White belts typically come up to me complaining that they keep getting caught in certain submissions and the most frequent advice they solicit is “what’s the best way to submit from _____” as opposed to “what’s the best way to get out of _______”. I usually smile it off and suggest that they focus on their defense more than anything else. Being a white belt is a huge lesson in humility –I would know… I was a white belt for a year and a half. Looking back at my tenure as a white belt, I noticed that I went from “surviving” to being pretty ok with escaping.
When I received my blue belt, I started noticing that my escapes were becoming more and more proficient. A year and a half later, I received my purple belt and this is when I noticed I had turned my ability to escape into attacking transitions. Over the last year, I have enjoyed putting myself in bad positions so I can escape and finish my opponent as the result of said escape. It breaks your opponents mentally knowing they almost had you (or so you make them think) and then finishing them by capitalizing on a little mistake they made.
In Nic Gregoriades’s book, The Blackbelt Blueprint, Roger Gracie is quoted as attributing his defense to being his number one reason for being as skilled as he is at Jiu Jitsu.
“I built my game off a solid defense. I first made it almost impossible for anybody to tap me out.” -Roger Gracie
In congruence with this sentiment, I think it’s critical that as practitioners of the gentle art, we remember that Jiu Jitsu, first and foremost is a self-defense. The art’s primary focus is to keep ourselves protected and safe in self-defense situations. The art may have evolved over the decades, however, the foundation is still the same. Understanding this, it is essential that escapes be the building block for everything else we practice. As a white belt, you should be practicing your escapes and judging your performance not by how many times your training partner taps, but rather how hard you made your training partner work to tap you out. Don’t sell it cheap.
You will tap out. You will tap out a lot. The trick is to work hard and develop a strong defense so that one day, you will have a great offense.