White Belt Problems: 15 pointers to increase your game.

Get Better at BJJ

We all begin our BJJ journey as a white belt. Being tapped out countless times is a normal part of the process and this can be very testing. However, if your reading this article then you’re in luck; these pointers are going to help sharpen your game and bring you to that next level.

Some of these points are more specific, while others are general concepts. Regardless, you must understand that these concepts are like any technique you’ll learn. They will take time and practice to master, so stick with it.

Trying to digest to much information at once was one of my greatest struggles going straight into blue belt. Once I realized this, I was able to more effectively learn and my game increased massively. I recommend you pick one or two of these pointers at a time and specifically work to correct and make it habit before moving on to the next point.

Pointer 1: Not practicing the technique you learned in class during sparring.

This one is at the top of the list for a reason and the reason is because its bloody important. It seems to be in our natures to stick with the techniques we have in our arsenal when it comes time to sparring. This can be counterproductive because we don’t give the technique a live field test when its fresh in our mind. I make it a habit to try and effectively perform the move shown in class at least three times when it comes time to spar at the end of class. I make that a goal of mine.

You may find that your body type or style doesn’t suit the technique or it just doesn’t seem to work for you, that’s ok… try it anyways. Maybe it takes your third six minute round to pull it off once and when you do I promise it will feel just as good… if not better than winning with all your “go to moves”.

Pointer 2: Wanting to jump past fundamentals to the “fancy shit”

World champions are winning with bread and butter fundamental techniques on the world stage today. Of course, it’s tempting to want to learn more technical moves to look good on the mats, but this shouldn’t be done till you have got the basics down. We all know the guy who can “bolo” up a storm but can’t perform a simple cross collar choke. Don’t be this guy.

Pointer 3: Not squeezing your legs/knees together once you have secured the arm bar.

Once you have secured your opponent in the arm bar, there are several key components that are required to finish an arm bar against a game opponent. A very important detail I see missed all the time is people neglecting to pinch their legs together. This does a few different things such as keeping them from sliding their arm down and compromising your leverage or just simply wet noodling their arm out. We will run a move of the week on all the details of a tight arm bar in coming months. Stay Tuned!

Pointer 4: Securing side control from top and not bringing knee to hip to prevent leg from getting scooped up.

So you’ve busted you’re a$$ to finally pass the guard, successfully cross faced, and you’ve even secured the far side under hook, things are looking good , but it always seems your opponent recovers half guard. Chances are your making one of the most common mistakes I see on the mats at the beginner level, that is not closing the gap from your opponents hip and your knee closest to the legs. This needs to remained glued until you decide to advance your position or else you opponents may have the ability to shift his/her hips towards you and scoop up that leg of yours, thus putting you back in their half guard.

Pointer 5: When in half guard/side control bottom forgetting to defend cross face and prevent far side under hook control.

As the opponent on the bottom its vital to have yourself turning into the pass, setting the mat side hand covering your face (or controlling sleeve), and placing your top side arm to your side, I like to have it across my stomach ready to dig for that under hook. This paves the way for so many options or at least buys you some time.

Pointer 6: When in half guard/ side control top forgetting to control far side under hook (eg. going for a head lock type position) and not cross facing to flatten you opponent out.

It’s a fairly simple concept to explain but to ingrain it as a habit takes time and practice. This is a MUST learn basic concept and the sooner you learn the better. Remember when you have both combatants aware of this it’s usually a battle and you have to earn it.

Working that pass from the top can be hard work and sometimes takes a entire match to achieve. It’s all too often you see this pass take place and the position is lost immediately by not following these basic fundamentals of control. This is applicable to a fast smash pass or a slow grind pass. Either way, you much control your opponent after the pass. Cross facing to flatten them out and controlling the far side under hook to avoid their escape with lots of pressure on the face and always making sure to keep our chin no further than their far shoulder is vital. And for good sake don’t set your leg scooped up back into half guard…KEEP TIGHT

Pointer 7: Bridging with feet to far away from butt.

This is a small detail that can make a big difference. When it comes to escaping, we need every possible advantage we can get. The added benefit of sucking your heels as close to your butt as possible before you bridge can generate a lot of extra power and make the difference between escaping or not. Practice your bridge and notice the difference in power and pitch you can achieve with your different foot positioning. Remember that the small details add up!

Pointer 8: Not breaking posture when you’re in your opponents guard and also putting hands on the mat.

What’s our main objective when we’re in someone’s guard? To open and pass of course! Two key components of this process are to posture up and make sure our hands aren’t on the mat. Of course there’s much more to it than that but we have to remember to posture up and not lay with our head close to their body. This allows the bottom player to advance his objectives. Secondly, we don’t keep our hands on the mat for many reasons such as getting set up for a kimora or bump sweep and simply because it doesn’t allow us to brace of their body to create separation for the break and pass.

There are many different positions to keep your hands and it depends on the set up or preference.

-Fists or hands pushing in arm pits

-Under the ribs and close to the solar-flex

-Elbows digging into the thighs of your opponent and hands on hips. (This method isn’t a friend maker but is very effective.)

Pointer 9: One dimensional attacking.

When we first begin Jiu Jitsu this shouldn’t be high on our priority list. As you receive a few strips and get more comfortable with the fundamentals, you should start thinking of attacks as a string of moves rather than just thinking to yourself “I want to arm bar this guy”. As a purple belt, I’m always trying to think three or four moves ahead and in time this process seems to happen subconsciously.

Pointer 10: Not trying sometime when sparring out of fear of making a mistake.

During practice you can’t be afraid to try new things and learn from your mistakes. Just like the first time you attempted to ride a bike, a technique is going to take some practice and you may obtain some bumps and bruises along the way. One of my favorite quotes; “A black belt is a white belt that didn’t quit”, explains this in a nut shell.

Pointer 11: Not learning point structure for competition in the beginning.

I’ll have to put my hand up for this one. I never fully comprehended the point structures and strategic elements of the sport until my blue belt. It was always go hard and submit the poor bugger. While submitting them is your ultimate goal, you need to understand what scores points and advantages. As you progress through the ranks this becomes even more important, sometimes it’s one advantage that get that win (I got beat out in the 2015 Pan Ams by 2 points and the only points in the match). There are general point structures but be aware different organizations and tournaments can have different rules and its best to investigate them. A popular venue is the IBJJF and you can view their guidelines HERE.

Pointer 12: Trying to submit from an unrealistic position.

The most common occurrence of this mistake is when somebody is in their opponents guard and you’ll see them trying to cross choke or do whatever .001% chance submission they come up with. I also see this a lot with a failed guillotine attempt and they refuse to let go to try and reset to better their position. As the old saying goes” Position Before Submission”. Words to live by.

Pointer 13: Not tapping when submission is deep.

The title says it all. We all want to be tuff and tapping to an equal or lesser opponent can be an ego smasher. The thing you need to remember is that an injury is going to set back your training and if its severe enough, it can have lasting repercussions. Save the hero mode for competition.

Pointer 14: Crossing feet when you have secured back mount.

So you’ve done all this work to secure you opponents back and your hooks are in. You then decide to cross your feet thinking that maybe this is going to hold your position better. This common mistake will end up getting you foot locked simply by having your opponents lift a leg over your crossed feet and pressing down. I have seen countless people get submitted by doing this.

DON’T CROSS YOUR FEET. Keep your heels to the thighs with the appropriate pressure. I like to keep the soles of my feet touching, give that a try and see if you like it.

Pointer 15: Straight arming to escape when mounted.

We see this all the time with beginners. When someone has been full mounted and they instinctively push like an animal at their opponents chest, leaving both arms fully extended. This is our first untrained reaction and it’s a mistake everyone will make in the beginning.

Unless your wanting to practice your arm bar defense and escape, its highly recommend to keep your arms tucked in like a t-rex. Your elbows should remain tight to your sides to prevent your opponents knees from sliding up higher to your arm pits and hands almost in a praying position. Ironically enough… if the persons good enough to have mounted you, praying might not be a bad idea.

Here is a basic and highly effective escape you can try. You need to learn to relax and address the grips your opponent will be more than likely attempting to obtain on your collar. At the same time, you need to pick a side to shrimp to and get to your side. Using your far side leg, reach over your leg that’s killed on the mat and hook your opponents leg and drag it onto your killed leg. Immediately secure your half guard and shrimp towards your opponents and create space. You are now in a much safer position and you’ve escaped the mount. Just a disclaimer, some people will address you shrimping to your side by switching to a modified mount… you will need to address this abit differently.

Please keep in mind this isn’t a comprehensive list of all the things that are important for beginners, just some of the most common ones. I sincerely hope this article has been helpful and answered some questions you may have had. If you have any question please email me at general@bjjcanada.ca. Osssss


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