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Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a White Belt – How to Get Better at Rolling Faster

Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a White Belt - How to Get Better at Rolling Faster

   If you’re a jiu jitsu white belt and looking to get better at rolling faster, you’ve come to the right place.

   When you start bjj you may feel buried – both physically from mount below the guy who never wears a shirt underneath his gi, and mentally by all of the information you need to learn, these are top 5 things I wish I knew as a white belt. 

Related: Looking for our full list of beginner tips? Check out our post here

Top 5 White Belt Tips

   After years of training and kinda already knowing most of these tips, I decided finally to consciously implement them into my game, and they have made my jiu jitsu sky rocket.

Some of these are theoretical and some are practical, but hopefully they will ease the pain from that severe gi burn and bruised ego.

Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a White Belt

  1. Set small goals for each class
  2. Break any grips immediately
  3. You don’t have to be stuck on bottom – you can always stand up and wrestle
  4. Purposefully, put yourself in bad spots when sparring against people less experienced – this is how you learn escapes
  5. From bottom position Half Guard / Side control – just don’t let them grab your head

1. Set Small Goals for Each Jiu Jitsu Class

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   As opposed to just showing up to class and being spun around like a wet gi on high tumble dry, you should show up to each class with one or two techniques in mind that you want to specifically hit during live sparring.

Win, lose, or draw if you are able to hit your intended technique during that class or roll – it is a win for you.

This is something that many high level jiu jitsu practitioners preach.

For more information on this method you can check out our detailed post on how to implement this and others into your game to improve faster.

Furthermore, with these goals in mind, they will often seek to get a certain reaction out of their training partner’s in order to work specific positions and techniques – here is a video of top competitor Mikey Musumeci (from Joe Rogan’s MMA Show #127) explaining this along with why he trains with jiu jitsu hobbyists:

For more specific info on how to implement this into your game, here is a video of Keenan Cornelius describing this exact method and implementing it during class:

2. Break Any Grips Immediately – Destroying Their First Offense

   The first step for your opponent to setup any form of attack will first come from their grips.

You must drill it into your brain that whether playing from top or bottom position immediately stop what you’re doing and break their grip.

This may seem obvious and redundant and slightly annoying at times, but its something that all high level bjj players do.

Why break grips?:

  • By simply not accepting an opponent’s grip on you, you are stopping them in their tracks.
  • The person with the most dominant and effective grips will always win the match.
  • Immediately, after you break their grips, then you can being to get your own dominant grips (however, if they get another strong grip on you, you must break it – as repetitive as it sounds it is extremely effective)

Don’t let opponents impose their grips upon you: All control in grappling begins with grip.

John Danaher

3. You Don’t Have to Be Stuck on Bottom – You Can Always Stand Up and Wrestle

   I get it you’re thinking “this is my first time doing any type of grappling – why are you telling me to stand up and wrestle where the chance of injury – or worse embarrassment is much greater?”

I understand where you’re coming from especially having not wrestled when I was younger myself, but once you begin to get your feet wet with wrestling you will open a whole new world to your game.

No longer will you be relegated to scoot along the mat like a tiny white dog trying to get rid of a dingle berry.

You will be able to wrestle up from certain bottom positions – not only will your opponent not expect it, but you will be surprised at just how effective wrestling up can be.

Wrestling up from a bottom, seated position is also a great way to get your body accustomed to wrestling from your feet.

Along with this technique further explained, here is our guide for how to implement wrestling into your bjj if you never wrestled before.

If you are looking form more info about learning to wrestle up from bottom position you can check out some of the great instructionals from Nicky Ryan, Andrew Wiltse, Dante Leaon, and Craig Jones that that were extremely helpful in my own wrestling.

4. Purposefully, Put Yourself in Bad Spots When Sparring Against People Less Experienced – This Is How You Learn Escapes

   If you ever watched a Danaher instructional and are amazed at how effortless he hits a kipping escape only to have it fail miserably when trying it in live sparring – you’re not alone.

I remember specifically trying to learn the kipping espace from mount and have it consistently fail over and over again.

I was about to give up on it entirely when I went to a basics class and decided to just let every one of my opponents get mount on me.

I was able to hit the kipping escape on every one of the beginners and from there it just snowballed.

I then started giving up mount to higher belts in an attempt to hit the kipping escape every time. This is how I learned it.

These are the exact steps to learn a new technique:

  • study and drill it
  • perform it with some resistance
  • perform it on those less experienced than you in live training
  • perform it on those at your skill level in live training

Granted, I may have been secretly embarrassed to be seen with a beginner floundering on top of me from mount position, but this method has helped me immensely when not only learning escapes but when trying to add other techniques into my game.

After drilling a technique or escape enough you then need to learn to perform it under a bit of resistance. This is best done on someone less experienced than you.

After you get a couple live reps at the lower belt levels you can then begin to work on it against those at your experience level.

Putting yourself in bad positions in order to work on specific techniques is something that isn’t emphasized enough as one of the most effective ways to learn a new technique.

For an further explanation of the kipping escape and why you need to learn it – look no further than Brian Glick (one of John Danaher’s top students):

5.From Bottom Position Half Guard / Side Control – Just Don’t Let Them Grab Your Head


It wasn’t until I sat down and watched Gordon Ryan’s guard retention dvd (They Shall Not Pass) that I realized I was making such a blatant and easily rectifiable mistake during my rolls.

From Half Guard:

When you are on the bottom in half guard about 50% of the attacks or passes that the top player will go for will come from them first grabbing your head in some form of control whether this be from a overback grip, crossface, or crossface and underhook.

When someone controls your head they control the longest lever on your body and are then truly able to dominate inside position.

The moment someone grabs your head from half guard, just like grips, immediately address it by tucking your chin, going 2 on 1, and shoving them away to regain your frames

According to Gordon Ryan a cross frame is the most effective and efficient frame from bottom half guard.

Immediately, address someone grabbing your head from half guard will improve your half guard game immensely and it is such a simple that that I should have paid attention to so long again

From Side Control:

Here is an example of Garry Tonon escaping the side control of simply by not letting him get control of his head.

In Gordon Ryan’s “They Shall Not Pass” instructional he repeatedly goes over that fact that after someone passes your legs they will have to make a “cranial shift” and attempt to get control of your upper body and head usually through a cross face or underhook if they wish to solidify the side control position and get the point in a competition setting.

If they cannot control your head and upper body there simply is no pass.

To further drive this point home here is a video from BJJ Simplified of Garry Tonon consistently escaping the side control attempts of simply by not letting him get control of his head:

Other Related Frequently Asked Questions:

How to Improve Your BJJ White Belt Skills:

  1. Show up consistently: The key to improvement is regular training. Aim for 2-4 sessions per week to maintain momentum and develop muscle memory. Create a training schedule that works for you and stick to it.
  2. Embrace the learning process: Attend classes with an open mind and allow yourself to be familiar with different BJJ movements and attacks. The more you train, the more knowledge you will gain.
  3. Roll with your teammates (don’t skip rounds): Engage in sparring sessions with your training partners and learn from each other. Your coaches and professors are there to guide you on your journey.
  4. Learn the fundamentals: Master the essential skills and techniques, such as escapes, gripping, and basic submissions. A strong foundation will help you progress and adapt to more advanced techniques in the future.
  5. Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to seek guidance and clarification from your instructors and peers. Asking questions helps you fill knowledge gaps and improve faster.

What Should a BJJ White Belt Know?

  1. Relaxation and breath control: Learn to stay calm and control your breath, which is crucial for conserving energy, reducing injury risk, and maintaining focus during training.
  2. Fundamental movements: Practice basic movements like bridging and shrimping, which form the foundation of many BJJ techniques and improve overall body coordination and control.
  3. Effective gripping techniques: Understand various gripping methods, such as collar grips, sleeve grips, and lapel grips, and when to use them.
  4. Basic standing guard passes: Develop proficiency in fundamental guard passes, like the knee-cut pass and the torreando pass, to advance your position and maintain control.
  5. Escaping dominant positions: Practice escaping from side mount, mount, back mount, and other dominant positions to enhance your defensive game.
  6. Basic submissions: Familiarize yourself with fundamental submissions, such as the straight-armlock, rear naked choke, and triangle choke, to develop a well-rounded offensive game.
  7. Fundamental sweeps: Learn essential sweeps, like the scissor sweep, butterfly sweep, and hip bump sweep, to expand your arsenal of techniques.
  8. Positional sparring and drilling techniques: Regularly practice positional sparring and drills to reinforce your techniques and improve muscle memory.

How to Improve Your BJJ Fast:

  1. Maintain consistent training and practice: The more you train, the faster you will improve. Set goals and focus on the areas you need to improve during each training session.
  2. Seek guidance from experienced peers and instructors: Leverage the knowledge and expertise of those who have been in your shoes to avoid common pitfalls and accelerate your progress.
  3. Focus on mastering the fundamentals: Concentrate on perfecting basic techniques first, as they form the foundation for more complex moves.
  4. Supplement your learning with online resources: Use reputable online resources, such as instructional videos from experienced BJJ practitioners, to enhance your understanding of techniques and strategies.
  5. Participate in competitions: Compete in BJJ tournaments to gain experience, test your skills, expose weaknesses, and learn to perform under pressure.

How Long Does It Take to Progress from White Belt?

It typically takes around 2 years to progress from a white belt to a blue belt, but this depends on factors such as consistency,previous experience, and individual progress.

Some practitioners with prior experience in grappling sports or MMA may advance more quickly due to their familiarity with the fundamentals. Your training frequency and improvements on the mats also play a significant role in determining the time it takes to progress.

Why Do BJJ White Belts Quit?

There are various reasons why white belts quit BJJ, some of which include:

  • Realizing that BJJ is not for them: BJJ may not suit everyone’s interests, preferences, or physical abilities.
  • Injury: The physical demands of BJJ can sometimes lead to injuries that may cause practitioners to stop training.
  • Schedule and location conflicts: Time constraints and accessibility issues may make it challenging for some individuals to maintain consistent training.
  • Financial considerations: The expenses associated with BJJ training, such as gym fees and equipment costs, can be prohibitive for some people.
  • Other personal reasons: Individual circumstances and priorities may change over time, leading some white belts to discontinue their BJJ journey.

What Is the Hardest BJJ Belt to Achieve?

The black belt is considered the hardest belt to achieve in BJJ since it takes the most time, often taking years or even a decade for some practitioners to attain.

To become a black belt, you must dedicate time and effort to learning and understanding the fundamentals and principles of the sport. Through thousands of hours spent on the mats, black belts immerse themselves in BJJ, becoming living representations of the sport’s essence, both on and off the mats.

However, some people consider the people belt the hardest belt to achieve becuase many coaches will not promote you to purple belt unless they are certain that you will make it to black belt.

Can White Belts Participate in No-Gi BJJ?

Yes, white belts are allowed to attend No-Gi classes.

Some practitioners may prefer to start with Gi classes and then add No-Gi training, or vice versa.

Additionally, there are schools that focus solely on No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, such as 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu (which I currently train at), which is a non-traditional Jiu-Jitsu academy.

How Long Does It Take to Get the First Stripe on a White Belt?

On average, it takes 3-6 months of training to earn the first stripe on a BJJ white belt. However, this timeframe may, of course, vary depending on factors such as training frequency, individual progress, and instructor evaluation.

How to Implement These 5 Tips into your Game – Conclusion

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Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a White Belt (repeated for the algo)

  1. Set small goals for each class
  2. Break any grips immediately
  3. You don’t have to be stuck on bottom – you can always stand up and wrestle
  4. Purposefully, put yourself in bad spots when sparring against people less experienced – this is how you learn escapes
  5. From bottom position Half Guard / Side control – just don’t let them grab your head

   If (like me when I started) you are frequently getting smashed by any tall 16 year old with a couple years of bjj experience or any aggressive wrestler within a quarter mile radius hopefully you are able to take these top 5 things I wish I knew as a white belt and put them to good use.

There is a lot of information that you may be struggling to retain and implement, but if you focus on some of these fundamental guidelines and practical tips you can hopefully get better at jiu jitsu faster, gain more awareness of what you did wrong (or right), and overall, have more productive rolls.

Jiu jitsu is a marathon not a sprint so if you ever find yourself being frustrated on your lack of knowledge or poor performance on that mats or at a recent competition its okay, we’ve all been there.

There important thing is to learn and retain what you can and then show up the next day.

take care and thanks for reading – zack

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