White belts ; by Pedro Alberto

White Belts

SamuraisBeginners in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, as in almost all martial arts, wear white belts until they receive their first rank. In the 80’s, when I was still a blue belt, I started taking lessons from Professor Sylvio Behring on “how-to-teach-jiu-jitsu”. Sylvio believed that teaching jiu-jitsu was a skill to be developed, and —during such “how-to-teach-jiu-jitsu” lessons—, he taught me that the most important students in a jiu-jitsu school are the white belts.

White belts need special attention. The ones without any martial arts background need even more attention. In the best jiu-jitsu schools in Brazil, senior students —blue belts or higher ranked ones— usually spend class time helping out their instructors teaching the white belts. Such schools believe that not only the higher ranks’ teaching help out the lower ranks, but that teaching jiu-jitsu to beginners make senior students learn while they teach. When you are drilling a certain move with your training partner, and you critique his move, you are —informally— teaching him. But when —at the request of your instructor— you “formally” teach technique to beginners, explaining to them why a certain technique is performed a certain way, you are not only helping out the school but being pushed to learn jiu-jitsu correctly. Teaching jiu-jitsu is a way of learning jiu-jitsu.

If white belts don’t receive special attention —until at least such time when they have enough knowledge and skill to start rolling—, they may get seriously injured and leave the school (jiu-jitsu is a fighting system, and the reality is that sooner or later you will injury yourself, but white belts should not get injured). Also, most white belts are unclear about their goals in jiu-jitsu and even their reasons for studing it. If the same class is taught to both beginners and more advanced students —and if the white belts are allowed to roll with such advanced students—, chances are that the white belts will not follow the class, will not understand what is being taught and what jiu-jitsu really is, and may get injured.

Every jiu-jitsu school needs white belts to grow. A jiu-jitsu school is like a pyramid, as it is built up by a large number of white belts (the instructor is at the top). And the pyramid will not grow unless the base is enlarged and the school’s foundations strengthened. A jiu-jitsu school needs a large number of white belts, because —as training increases in difficulty and complexity, and jiu-jitsu is a little rough— many beginners will leave sooner or later. As the ones staying will be advancing to higher belts, the number of white belts will decrease in number. Without a good number of people to roll with, one cannot develop his jiu-jitsu skills and advance.


  1. White belts are the basis of jiu-jitsu schools.
  2. Higher ranked students should assist their instructors in teaching lower ranked students, specially the white belts. This will benefit both the lower ranked ones and themselves.

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