Winning as a white belt
The first goal that a beginner should set is based on the number of times they get tapped in a roll. I remember as a white belt rolling for six minutes and tapping every 30 seconds. This was a very frustrating experience and I, at times, got really down. I wanted to submit someone but was unable to because I was the newest guy on the mats. Tapping out guys who have been on the mats longer that you is an unrealistic goal. If your partner started one year before you, they have learned far more techniques as well as developing a sense of balance on the ground that only time on the mat can develop. In this case, the new practitioner should set a realistic goal. The number of times getting tapped in a roll with depend on the partner. Some guys will give you more trouble than others. Each person you roll with, count how many times they tap you. The next time you roll, set a goal of tapping one less time than you did the time before. It may not happen right then; it may take several weeks to reduce that number, but once it happens, you will be proud that you achieved that goal.
As time progresses, you may not be getting submitted by these training partners as frequently as you once were. In this case, your goal should evolve into something such as getting on top and not getting swept. This will help you to find and develop your balance on the mats. Now this does not mean to sit in your partner’s guard with good posture for 6 minutes. You need to be constantly working to break guard and pass but you need to be mindful of many things while you are working. You need to first be aware of your balance. You also need to be aware of what your partner is doing. If they have a grip, break it. If they have a de la Riva hook in, turn your knee out. These are things your partner is doing to initiate his/her offense. Once you are free of hooks and grips, you can begin working your pass. Take your time, keep your posture and be aware of your balance. Again, keep in mind that you will get swept and you will still get submitted but there is nothing wrong with this if you realize what you did wrong and learn from it.
The next step in goal setting is achieving, establishing and holding a dominant position. Too often I see a white belt pass guard and start looking for the submission right away. They still have it in their head that the only way to win is to tap their partner. If you have not established the position, you likely are not going to find a submission. The more likely case is that you will find yourself back in their guard because in your haste, you gave them room to shrimp, sneak the knee through, and lock full guard. Once you have passed their guard, settle in. The ideal side control position involves controlling both the head and the hips of your opponent. One of your knees should be in their armpit and the other near their hip. Another key detail is to have active toes. The tops of the feet should not be on the mat. The toes should be curled under and you should be using your feet to help drive into your opponents chest/side. The key detail in establishing a tight side control is the pressure from the chest. The toes are helping you to drive forward and your pelvis should sink towards the mat. Beginners often drive too far forward and get rolled over because they did not distribute their weight properly. This is not something that is going to come quickly. Throughout your jiu jitsu journey, your ability to apply pressure in these positions will get better; you just need to spend enough time. If you are constantly grabbing for low percentage submission, you will not develop the control you need to tap people of greater skill.
From side control, you can advance to the two most dominant positions in our art: full mount and rear mount. These two positions are very dominant positions. After you have developed a decent side control, it is time to move on to developing these positions. I have noticed that a lot of people in jiu jitsu have good side control, but they lack control in these two positions. I believe the reason for this is because once they have established a good side control, they want to start hunting for submissions. They start attacking Americana like crazy. These are the practitioners who have now been on the mats for six months or a year and every time a new guy steps on the mat with a shiny new white belt, they begin to drool and plot how they are going to catch that Americana. They continue on this path for sometime. After two years, they begin to wonder why they still can’t tap blue belts. Well, it’s because you chose to focus on “winning” instead of progressing and developing your positions. After you establish a half way decent side control, you need to begin to understand the control in these two other positions. This is how you are going to start tapping higher belts. When you mount someone and they can’t escape, they will eventually will make a mistake. If you do not force the submission and instead frustrate your opponent, your opponent will make a mental error out of frustration. This is a far higher percentage submission that trying to create something when it’s not there.
If you really need to get that fix and tap someone, focus on these 3 things: one throw, one sweep and one submission. Many high level judoka and jiu jitsu players are known for one thing they do exceedingly well. In judo, Masahiko Kimura was well known for his Osoto Gari. It is said that he would wake up in the middle of the night and go to his back yard and rep this throw on a tree. In jiu jitsu, Roger Gracie can cross choke anyone from mount. If you develop one good throw you will likely end up on top. Developing one good sweep will help you if that take down fails and you end up on bottom. Then, work one submission over and over. Try to find different entries. Look for it in other positions. Once that is working for you, look for ways to set it up. Look for an initial submission that will fool your opponent so that you can take what you really want. For reference, watch a few Kron Gracie matches. He uses the cross choke in mount to set up an arm bar in almost every tournament he has participated in and it works amazingly well.
As a beginner, you need to realize that winning means something different to you than it means to the higher belts. You need to set realistic goals. This will help you to keep a positive attitude and not get bummed out when you are not “winning.” One more key detail is to show up. If you are only training 2 days a week and another guy is training 3 days a week, he will almost always be better than you. All the guys around you are on the mats improving daily. If you want to surpass them and begin to dominate them, you need to put in more time than them. By setting realistic goals, it will make attending much easier than if you set your goals too high. Remember position before submission.