Did you just start doing BJJ as a white belt, and do you want some tips to point you in the right direction? Look no further. I put together a list of the 25 most valuable BJJ white belt tips (including tips and advice for white belts from John Danaher, Gordon Ryan, Lachlan Giles and others!).
1. Don’t just focus on survival
The biggest mistake I see white belts make is that they focus too much on survival.
I know why. It’s popular to advise white belts: ‘focus on survival’.
But what usually happens is that a white belt just lays in bottom side control squeezing his arms to his side for 5 minutes trying not to get submitted.
This is not an efficient way to improve at Brazilian jiu jitsu.
You’ll improve much faster if you try something and get submitted than if you just squeeze your arms to your sides.
2. Focus more on drills, less on sparring
White belts should focus more on drilling and less on sparring compared to the other belts.
White belts get the most out of drilling because they can’t motorically perform a lot of techniques yet.
At the same time, white belts learn the least from sparring of any belt, because they don’t have many things to try yet.
So drill more and spar less as a white belt.
3. Don’t focus on any one thing, experiment a lot
Marcelo Garcia (of famous Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend) gives this advice to beginners in Brazilian jiu-jitsu:
“You don’t know no what works well for you yet so try everything.
Once you find something you like, focus on that for a while.
Then keep applying that same process to more and more techniques as you go on.”
That’s one of the best BJJ white belt tips you can get.
4. Focus on basic, high percentage techniques
It’s good to focus on the essential white belt techniques before anything else.
Don’t get caught up practicing calf slicers or the twister for 3 months like I did.
Don’t waste your time on bad techniques. Instead, practice good, fundamental moves at white belt, and you’ll get better quicker.
5. Create 3 goals before each class
It’s very important to come to class with clear goals so that you can train intentionally.
A lot of people advocate for coming in with one goal, so that you don’t overwhelm yourself.
And that’s great.
But what sometimes happens to me it’s that I come in with a goal, but that I never get into the position to accomplish it.
For example I might want to practice my Bella he forgot but then everybody pulls guard on me.
Therefore I always create three goals: one for when I’m on bottom, one for when I’m on top passing guard and one for when I’m on top in a pin position.
If you create three goals for the three situations that you find yourself in the most you are almost guaranteed that you can work on one of your goals in each role.
6. Distinguish good and bad techniques
Some white belts might say: I don’t know which techniques are good yet.
If that’s you: look around your gym. Which moves do you see working the most?
Or even better: watch high level tournaments. Which moves work the most there?
Spoiler: it’s not that exotic choke that you saw once.
It’s armbar, triangles and chokes from the back.
7. Find a good teacher
Your teacher has a tremendous impact on the speed of your improvement as a white belt.
In the beginning you can’t always distinguish good techniques from bad techniques yourself yet.
So you can only really go with what your teacher teaches you.
If your teacher shows you bad techniques, you end up wasting a lot of your time on learning bad techniques.
Whereas if you get shown good techniques, you’ll start building a legit game directly as a white belt.
So look for a good teacher.
8. Build up confidence through escapes
Gordon Ryan (the best no gi submission grappler ever) his advice to white belts is to build up confidence through escapes.
Gordon believes that if you don’t have good escapes from submissions and pinning positions, you’ll never go for a submission yourself because you’ll be afraid to lose your position.
Instead you’ll just be holding on tight to your position which is not how you learn BJJ quickly.
So if white belts can choose what they get good at first, they should choose escapes.
9. Use online instructional material
Except for training frequency, I think that how many instructionals watch if the biggest determinant of how long it takes to get your blue belt.
There’s an amazing abundance of instructional material online available.
Most of it is even free on YouTube.
And if you really want to get into a certain technique or position you can get a full BJJ instructional on BJJFanatics for pretty cheap if you watch out for the discounts.
10. Drill until fluency, then apply
Drilling is very important but at a certain point you get diminishing returns.
This point is when you are fluent in the technique.
Once you can do the movement on an unresisting opponent, you can stop drilling a technique.
Now you need to start working on your timing.
And you do that by trying to apply the technique in sparring and positional sparring.
11. Focus on understanding, not winning
I got this tape from a jump Thomas video.
In the short run you might win more by focusing on winning.
But in the long run it will slow down your improvement.
So instead focus on understanding.
This is the way to improvement in BJJ in the long run.
12. Do more positional sparring
Positional sparring is very underrated in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Everybody should do it more, especially white belts.
Positional sparring takes off the pressure because if you lose you just reset.
And you can do way more repetitions than during normal sparring.
That’s why positional sparring is an incredible way to work on your timing for techniques that aren’t in your A-game yet.
13. Build relationships to practice outside class
Everyone that improves at Brazilian jiu-jitsu fast, does so because they practice outside of class.
Think about the best people at your gym: do you see them drilling before or after class?
Do they come to the open mat with an intention of what they want to practice that day?
I bet they do.
And if you want to improve fast at BJJ you need to do the same thing.
14. Consistency is key to avoid injuries
The most likely moment to injure yourself is when you come back after a break.
This is because your mind will want to do things that your body needs to get used to again.
Some study that I read (but unfortunately couldn’t find anymore) showed that you have a way higher chance of injuring yourself even if you stop training for just a week.
If you take a longer break like a month for a vacation you’re even more likely to enjoy yourself.
That’s why you see so many people that come back after an injury that injure themselves again very quickly after coming back.
So the most important thing you can do to prevent injuries in BJJ is to train very consistently.
15. Focus on moves that are relevant to you now
Danaher’s advice to beginning Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts white belts is to focus on techniques that solve problems they have inspiring right now.
When you start as a white belt you’ll find that people will lay on top of you and that you can’t escape.
Which is horrifying.
So the first thing you want to work on is escaping bad positions and getting back to guard.
As soon as you can get back to guard, you’ll find that people will immediately pass your guard again.
Which again is horrifying.
So at that point you need to focus on guard retention.
Once you find that you are able to keep people in your guard then is the time to start working attacking them from your guard with sweeps and submissions.
If you focus on this as a BJJ white belt your progress faster because you always practice the techniques that meet your current demands.
16. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is uncomfortable, especially as a white belt.
It’s physically uncomfortable because people are putting their weight on you all the time.
It’s mentally and comfortable because you keep losing and losing.
There’s no way around this, therefore you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to survive in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a white belt.
17. Train at least twice a week, more is better
As a white belt you don’t need to go crazy and start training 5 times a week right away.
In fact that’s probably a bad idea because it’s unsustainable for your body as a beginner.
But training two or three times per week will speed up your progression a lot compared to only training once a week.
It’s just much easier to remember the techniques if you can try them again a couple of days later.
18. Lower your expectations
A great BJJ white belt tip is to lower your expectations.
If you just learnt the armbar you shouldn’t expect to immediately hit it against everybody in sparring.
You should expect a logical progression of getting deeper and deeper into the arm bar as you keep practicing it.
Maybe in the first class after learning it you don’t even get close to the armbar but you’ll see a situation in which you could go for it.
In the next class you might start attacking it and the opponent might pull his arm out.
That’s progress again. You made your opponent move.
Maybe next class you hit it against a beginner.
And on and on and on and on.
Count all these small victories to keep yourself motivated as a BJJ white belt.
19. Don’t let it get to your head when you beat up someone who is ranked higher than you
If you submit coloured belts, don’t get excited about it.
They were letting you do that.
If it was a competition they would have passed your guard and submitted you 3 minutes ago.
Or if that isn’t true, then they just weren’t very good.
In any case, it’s not so impressive.
Get excited when you learn things, not when you beat people.
20. Don’t worry when you lose to someone who is newer than you
This is another one of Jon Thomas’ tips for BJJ white belts.
If you’re still a beginner it will definitely happen that new people come in and they beat you even though you have been training longer and are more technical.
That’s just because it’s white belt Talent strength and size still go quite the long way.
Don’t worry about this.
As you progress through the ranks, talent will face out and consistency of training will reign supreme.
21. Don’t try too many new techniques in one class, take it one step at a time
I still make the mistake that I watch like 15 different YouTube videos and that I want to try them all in one class.
It doesn’t work.
It’s better to take it slow.
Practice the technique that your teacher shows, maybe bring one technique yourself to try out that week.
Your brain can only remember so much.
22. Trust that you’re improving
It may not always feel like it, but as a white belt you’re improving a lot.
Remember that in the first month you tapped out to people just going to knee on belly or putting some shoulder pressure?
That doesn’t happen anymore because your body is adjusting to Jiu-Jitsu at a rapid pace.
Just keep showing up and keep improving.
23. Learn from everybody
Some white belts wonder: what belts can you learn techniques from?
Is it wrong if I learn something from another white belt?
I try to learn from everybody.
Whether they’re black belts or white belts, whether they are better or worse than me, almost everybody can teach me something that I don’t know yet.
So if I see anybody doing an interesting move out I ask them: how did you do that?
24. Learn wide, not deep
White belts need to learn a lot of different things in their first couple of years of doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
They need to learn the mount, the side, control the closed guard, the half guard the back mount.
They need to learn both how to attack and defend from these positions.
They even need to learn more fundamental things such as how to do the shrimp movement.
So there is a tremendous learning load that is asked of BJJ white belts already.
Because of this it’s not possible to learn every technique in its full detail yet.
In addition to this white belts can’t even do techniques in their full details yet because they’re white belt opponents will not give them the correct reactions for this yet.
Therefore the only way to learn as a white belt is by first creating the outline of jiu-jitsu and later coming back to color in all the details.
More BJJ White Belt Tips & Advice
I hope these tips help you if you’re a beginning white belt!
To close it off, here’s some more advice videos for white belts from high profile grapplers!
Those were all my BJJ white belt tips. Cheers!