The White Belt Dilemma

I’ve only been rolling for about a year, but I’ve come to recognize what I call “The White Belt Dilemma.” I don’t know if this is something that is seen at higher belts when changing gyms or if this only manifests when a completely new player enters the realm of jiu-jitsu, but I will say one thing:

It is both annoying and dangerous.

Let me explain: The class I go to most often is at 6am, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s a bitch to wake up for, but it’s always worth it. Fridays are supposed to be level 2 classes – only those students who have earned their second stripe and up are allowed to train. Partly because our instructors are very gracious and partly because there’s no way to make that distinction on the site where we register for classes, we tend to get lots of new guys.

It’s an hour and 20 minute class, beginning with warm-ups, core and drilling. By the time this is all over with, many guys (myself included sometimes) are breathing hard, hoping for a water break. We go over technique and people get their wind back but, then we go into positional and live rolling sessions.

This is where things break down.

Brand new white belts MUSCLE everything. They don’t know technique, so they can’t use technique. It’s understood. Here’s the problem, though: these same white belts also have a tendency to THINK they know what they’re doing becuase they’re UFC fanboys, or they’ve seen some jiu jitsu on youtube, or they were a backyard brawler, or they were good at headlocks as a kid, or … or… or… you get the point.

As a result of fearing the wind-sucking pain that comes from being stuck on the bottom in what a friend of mine calls “The Brain Lock,” being smothered, being dominated, being choked out, these guys go 100% all of the time. There is no position. No control. They only have eyes for the submission. As a result, they tear at limbs, slam on chokes and could potentially injure people who are just trying to be good training partners or, worse still, who have just come to the gym to see jiu jitsu in all of its beauty and power for the first time.

Let me describe it another way: it’s like a guy taking a girl out on a date and, instead of controlling his emotions, being a gentleman, taking the slow road, he goes right in for the kiss. Repeatedly. No is not an option.

The girl is at first complimented by his tenacity. Then, before someone can tell him that he’s going too far, she’s hurt emotionally or physically. Not only does she skip dates with this jack-ass in the future, she skips dates altogether.

This kind of mentality actually turns other new players away from the sport because, most times, it’s not noticed until it’s too late. An armbar, kimura or choke is cranked on until pain lingers well past the time to tap. People don’t want to come back to that sort of thing. Instead, the higher belts end up thinking of one thing when they see new players exerting this kind of force: REVENGE.

I’m a victim of this. I’ve seen a buddy get cranked on until his arm popped three times in quick succession by a guy that thought he was god’s gift to jiu jitsu even though his belt was as pale as mine. I wanted to roll with him, to inflict pain, to seek justice with my own two hands. Go back to the earlier scenario: it’s like a big brother gets involved, slams the guy to the ground and makes sure he doesn’t attack anyone else in the future.

Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

But what can be done about it? I have a couple of ideas: first, the rules and regulations need to be gone over with new players – either brand new players, or new to the gym makes no matter – and they should be watched over more carefully than your returning students. Next, class sizes don’t have to be 12 (or 20) people deep: I know that classes range in size because people need to keep the lights on, but Helio Gracie and others kept to closed door sessions, taking on students as masters take on apprentices.

Obviously, this is an ideal situation and as I’ve said since day 1, I’m new to this: there’s no way I can have all of the answers. But this White Belt Dilemma has to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

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