Monday, October 31, 2011


Matt Kirtley is a brown belt in BJJ and is well known for his groundbreaking website, a journal he started in 2006 as a blue belt which chronicles a countless number of BJJ techniques in great detail.  He was truly ahead of his time in his endeavor.  Matt's also the creator behind the 2011 BJJ Gi Survey, that you'll be taking today.  He's graciously offered us a helpful article he's just written on realistic goals for white belts (sort of a follow-up  or companion piece to his white belt primer).  We thank him for his contribution.

Too often, beginners get discouraged because they set unrealistic goals they can’t achieve in a few classes or even a couple months. They’re ambitious goals like:

  • Submit that purple belt.
  • Don't tap to anyone all night.
  • Pull off this awesome submission.

This is normal, but here is what an instructors is usually looking for in their white belts:

  • Basic conditioning.
  • Improving balance and coordination.
  • Learning the names for things.
  • Persistence and regular attendance.
  • Paying attention to instruction.
  • Diligence in drilling.
  • Being willing to spar even if they think they’ll “lose.”

As a beginner, going in with unrealistic goals sets you up to feel like you “failed” even when you didn’t. When talking with beginners, I often help them see that rock bottom goals are better, since they are realistic and attainable. Big goals like “Get my black belt one day” are good too, but start with baby steps. Here are example goals for a new white belt:

  • Remembering a technique you learned in the past.
  • Not having to sit out and rest during class.
  • Finishing full rounds of sparring – no sitting out.
  • Not getting swept as quickly.
  • Not getting submitted so quickly.
  • Seeing where you could do a technique you learned (whether or not you get it.)
  • Learning a technique and using it in sparring the same night.
  • Knowing the names of the positions and techniques.
  • Escaping bad positions or at least preventing submissions.
  • Being better at a move the second time you drill it.
  • Not panicking.
  • Not holding your breath.
  • Not being too tense.
  • Not burning out your grip by holding on too tight.
  • Coming to 2-3 classes per weekly regularly.
  • Having a really hard night and still training again the next day.
  • Giving a higher belt some trouble (even if just holding him in your closed guard so he can’t pass.)

How quickly a beginner gets past these and into more fun goals like “Develop my half guard” and “Hit triangles on everyone” depends on a lot of things (mat time, previous martial arts or wrestling experience, etc.), but when 9 out of 10 people quit BJJ in their first few weeks, it seems worth looking at things from this level.


  1. Realistic Goals For Glowbelts:

    Not get run over,
    Be seen at night,
    Look dorky,
    Be proud of attaining a level others can't comprehend yet,
    Throw a football over those mountains.

  2. Thank you matt for teaching me jiu jitsu. It has changed my life for the better.

  3. More thoughtful and reasoned ideas from Aesopian. The only ironic part is having them posted on the DSTRYR blog, where most of the readership likely already holds a color rank. :)

  4. Good point. But, I think we do get some readers here who are just starting out.

    This is also interesting for a seasoned grappler I might ad.

    Maybe I should do a poll!

  5. Definitely great guidelines for every rank in bjj. I have four years of training and I think these are good goals to get the most out of our training without pressuring ourselves. I have a black belt friend I roll with and he tells me just make space on me, dont worry about trying to sub me if you get space thats a victory for you. Right on.

  6. You should totally do a poll! Writing to a mostly upper belt audience seems like it would be considerably different than toward people in their first free week of jits...

  7. i dont even train bjj but am a huge mma fan and come here occasionally to improve my understanding of the game. started muay thai earlier this year, and should hopefully start bjj early next year.

  8. Well, then thanks for stopping by. BJJ could very well change your life!!

    Hope you start soon enough.

  9. I wish I knew what level I'm really at in jiujitsu but we don't have a belt system at my gym. I feel like a blue belt. I'm bout to promote myself. I want a nice, pretty belt too damnit.

  10. A total noob here (3 classes to date), this was a timely and good read. I have rubbish cardio, and feel so beat up after one class I havent yet gone more than once a week.... reading these white belt goals I can only nod with a smile (and a wince).


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