BJJ White Belt – What Should I Focus On To Progress Faster?

bow and arrow choke drawing

Will I ever get good at this?

As a BJJ white belt, you have probably asked yourself the above question. And it’s easy to see why, unless you have previous grappling experience, don’t expect to be the one dishing out the ass kicking.

The first couple years of training BJJ is notorious for being almost nonstop ego crushing beatings. You can never skip this painful learning experience, but you can shorten it.

By avoiding the typical white belt mistakes that most practitioners make and focusing on the right things, you can accelerate the learning curve. Here’s how.

Start Building a Basic Game Plan

white belt jiu jitsu take down

IMAGE CREDIT - Flickr: looking for the takedown - via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s face it, slapping hands and then flailing around until you get submitted isn’t anyone’s idea of a good roll.

Yet, that’s what happens to most beginner white belts and to a certain extent even the more experienced white belts.

To make progress faster, you need to start building your game plan.

This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with competition; what I’m talking about is a basic objective and strategy for each roll.

Start out by plotting an objective for each roll. The objectives will differ; for instance when rolling with a purple belt or higher your objective may simply be ‘survival’ while with another white belt it may be ‘submission’.

Here’s how you can now work backwards to form your game plan.

Let’s say that your most effective submission is the kimura from north-south.

To get the kimura, you have to get north-south first, usually from side control, which means passing the guard.

So now you have to figure out your best one or two guard passes.

Next you have to figure out how to get the top position in guard in the first place; an effective takedown or do you have to pull guard and sweep?

Find a couple of takedowns or sweeps that work well for you.

There you have it, a basic game plan.

Now you will go into every roll with a plan, and whether you are able to successfully implement it or not, your ability to execute it will increase with every roll.

You will now be more focused during each roll, which will improve the quality of your training; a major factor for improvement.

When choosing the techniques to include in your basic game plan, remember to work with your attributes.

4 men different body types in gis

If you are big heavy person, inverted guards and berimbolos probably shouldn’t be part of your first game plan.

As your physical attributes progress along with your technique, you will be surprised at what techniques you will be able to pull off.

Here’s a list of common styles for certain body types. Don’t be confined by these archetypes however, these are just some examples.

  • Short and stocky -  Butterfly guard and X-guard styles together with pressure passing; basically Marcelo Garcia.

  • Tall and lanky - Spider guard, closed guard and De la Riva guards will work great for you. Fast and loose toreando style passing suits your body type. See athletes like Keenan Cornelius.

  • Big and heavy - Big guys do well with half guard and pressure passing, like Bernardo Faria.

  • Small and light - For this body type, you’ll have to be as technical as possible. Study athletes such as Caio Terra and Jeff Glover. Speed and squirminess (making you hard to pin down) will be your advantages.

Another point about body types - make sure you choose the right Gi!


Study Technique and Concepts...OUTSIDE OF CLASS

If you could train six times a week twice a day, you will be tapping blue belts in no time at all.

Unfortunately, very few people are in the privileged circumstances that would allow them to do that. Further, if you haven’t developed the adequate work capacity, your body wouldn’t be able to handle that amount of training anyway.

But time off the mats can be productive as well. Your body may be resting, but your mind can always learn. (why not practice something else too, like yoga, which is HUGELY beneficial)

By immersing your mind in the study of jiu-jitsu through watching competition footage, instructionals, online classes, or even books, you can get better at BJJ while just sitting on your couch.

Does that sound too good to be true? Not so, in fact the use of visualization and mental repetitions in athletics is scientifically proven.

Anecdotally, I and many other practitioners have used these resources to successfully improve our skillsets and learn new techniques.

Conceptual understanding or rather the ‘why’ of why techniques work can also make things suddenly ‘click’.

Prominent online instructional sites include MGinAction, Art of Jiu-Jitsu online, Caio Terra online, and Digitsu.

For books, you can’t go wrong with Saulo Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu University and Andre Galvao’s Drill to Win.


The Verdict: What’s the 80/20?

To shorten the learning curve and improve faster as a BJJ white belt you should:

  • Build a basic game plan and try to execute it in every roll.
  • And; Study BJJ techniques and concepts outside of class

Failing to plan is planning to fail as the saying goes, and a game plan is designed to avoid all that.

And by dedicating time outside the mats to understanding BJJ, you will be surprised at how fast you can improve.

Once again, check out the famous online instructional sites or books like Jiu-Jitsu University and Drill to Win.

Comment if you have any questions!

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