The mats are back in action. After close to two years of relative dormancy, we can again bump fists and battle. A notable phenomenon of post-lockdown jiu jitsu is a surge of new people eager to train. It makes sense. After being boxed up for so long, so many of us are ecstatic because we can be in an enclosed space, interacting with people, learning a new skill. That wave of people savoring new-found appreciation of their right to be active means a major influx of white belts — and they are welcome faces, absolutely.
But something in this new crop of students feels a bit different — and it’s not exclusive to the brancas. Everyone from blue to black has brought even just a touch of a strange, funky energy — a mix of anxiety and excitement. And it’s made people spazzy as hell.
Roll the calendar back to 2019 and the worst we’d have to worry about was the gym bro who had one year of wrestling in high school on a mission to prove himself. The good news is those bros were rare at best, and usually cured of their constant flex-fest after a good ten-minute round with one of the school’s female purple belts. (SIde Note: Aren’t those always awesome rolls to watch? Bro gasping, getting red-faced and locked in permanent push-up mode while she collar chokes him to humility? Jiu Jitsu is awesome.)
Anyway, our inability to train put the brakes on our major source of physical development and mental maintenance, and all that hyped up vibe has meant a few more torqued elbows, heavy head-butts, and popped ribs. It’s enough to make newcomers and vets alike think twice before having a go with someone they don’t know.
So keep this in mind: It’s perfectly acceptable to politely decline an invitation to roll. In other words, it’s okay to say no, thank you to someone — especially at the beginner level — with whom you are not yet familiar.
Stop playing pyramid-base face-bash with other white belts. Get in the mix with those who have a little pigment around their waist, and see how much better your jiu jitsu gets.
Let’s say you’re so new your gi is gleaming, I mean, the damn thing still smells like the plastic bag it was shipped in. It’s the start of open mat, that time when the buzzer is about to go off and everyone who hasn’t already picked a partner is giving each other the side-eye to see who’s game. After some accidental eye-contact, here comes another white belt, probably rocking a couple stripes, who can’t wait to confirm they can hit that new head-and-arm triangle setup they saw on Jiu Jitsu Times on an unsuspecting prospect. Maybe they physically out-class you as well, bigger, in better shape, recovering roid-head, whatever. You don’t like the vibe, you can feel free to say you’re sitting this one out.
But you still want to get in those rounds, so what’s the play? This is the exact time that you should seek out the higher belts. Head right toward that tough purple or brown and see if they would like to go. They’re going to say yes because odds are (unless they are in maniac tournament-prep mode) they’re going to engineer their game to work on some under-trained aspect, go slow to concentrate on transition and flow, or (and have fun with this one) they’re going into full-coach mode and are going to talk you through what they’re doing and what you should do in response for the entire round — in fact, you should expect this last option from every two or three-stripe blue belt. Either way, you’re going to have a great five or six minutes, getting jiu jitsu learning in its purest form.
So, at the next open mat, when that salty-looking three-stripe purple ambles up and asks if you want to go, say hell yeah even if you don’t know your ass from your armbar. That higher belt is going to work with you — and probably work you over, but they should have the control and composure to accommodate the learning curve of a new player.
So, stop playing pyramid-base face-bash with other white belts. Get in the mix with those who have a little pigment around their waist, and see how much better your jiu jitsu gets.
Article by Jay Ferrari