White Belt Eyes in Jiu-Jitsu and Life

7 min read
A way to look at Jiu-Jitsu and life from a place of wisdom both on and off the mats

White Belt Eyes in Jiu-Jitsu and Life

A way to look at Jiu-Jitsu and life from a place of wisdom both on and off the mats 

Location: South Florida

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Photo by: Duncan Graham

Have you ever been around someone who has had insight into many things? If you’re driving and your car has a knock or a ping, this particular person will immediately identify what it is well before the diagnostic of a professional mechanic. 

They know the right hook to catch the perfect fish if you go fishing. If you do Jiu-Jitsu, they will tell you the best Gi you could possibly wear. Or if you explain to them a situation in your family, they will immediately tell you how to handle it and what you should say and do while not taking the time to hear the entire story.


Know it all’s

Looking to storytelling, if you explain to them a beautiful night you once had with your friends out on the town, they will tell of a more impressive night that they once had with their friends that was so amazing, that nothing can stop it. If you drive a motorcycle, they will tell you of a particular part to get that will make your riding even better. 

If you jog, they will tell you of the running shoe you don’t have, but if you get it, will change your whole running experience. If you clock your time while running, they will inform you that you are missing the requisite watch that will give you all the data you need to know to make it the best experience possible. This way, you can track your heartbeat and pulse just like they do. 

Wisdom or hot air?

Despite the seemingly vast bank of wisdom and knowledge these types of people have, let’s call them “know it all’s” for simplicity’s sake, there is nothing necessarily wrong with these people; they are simply human beings who just tend to relentlessly step out-of-bounds on a regular basis. They are not bad people; they intend to be helpful; however, too helpful, to the point of annoyance, is often the result. 

If a person has an extreme and confident way of speaking on so many topics, one has to question their wisdom or lack thereof. Suppose this person is someone you’re thinking of and is in their twenties or early thirties. How much experience, in life, that is, can this person possibly have to be able to speak so confidently on such a broad range of topics to be able to take them seriously.


Listening is more excellent than speaking

Now, I respect personal opinions, in fact, I value them, but frankly, I value listening more than speaking. Because when you listen, you may learn something you do not know, but when you talk, you merely speak on what you already know.

This can be helpful, but personally, I feel it’s limited since you already know what you’re talking about. So, listening becomes an advantage for you personally, while speaking does not. If you pay attention, you will come across people who live their lives in this manner. 


Often, “know it all’s” mean no harm and intend to share advice, experiences, and possibly help out. However, folks like this often overstep their boundaries, so you must question their “helpfulness” of so-called advice. When you step onto a mat, you never know who you will encounter, particularly if you enjoy visiting other academies. 

There are varying degrees of competence, incompetence, ignorance, experience, and belt levels. Some folks on a mat will tell you the right way to do something, minding that this is their seventh lesson. 

They may or may not be right, but if they’re wearing a white belt, you should beware. Be cautious. If you’re another white belt, that’s ok; it is normal to receive help. 

Frankly speaking, personally, I do my darnedest to approach all situations like I have never seen it before. I encounter white belts all the time, and even they have much to teach me, in what to do and, far more, what not to do. 

You can almost always learn from a black belt. However, one of the magic parts of Jiu-Jitsu is that every once in a while, a white belt, due to the way Jiu-Jitsu is set up and the lack of traditional martial arts structure, can come across an approach that is either new or unusual and in this little nugget, there can be something for this higher belt to take. This is something to look out for. 

Generally speaking, those with more experience will have much more to offer, that goes without saying. However, Jiu-Jitsu is unique because the art is evolving and ever-changing. So, there is a possibility, a small one, that someone with minimal experience will have things to offer that they have stumbled upon that a higher rank may have not seen.


This is one of the ways I personally like to approach my mat time. I like to step on the mat like a white belt; this is what I call WHITE BELT EYES, white belt-minded. It is imperative to pay attention. 

You may encounter something within your training role that the other person performs without even knowing how to explain that you can absorb at the moment. Sometimes, they can explain it and have seen it elsewhere; other times, it just occurred spontaneously. 

Regardless, it is knowledge, on-the-spot, and ready-to-go, just like takeout food. In life, we have many similar situations; for example, if one were to attend a cocktail party or a gathering of friends and family, whatever the event may be, be receptive of the event, there will be a gathering of people who will then communicate. 

Within small groups of people, usually, someone starts to take the lead. That person will often have a story to tell, or they might be full of bologna. Regardless, the listener has something to learn.


White belt minded… picking out the gold

For example, the listener can learn something they did not know before, which can be very valuable. Even though the speaker may be full of crap, there may be one simple bit of information that you picked up by being the listener and being “white belt-minded.” All situations that include human beings that gather include this opportunity to learn. You may learn what to do or learn what not to do; this outlook is very important for Jiu-Jitsu.


Structure and tradition

Some martial arts and martial artists are stuck on structure and tradition. While this is appreciated and valued, there are limitations here. There are limitations because, within structure, you see the beginning and the end; this is not the authentic way of the learner. 

The true way of the learner always strives to be open and “white belt-minded.” The white belt-minded is an absorber of the technique of life. 

I, personally, work hard to stay white belt-minded, irrespective of my rank. When I enter a situation, I make a personal choice to be the recipient of knowledge, unless, of course, it is structured in such a way where I need to teach or be the giver of information. Even then, I will try to absorb the energy of other people, which will always have something to teach me.


My wish for you

What I wish for more people in Jiu-Jitsu is to enter into more situations in life with a “white belt mind.” This can be a master mechanic of automobiles, who attends a seminar, and realizes he knows most of the material. However, he discovered a new means of doing something or diagnosing an engine, in this case, which they have never seen before. Maybe a tiny bit, but an additive to his repertoire nonetheless, making him a more capable professional. 

The key is to hold this outlook and way of learning, not only with Jiu-Jitsu, but in all forms of life. This goes beyond being a good listener; this incorporates fine-tuning your attention levels with the physiology, tonality, and words chosen by the other. Be the other…. a friend at a party or a speaker at an event, the circumstance does not matter much; what matters is that we try and strive to use our “white belt eyes.” 

Superior way to live

In Jiu-Jitsu, you will often see a technique you have seen before…. you have used this technique, you think you know it, and probably do. When I enter this type of situation, I allow the person to explain this technique to me. 

More times than not, I find myself picking up a bit of information that I did not have before. This open approach, I feel, is a superior way to live one’s life. It applies on the mat, as well as off the mat. 

Stay open my friends

Once again, we know what we will say, personally; however, we do not know what the other person will say. So, an armlock you already know and have used successfully might just have an additional angle and leverage point that you did not see before. The same goes with life, conversation, and family you may have that you feel have told the same story a thousand times. 

But if you listen carefully, there may be, just maybe, a nuance that you missed before. For me, this is the pinnacle of learning. When one can approach a situation that they have seen before with infant’s eyes, with “white belt eyes.” Keep your eyes white and stay open my friends.



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