Being a white belt can be hard. You see your higher-ranked teammates trying cool moves you’ve never learned, and you face off during live rounds against those teammates and find yourself in over your head. It’s easy to get frustrated when the moves you practice daily seem harder for you than they do for your teammates. However, having the right attitude can vastly improve your experience on the mats to ensure you get the most out of every class -- and turn yourself into the person the newer students are looking up to as quickly as possible.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Your Teammates
Whether it’s sulking about how easy the purple belt makes everything look, or getting jealous that another student who started with you has gotten stripes more quickly, nothing good comes out of looking at your teammates with envious eyes. The best martial arts advice you’ll ever get is to remember everyone’s martial arts journey is their own, and you can’t judge how successful you are by comparing yourself to those around you.
Don’t view promotions as a race. You’ll get your next belt when the time is right, just as your teammate will get it when the time is right for them. Instead of focusing on how your peers are doing compared to yourself, worry about what you’re struggling with presently and learning how to close the holes up to make that area into a strength.
Forget About “Winning” Your Live Rounds
Going live, whether you’re rolling in BJJ or sparring in karate or muay thai, is the most fun part of class for most martial arts students! It’s when you get to take all the hard work and drilling and try to apply it in practice. Successfully executing a move you’ve been practicing during a live round can be exhilarating, especially if your coach sees you nail the technique. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your successes during live rounds, but they should not be your defining goal.
Going live is about improving just as much as drilling is. If you’re with a less-experienced student, simply bossing them with your go-to move isn’t the best way to develop. Similarly, refusing to admit “defeat” and tap when you’re caught is a recipe for injury, and you should never put a teammate in the position of either releasing a hold or hurting you. It’s your responsibility to both yourself and your partner to stay safe so everyone is back for the next class.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Sometimes you should force yourself into your worst positions, because the only way to improve them is to get more work. Training outside of your comfort zones helps you to develop where you need it most. While you don’t have to always avoid your strengths in the beginning, be sure to pepper in rounds where your primary goal is to get into your weakest areas and learn to be effective from those weak spots.
"Getting arm-barred" is approximately zero people's comfort zone.
Don’t Try to Be a YouTube Black Belt
The internet is an incredible resource for anyone learning virtually any skill. With that said, beginner students can often go down the rabbit hole of advanced techniques before they’ve even mastered the basics. Online videos are a great resource but can be a dangerously alluring diversion for new students who can’t separate what works from what just looks good with willing demonstration partners.
"Ha-ha cool a triple suplex spinning heel hook! I'm totally trying that next class!"
As a beginner student, you’d do well to stick to videos which focus on tips to improve your basic techniques instead of crazy new moves that look cool but may or may not even be effective on an opponent who is resisting. If you’re not sure about a move, take it to your instructor and see what they think. Your instructors are a resource, so use them!
When figuring out how to start martial arts training effectively, it’s easy to get caught up looking too far down the road. When you see a higher belt perform an advanced technique it’s inspirational and aspirational, but remember that you are reading a martial arts beginners’ guide for a reason – you’re new to martial arts. The good news is that so were they one day. Every black belt had a first day, and every black belt started out struggling with the same basic moves you can’t quite nail down yet, so keep your head up and keep training!