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January 26, 2023

Welcome, New Students

Ben Williamsen

Welcome, New Students

“Welcome, New Students”

The above statement is directed at new students, welcoming you all to our crazy world of martial arts. We genuinely welcome you.  We want our community to grow.  We want more training partners to learn with and learn from. 

Remove the comma, and the statement can also be directed towards existing students of all ranks, who should give new students a friendly welcome.

You may have heard the term “Adopt a white belt.” Given the new year, we’re likely to get a new wave of students wanting to challenge themselves, get fit, learn self defense, become the next world champion, or possibly all of the above.  We never know what motivates someone to enter Easton’s doors and step on the mats.  

For the new students

A black belt is a white belt that never gave up.

I don’t know who originally said that, but it’s a simple truth.  You will have many reasons to quit soon after starting. You might feel intimidated.  You might experience complete bewilderment as to what is going on. 

It could be months before you even grasp a fraction of the techniques.  Discomfort and pain: a guarantee.  Jiu Jitsu is derived from the Japanese word jujutsu, which means “The Gentle Art”.

“Ju” means gentle, flexible, or pliable.  “Jutsu” means art, technique, or technician.  I’ve heard it compared to a willow tree, which can bend significantly during a storm, but will not break.  With all of that said, you will leave the mats with bruises and possibly some small cuts.  You will be sore at times.  At some point, but hopefully not, you might experience a more significant injury in your martial arts journey. 

It happens, although never intentionally; this is a combat sport.  However, you will also be taken care of.  When you first enter a training program, you will have time to get used to the techniques before “sparring” or “live training”. 

At Easton, there are requirements for entering the advanced or live training rounds.  For example, you must have two stripes before live training rounds.  Another technique instructors implement to help new students: you will often be paired with a more experienced higher belt when training. 

I saw a meme once that was a picture of two full grown silverback gorillas charging each other, with a caption something like this: “Two new white belts sparring”.  Although humorous, it is somewhat truthful. 

When two inexperienced individuals are paired together, strength and ego take over and it can become a battle of two “animals” just fighting for supremacy.  This becomes counterintuitive to Helio Gracie’s quote on the art that he helped improve and pioneer: “Jiu Jitsu represents the triumph of intelligence over brute strength”. 

When you’re partnered with someone of a higher belt rank, don’t be intimidated.  They will usually understand when to apply pressure without causing too much stress or pain.  They know how to allow you to attempt the techniques you just learned and give pointers along the way. They will allow themselves to “lose” to give you a bit of confidence on the technique you just learned.  They hopefully remember the first time they were on the mats and how they felt.  They want you to come back. 

For the veteran martial artist

You might have forgotten what the intimidation feels like.  You might even feel a bit irritated with the new students.  How many people show up, then quit?  Why should you help them? 

There are many reasons why.  The first, and obvious, is purely because it’s the right thing to do.  We aren’t living in 14th century feudal Japan.  Although we are practicing an ancient combat martial art, we’re all paying customers who mostly have our own day jobs.  We should also reflect on our own journey and what made us stay. 

I have personally attended five Jiu Jitsu academies over the years.  I felt welcomed at most.  There was one, however, that I remember feeling extremely intimidated.  It was like walking into a lion’s den.  New white belts were put through a gauntlet of abuse nightly, and it wasn’t always fun. 

One could argue that this culture creates strength and resilience, and they would be right.  And, that culture could work out if that particular academy’s goal is to only have world champion quality fighters. 

One could also argue that a culture like that could cause a higher attrition rate.  That is why we need to remind ourselves of the varying, and all important, reasons that people walk through the doors of a martial arts academy.

Maybe they are that motivated and athletic young individual who wants to be a world champion, and maybe a professional MMA fighter.  But, what if they are middle-aged and overweight, just wanting to get in shape in a new way? 

What if they just left an abusive relationship and want to learn self defense?  No matter the reason they enter, it is important to them, and we want them to succeed.  We want them to grow with us. We want them as good training partners. 

We should also reflect on this:  What if Helio Gracie was told that he is too weak to try Jiu Jitsu and didn’t pioneer what we enjoy today?  What if Amal Easton was intimidated on day one and decided that soccer was a better alternative.  I bet he would have been a pretty good soccer player, but we wouldn’t have our amazing academy.  

So, if you are new and curious, we welcome you with open arms, literally. 

We want to embrace you in our world and help you with your journey, no matter what your end goal is.  If you’re an existing and more experienced student, remember your first days on the mats and embrace the newer folks.  Learn their names.  Maybe even inquire about their goals and help them. 

Most of all, realize that that new white belt, with her belt tied incorrectly, might just be the next world champion.  She might become an instructor of her own academy someday.  Try to be one of the many that helps keep her happy and motivated to return.  Don’t be the outlier bully that she remembers as the reason for quitting. 

Welcome all of them, no matter their reason(s), with an embrace and a smile.  Thank them, genuinely, for training with you.  You can learn from them as much as they can learn from you.  

Most importantly, for students of all levels: keep showing up and keep taking care of each other.  And remember, no matter your belt color, you are always a student and can always learn something new.  

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