically be successful at jiu-jitsu. In order to receive a blue belt in BJJ, one must demonstrate some knowledge of the main positions and techniques before being promoted – no matter how good they are in another sport/art.
Why do so many white belts quit?
Being a BJJ white belt is hard. You don’t know much when you start out, which means that most sparring sessions you’ll take part in won’t be much fun for you. You’ll likely get tired very quickly in training, and you’ll feel extremely sore after most sessions. Plus, it can just be flat out discouraging to get dominated by another person when you’re trying your hardest to stop them from passing your guard, mounting you, and strangling you.
For many white belts, the journey to blue belt is just too long and too difficult. Likewise, it’s important to mention that some people pick up injuries that prevent them from continuing to train. Also, some people find it too difficult to be consistent in their training with demands from their professional or personal lives.
Just starting to train as a white belt is an accomplishment in itself. But enduring the struggles that are inevitable for every white belt and pushing through to be promoted to blue belt is really impressive.
What’s the hardest part of being a white belt?
This is a tough question to answer, as everyone will have a slightly different take on what makes the white belt journey so difficult.
One obstacle that is particularly difficult for white belts is training consistently over time without getting injured. White belts tend to use too much strength and power in sparring sessions, especially when they first begin training. In other words, most white belts are not very smooth or technical in their sparring – especially when sparring with other white belts.
Similarly, some white belts have a hard time accepting that they are stuck in a submission during sparring, causing them to fight longer than they should to try to escape. This can easily result in an injury that takes time away from the consistent training that is required to be promoted to blue belt.
Staying healthy is one of the most important factors in your BJJ progression, as it’s the only way that you’ll be able to train consistently.
When is it time to be promoted to blue belt?
The white belt journey is great and everything, but at a certain point, most Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners start to wonder when they’ll be getting promoted to blue belt.
That said, what does it actually take for a practitioner to be considered a blue belt level grappler?
The IBJJF has guidelines on how long students must train at each belt level before being promoted. However, there are no strict rules about white belts, leaving much of the decision-making about promotions up to individual academies and their professors/instructors. The only guideline put forth by the IBJJF regarding white belts is that a practitioner must be at least 16 years old before being promoted to blue belt.
But skill and knowledge-wise, how does a professor/instructor know when a white belt is ready to be promoted?
In general, a student is considered blue belt level once they are able to defend themselves and escape from most bad positions. Likewise, blue belt level students understand most of the basic submissions and how to apply them against resisting opponents.
Beyond that, criteria for promotion changes from one academy to the next. Some professors/instructors are very methodical and strict with giving stripes and only promoting students once they have four stripes on their belt. Some professors/instructors have different criteria for competitors, either holding them back longer or promoting them earlier than other students.
In summary, a BJJ blue belt understands and can apply basic defenses, escapes, and attacks from all of the major positions in jiu-jitsu. Beyond that, the criteria differs from one academy to another.
How to Accelerate Your BJJ Progression
At white belt, you’ll spend most of your time learning all of the major defenses, escapes, and attacks. But that’s just the first part of getting to blue belt. The next part involves putting those techniques together to form effective sequences that allow you to win exchanges against your training partners (and potentially against opponents in competition).
Most students go to training, learn a few techniques, try their best to apply them in sparring, then go home and do everything all over again the next day. Week in, week out, they continue to show up and work hard. What about working hard and working smart?
Our online BJJ flowchart tool was designed with the beginner BJJ student in mind! This tool allows you to map out basic positions, such as closed guard, open guard, half guard, side control, mount, and back control, and the attacks and defenses/escapes that come along with each of them. What’s more, with this flowchart tool, you can map out how these various techniques and positions connect together!
This is not only great for remembering the techniques you learn each class – but it is great for that too! This BJJ flowchart tool is also a great way to continue your learning off the mats. While your body is recovering from hard training, you can continue learning by studying the positions and techniques you come across most often. By studying your BJJ game using flowcharts, you train your mind to better understand the interlocking systems that make up every sparring session you’ve ever been a part of!
Access our online BJJ flowchart tool and watch as you accelerate your BJJ progression! Register today and level up faster than your training partners!