Raising Up The Next Generation

My Coach would remind us periodically that the most important person in the room wasn’t you. It was your training partner, because without them, you don’t get to train. The most important group in the room? The white belts.

Jiu-jitsu is really tough to learn on your own, as most of us have found out over the last couple years. It’s a virtual impossibility. You NEED partners, and more importantly you need good ones. Good training partners are careful, considerate, reactive, proactive, and attentive. When you get paired up with someone who can channel those qualities, you’re in for a really good learning event.

I’m here to tell you, that more often than not, those qualities in a training partner have to be taught. White belts are (generally) the perfect blank canvas where we have an opportunity to set them on the right track to being great training partners right out of the gate. Their first dozen or so classes are critical to setting habits and making positive impressions on the culture of the program. If they get started in the wrong direction, some “untraining” is going to have to happen, and that is a real pain for all parties involved.

I relate the new folks to seedling trees. They are in an incredibly delicate state where just the right or just the wrong ingredients decide their fate.

The responsibilities only grow with your time in jiu-jitsu, and when that belt starts changing colors, your concern has to be less and less about you, and more about the people in the room. THEY make YOU, not the other way around. You’re only as good as your training partners, so it’d be a good idea to help them be the best that they can.

So – How can we do that?

First, be patient. Be patient with both them and yourself. Things that may be routine to you are going to be slow and awkward for them…just like it was when you (and definitely I) started. They’re not going to hit every detail on every rep. Let them fail. Let them go through the growth process that happens through incremental improvements without hammering on them for every missed step. It’s ok. They’ll get it. Don’t talk them through their reps. Only help them when they’re either stuck, or ask for help. Sometimes the best support we can give is letting people stumble.

When a child is learning how to walk and falls down 50 times, they never think to themselves: “Maybe this ain’t for me.”

Michael Jordan

Second, give them room. I mean, physically. They haven’t developed the coordination, support muscles, breathing techniques, and timing to deal with the claustrophobia-inducing pressure of an experienced jiu-jitsu practitioner. This goes for both physical space, and your pace. You’re going to have to slow down and play a little more loosely than you typically would. As they get sharper, so can you. If you help them get there quickly and appropriately, you’ll be tightening right back up soon enough. You’re not “losing your jiu-jitsu” by being a little more lax with new folks. It may actually help in that you get to pay more attention to the dozens of other things happening at once, instead of worrying about being tight.

Third, be a friend. A real friend. The honest type who will tell their buddy when they’re screwing up. You can do that in a way that’s not condescending or rude. Doing this early tells the new person that the lines of communication are open here, because communication and information is how we learn. Also be the type of friend who cares about what happens to their friends. Check on them, listen to them, congratulate them. Celebrate their small victories as if they were your own…because they are. The environment of the jiu-jitsu mat can be an amazing place. If we set the stage for that to happen.

White belts are friends, not food.

Take care of yourself. – Scott

2 Responses
  1. I love the part about letting them fail. Early education pioneer John Dewey said, “We learn by doing.” He wasn’t entirely wrong, but Neil Postman added a caveat to Dewey’s idea. Postman said we learn better by doing and failing than simply from doing. The failures allow us to have moments of growth. Solid advice all the way through this post, Scott. Good stuff.

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