BJJ White Belt: A “Green” Milestone

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The team finished their warm up, got a quick drink of water and is now gathered in a circle; some sitting on their knees, some cross-legged. The Coach is going to walk the team through a new technique but first he begins to talk about progression, about how if you just keep at it, keep training, keep showing up and putting the time in, that the stripes and belt promotions come and one day you’ll eventually become a BJJ black belt – just don’t quit. And with that, he pulls out a belt hidden in his kimono and calls a student out. The look of surprise and joy on the students face says it all as he stands up, bows and walks towards his instructor.

Some schools “break in” the newly minted color belts with various traditions, some schools don’t – this school does.

To kick off the traditions of initiation into this new level, the Coach ties the new belt on the student. They shake hands and the student readies himself. The Coach grabs a collar of the students kimono and one of his sleeves and asks him if he’s ready. The student acknowledges in the affirmative and is then summarily taken to the ground. The take down is controlled and executed well. The student gets up, teammates clap as the instruct and student shake hands, hug and then the class begins.

Training resumes as normal.

Fast forward to the end of class, time to bow out. After a solid session of training, the students are at different levels of perspiration, exhaustion and breathing. They bow out, shake hands and then they line up in two rows facing each other. The newly minted colored belt goes to one end of the column and takes off his belt and kimono, placing them to the side. Readying himself for the second and final piece of initiation – a run or walk through the column at his chosen pace with belts smacking his back in congratulations on the new promotion – his fellow teammates and coach take off their belts.

Playful smiles on their faces and a glint in their eyes as some of them smack the floor with their belts in a quasi-intimidating way. With some last minute instructions from the Coach on how to properly break in the new belt, the student walks through the column.

The impacts are mostly light and friendly, a good handful have some fire behind them and will leave some light bruising over the next few days. All are well intentioned. The first pass is done as he reaches the end, turns around and walks through the second and final pass. A few louder cracks and exclamations of “Ooooooooooh!” from students in the line are heard as some harder hits find their target. The Coach gets the final lick and it’s done. The students swarm the new belt, pats on the back, handshakes, hugs and congrats are offered up. The newly promoted belt receives each in turn, thanking them for the training that helped bring him to the place he is now.

Another milestone on the path, the journey never ends.

This was my experience Wednesday, 01/17/2018.*


The white belt that I’ve worn, sweated in and washed multiple times for ten months and seventeen days has been now replaced by a brand new green one. In the RMNU the adult belt system goes White, Green, Blue, Purple, Brown and Black. My Coach is one of a few select RMNU Brown Belts given permission by Professor Robson Moura to promote students to new belt ranks.

The Green Belt, from my understanding about Professor Moura’s association is meant to distinguish those White Belts who’ve put in the time, applied themselves, aren’t afraid to experiment with new techniques being taught and most importantly look to work with the newer white belts; to help them along, be an example and show them the way. Green is a milestone; a recognition of being on the right path.

Just writing that previous paragraph was a little uncomfortable as I find harmony between explaining my understanding of the belt and not trying to puff myself up as a big deal.

Like I’ve mentioned before in a prior BJJ White Belt article or two, while our Coach has been training for 15yrs+ and has taught at multiple schools, this is his first school in Idaho. We just barely crossed the one year threshold a couple months ago. There are literally a handful of green belts who have come before me at this school and I look up to each and every one of them. Each one of them brings out something different in my game and each one of them helps me adapt to different situations and scenarios. It feels good to join their ranks and looking forward, I’m looking towards to day we each cross the threshold of the other belt colors in the system; to see how each of us develop our game and grow as BJJ players – to look back after all the years, laugh and say “remember when we were rolling around as white belts and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing?!”.

In risking the harmony I mentioned before, I did want to circle back on something that is looked for in the Green Belts – helping the “younger” white belts along. I like helping. IT’s just something inside me, probably the “teacher” in me.

It’s odd, over the last few weeks, I’ve had teammates come up to me and let me know how much they enjoy training and rolling with me. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, “You know, Tom, I’ve really learned a lot from training/rolling with you today.”

Really though, I’m just following the example set by Coach Shane and Karina anyways. When I first started they would talk with me a little while rolling or while practicing a technique.

“What options do you have available here?”

“Your neck is exposed, you need to protect it.”

“Keep moving, don’t stop, you have to keep moving.”

“Do you see how I did this?”

“You have to pass my guard, don’t let me break you down.”

“If you lean back too far here, I can set you up for the sweep, so what you want to do is…”

Things like that, and more. And I repeat that pattern to the youngers.

Monkey see, monkey do.

But I enjoy that process. I really do.

This process also helps me retain and hone the skills I’ve learned already. If you can explain something in a simple manner, by and large that usually means you understand the content. I’ve also found that while explaining one technique, I’ll finally see the opening for another or how one technique works with another.

I also see doing this as a solid investment in the team. First, you are building rapport with your teammates. Second, and just as important, you are helping to retain solid people in your gym.

As long as you aren’t trying to put “your own spin” on what is being taught in class, you are being a force multiplier for your Professor and Coach.

Think about it.

Jiu-Jitsu is hard, it’s a lifetime process of learning, developing, analyzing and redeveloping your skills. You truly never stop learning! Even Professor Moura, with thirty plus years and eight world championships to his name is still learning!

Those first few months are hard. You are learning by immersion; baptism by fire. And for the most part, who really knew what the hell they were doing in the first few months anyway?

Do you remember your white belt days?

Frustrated with your performance, thinking you’re not getting it, every roll is just a fight to try and survive – which, really, that’s what us white belts are supposed to do, try and survive – but it gets frustrating… and then someone who has been there six, nine, or twelve months longer picks you for a training partner and is walking through things with you. He or She helps you “get” certain concepts down, you ask a question they don’t have the answer to and they waive the Coach or Professor over to ask clarifying questions and things click. Instead of feeling like quitting, things start becoming interesting.

To circle back to being a force multiplier, that small investment might have just saved a student from quitting. You planted a seed, the gym as a whole benefits from it and as the school continues to grow, that person in turn might just plant another seed because of the example you set.

That’s all for now. I really could write another 1000 words but it might just be a bunch of stream-of-consciousness rambling regarding what little I know of Jiu-Jitsu.

Let me hear from you in the comments!

*For anyone uncomfortable with initiations, rites of passage or, depending on your view, “hazing” let me clarify that this is entirely optional. The way I see it, it was only right that I participated in the same stages of initiation that I had witnessed and participated in when my teammates were promoted a few months ago. To me, trials/rituals/initiations help knit the team together; as we strive to become better with each technique, each roll, each class… it is a strengthening of “us”.

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