BJJ White Belt Guide: How To Survive & Progress As A Beginner

By Tsavo NealLearning BJJLeave a Comment

bjj white belt guide

You’re a BJJ white belt getting passed, smashed, and submitted.

Being a BJJ white belt is fun. You’re learning something new every class. Surviving a round with a blue belt is a big win. You have no pressure on you because you’re a beginner at BJJ.

However…

Being a white belt also sucks. You don’t know what you’re doing. Everything is confusing. You’re immersed in the chaos of learning a new language where the new language means getting strangled.

My fellow grappler, I’ve been there.

And I’m writing this guide to help make your time as a BJJ white belt easier, less painful, more fun — and help you get your blue belt faster.

I’ll share what I wish I had known as a BJJ white belt to make the journey easier for you — and how I trained to get my blue belt in 2 years despite facing a pandemic and a broken leg.

bjj white belt guide

Me getting a stripe on my white belt

Let’s dive in.

BJJ White Belt Guide: Quick Links

What Is BJJ White Belt?

A BJJ white belt is a beginner at Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The white belt is the first of the five primary belts (white blue, purple, brown, and black).

When you start BJJ, you’ll start as a white belt.

teaching a white belt intro class

Me and a friend after teaching his first BJJ class

As you continue to train, you’ll earn stripes on your white belt. And there are big variations in skill among BJJ white belts, which I’ll expand upon in the next section.

Most people quit BJJ as white belts.

Why?

Because training BJJ is difficult especially when you are still learning how it works.

(They also tend to pick bad BJJ gyms — read my guide on How To Pick A Good Jiu-Jitsu Gym to learn how to find one you’ll stick with_

As a white belt, you are learning so much that it often feels overwhelming. When you begin rolling, you’ll feel confused about what’s going on.

For many hobbyists, this is a very frustrating experience. It’s hard to tell if you’re getting better when you feel so lost.

And you’ll be continually taken down, pinned, and submitted by more experienced students.

However, it’s important that white belts embrace the “beginner’s mind.”

This mindset encourages you to approach your training in an open, curious, and flexible way. So, instead of worrying about getting tapped out or executing new techniques with perfection, you’ll approach training with humility and a lightness that makes training fun.

As my coach Ritchie Yip says, “Nobody is above the process.

As a white belt, you’re allowed to suck at BJJ. It’s expected.

So show up to class, be willing to learn, be a good training partner, and most importantly, have fun.

How BJJ White Belt Stripes Work

In most gyms, you’ll be awarded stripes as a marker of your progress, consistency, and knowledge.

For the most part, stripes are nothing more than a marker of how much you show up to class. At some gyms, stripes are awarded based purely on attendance.

bjj white belt stripes

At my gym, it takes 3-6 months per stripe on your white belt. If you train 2x a week, it can take up to 6 months per stripe. But if you train 4x per week, it can only take 3 months per stripe.

However, how long it takes to get stripes is completely dependent on your instructor and gym.

You’ll earn up to 4 stripes. Instead of getting a 5th stripe on your white belt, your next promotion will be to blue belt.

I teach the beginner intro class at my gym and have also taught white belt classes. Here’s what I’ve noticed about the skill level of white belts depending on how many stripes they have. 

No Stripe BJJ White Belt

As a no-stripe white belt, the grappler is a complete beginner.

They know what they have learned in class thus far, and little else.

They don’t really know what’s going on. Everything is confusing, chaotic, and disorganized.

This is one of the hardest stages of BJJ — the very beginning.

1 Stripe BJJ White Belt

As a one-stripe white belt, the grappler has become more comfortable with solo drills and basic movements.

They have begun to understand and attempt some basic principles, like elbow-knee connection.

They’ve also begun to roll during the open mat.

Their game is still very incomplete, but they know enough to attempt to survive.

2 Stripe BJJ White Belt

As a 2-stripe BJJ white belt, the grappler has passed the most difficult part: the first 6 months of jiu-jitsu.

Although they might not have a move from every position, they understand the positional hierarchy. They are starting to understand how BJJ works.

tom hardy jiu jitsu coach carlos santos

Tom Hardy as a 2-stripe white belt

They are now free rolling. But they still find it very confusing.

However, if they are to spar a no-stripe white belt, they are surprised at their ability to control and often submit them with basic moves.

3 Stripe BJJ White Belt

As a 3-stripe white belt, the grappler is starting to get a better understanding of survival and escapes.

They practice decent defensive posture.

They have at least 1 escape from each of the bad positions. A blue belt must have a sophisticated attack to submit them.

They might not have a move from every position yet, but they are making progress everywhere.

They find it easy to win rounds against no-stripe and 1-stripe white belts.

4 Stripe BJJ White Belt

As a 4-stripe white belt, the grappler has a basic knowledge of all positions.

They are now competent at solo drills, survival, and escapes.

They are starting to develop an offensive game with simple passes, sweeps, and submissions.

They are able to easily submit early-stage white belts — a consistent marker of what it means to be a blue belt.

And they are able to hang with the blue belts and even put up a good fight against purple belts.

Going from white belt to blue belt takes between 1-4 years, and 2-3 on average. It took me 27 months of training ~3 times a week to get my blue belt.

white belt to blue belt bjj

Getting my blue belt in BJJ on promotion day

5 Things Every BJJ White Belt Should Focus On

Here’s the truth: you don’t have to be talented to get your blue belt. Talent will come at the more advanced belt levels.

As a white belt, I recommend you focus on developing the following five skills.

Not only will these skills help you get your blue belt — but they’ll help you set a foundation that will keep you on the mats for life.

1. Being A Good Training Partner

Being a good training partner means…

  • Not “spazzing” — using random, jerky movements that can injure you or your training partners
  • Listening intently and asking questions if you don’t understand something
  • Avoiding cranking submissions quickly, therefore giving your training partners enough time to tap
  • Showing up to class on time
  • Allowing your training partner to complete moves while drilling
  • Providing the right amount of resistance during positional sparring to enable your training partner to learn optimally
  • Attempting to implement advice that higher belts give you
  • Asking for feedback at the end of a roll (“What’s one mistake you noticed that I made that I could improve on?”)
  • Learning to pace yourself during rolls depending on your training partner’s age, gender, weight, or energy level for that day
  • Not attempting to coach other white belts (or any other belts)

When you’re a good training partner, upper belts will love to train with you and guide you. They’ll give you more time and attention. And they’ll help you make faster progress.

tsavo neal bjj blue belt promotion

When your classmates want to train with you, BJJ is more fun. At its core, it’s a social hobby. Be a good training partner, and it will benefit your skill development in more ways than you can imagine.

2. Showing Up Consistently

One of my favorite BJJ quotes is “A black belt is a white belt that never quit.”

Show up to class consistently, and you’ll get better. It’s that simple.

But how consistent should you be?

If you train 6x a week for a month, burn yourself out, and end up quitting, that’s not consistency.

But if you train 1-2x a week for 2 years, you’ll be very close to getting your blue belt — and you’ll be far better than those who quit or train inconsistently.

Personally, I trained 2x a week for the first 6 months.

Then I began training 3x a week.

Once I had around 3 stripes on my white belt, I began training 4x a week.

I noticed that my skill development was the fastest when I was training 4x a week.

3x a week is also very solid, and 2x a week is good.

But it’s hard to make sustainable progress training 1x per week. But training 1x per week is infinitely better than 0x times a week.

Do what you can. But however many days per week you choose to train, ensure that it’s sustainable for you over the long term.

3. BJJ Solo Drill Movements

As a white belt, BJJ feels confusing because of the underlying body movements. Movements like shrimping are unnatural and odd if you haven’t developed “ground athleticism.”

So, before you develop your skills at specific BJJ positions or submissions, it’s important that you understand and practice the underlying body movements that make up BJJ; like bridging, shrimping, and rolling.

When I was a white belt, I bought some BalanceFrom mats and worked on solo drills. Doing so helped me understand how techniques work. Solo drills taught me how to configure my body in a way that BJJ techniques demand.

4. Strength Training & Flexibility

Strength training amplifies your technique, minimizes your risk of injury, and benefits your overall physical and mental well-being.

I recommend that every BJJ hobbyist does at least 2x per week of strength training.

One reason I was able to do relatively well as a white belt was that I had been strength training for several years before starting BJJ. The bigger and stronger you can become, the harder you’ll become to submit.

In addition to strength training, flexibility is also your friend.

As a white belt, I felt my best when I was doing Joe Defranco’s Agile 11 and Simple 6 every night. I summarized this flexibility routine in my article on BJJ stretches.

5. Survival & Escapes

Finally, we get to the good stuff — the actual BJJ moves to focus on as a white belt!

However, as a white belt, I don’t think you should focus on fancy submissions. Instead, I recommend focusing on survival and escapes.

By survival, I mean defensive postures that help prevent your sparring partners from submitting you.

And by escapes, I mean escaping from disadvantageous positions (like the dreaded bottom-side control) to neutral (bottom half guard) or dominant positions from which you can attack (single-leg X).

As a white belt, you’ll naturally be put in bad positions. It’s the perfect time to develop your survival and escape skills. You’ll be forced to work on them!

The best instructional I watched to help me develop my survival and escape skills was New Wave Jiu Jitsu: A New Philosophy Of Positional Escapes By John Danaher.

Here’s a fun way to approach rolling as a white belt: you “win” the round if you survive. Forget about trying to tap your training partner — just try and survive (especially against higher belts). Reframe your sparring using this approach.

If you work on these 5 skills in addition to what you learn in class, you’ll be light years ahead of the other white belts.

White Belt Curriculum BJJ

“The theme of the white belt is survival, nothing more and nothing less. After all, this is what the white belt has to do from the first day of class. He is not going to arrive in class and beat the best. He has no one to whom he can compare himself because he is still an empty vessel. Although one often takes up jiu-jitsu to learn submissions, the first lesson for the beginner is survival. Before he moves on, the white belt must become a survivor.” -Saulo Ribeiro, Jiu-Jitsu University

As a white belt, you’ll often be training with grapplers who have more experience than you. They will take you down, pass, pin, and submit you.

Since you’ll be put in these bad positions, this is the perfect time for you to work on your survival & escape skills; the skills that will prevent you from tapping and keep you in the fight.

John Danaher, Gordon Ryan‘s coach, believes that white belts should master survival and escapes first. This will help you develop your confidence.

Paradoxically, it’s your confidence in your ability to survive and escape that will enhance your submission skills. You’ll know that you can survive and escape from bad positions, so you won’t be afraid to take risks and go for submissions.

John’s BJJ curriculum for new students looks like this:

  • Solo Drills
  • Defending & Escaping Pins
  • Half Guard (Bottom)
  • Closed Guard (Bottom)
  • Guard Passing (from your knees)
  • Guard Passing (from standing)
  • Pins & Transitions
  • Standing Position

And here’s a list of the best instructionals for white belts (taken from my article on BJJ instructionals):

My old coach Blair Turton also has a comprehensive curriculum for white belts. Drilling these movements over and over helped me tremendously as a 2-stripe white belt.

As a BJJ white belt, if you prioritize survival and escapes, you’ll enjoy training more.

You’ll be harder to submit, creating opportunities to implement techniques like sweeps, passes, and submissions.

BJJ White Belt Gear & Equipment 

Here’s the BJJ gear and equipment I recommend for white belts.

1. White Belt

As a white belt, you’ll wear a white belt.

Some gyms will give you your first BJJ gi and white belt for free if you join.

However, if you need to buy your own white belt, here are a few good BJJ belt brands:

2. Starter BJJ Gi

For gi classes, you’ll need to pick up a BJJ gi.

A “gi” is the traditional uniform worn in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

A good rule of thumb is that your gi (and your gear in general) should never be “cooler” than your skills.

So don’t buy a flashy camo BJJ gi. Stick with basic BJJ gi colors like white, black, or blue.

Instead, I recommend investing in an inexpensive, minimalistic BJJ gi.

3. Ranked Rash Guard

For no gi jiu jitsu classes, you’ll need to invest in BJJ rash guards.

A “ranked” BJJ rash guard is a rash guard that is the same color as your gi belt rank.

Since you’re a white belt, that means a rash guard that signifies that you’re a white belt with a white color pattern.

Here are a few cool ranked rash guards for white belts:

4. Instructionals

BJJ instructionals are video courses taught by championship coaches and athletes like John Danaher and Gordon Ryan.

Using instructionals and keeping a BJJ journal to track your progress is one of the best ways to improve your game.

I recommend white belts start with instructionals that help them build a good foundation that will enable them to train for life.

Here are some excellent BJJ instructionals for white belts:

5. Home BJJ Equipment

If you’re serious about making progress, I recommend investing in some home BJJ gear and home gym equipment for your strength training and flexibility.

strength training for bjj equipment

My home gym strength training equipment

BJJ Mats

bjj mats for home: me and my training partner training jiu-jitsu at home

Rolling on BalanceFrom home BJJ mats at my friend’s apartment as white belts

Home BJJ mats are great pickups for your home or apartment. With your own mats, you can practice your solo drills, train with a BJJ dummy, and even practice submitting your partner or kids. They’re also useful if you want to do yoga or a stretching routine.

Grappling SMARTY

grappling smarty review: the best grappling dummy for bjj

Me with my Grappling SMARTY

The Grappling SMARTY is the best BJJ dummy. Unlike other dummies, it’s designed to be in a realistic jiu-jitsu position. I recommend the SMARTY for kinesthetic learners who want to speed up their progress by reviewing what they learn in class at home.

Pull-Up Bar

aeroweave gi durability

Doing the pull-up test on the Aeroweave gi

Grip and pulling strength is the most important aspect of upper-body strength in jiu-jitsu. And there’s nothing better than a pull-up bar to help you develop that. I do pull-ups and core work every week using my pull-up bar, and it’s made a significant impact on my BJJ game.

Adjustable Dumbbells

With a set of adjustable dumbbells, you’ll be able to strengthen every single body part. These are great if you don’t want to go to a gym and you’d rather work out at home. I have a set up of adjustable dumbbells that go up to 52.5 lbs, and they always come in handy.

Rumble Roller

The rumble roller is a foam roller built with knots. It’s capable of giving you an intense massage, like a portable masseuse. It’s great for massaging out those tight spots. I use mine daily, and it helps keep me limber and flexible for BJJ.

Takeaway Thoughts

Show up to class consistently, be a great training partner, and learn how to survive.

That’s how you excel as a BJJ white belt.

And that’s how you’ll get your blue belt with ease. You’ll feel like you deserve it when you get it.

Don’t rush and try to get your blue belt in 3 months.

Instead, enjoy the BJJ white belt journey. Savor it. It’s an exciting part of the jiu-jitsu lifecycle.

And when you do get that blue belt, be prepared for all the white belts foaming at the mouth to tap you.

white belt to blue belt bjj

What are you struggling with as a BJJ white belt? Do you have any questions about what I’ve written in this guide? 

Leave a comment in the section below, and I’ll do my best to help you out.

Happy rolling. 🤙


tsavo neal bjjequipment.com

Tsavo Neal

Tsavo is the founder of BJJ Equipment, an assistant BJJ instructor at InFighting, and a BJJ blue belt. He's a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for grapplers to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.

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