An Open Letter to White Belts.

I wrote this article a couple of years ago and got some good feedback and I think it’s worth a repost:

BELT_WHITE_303_LRI was talking to one of my white belt students today to see if she was planning on competing this weekend.  I could see right away what the answer was going to be.  My words of encouragement didn’t really motivate her the way I would have wished.  I really hope she will compete, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t.  So I am hoping she reads this and it motivates her, and you to pick up your gi and come out this weekend.

I’m maybe a little extra pushy on this topic because I know what competition has done for me and I want others to have the same opportunities.

Me as a Green BeltI remember my first BJJ tournament very well.  It was the spring of 1997 and Kyle Cardinal (the Father of BJJ in Edmonton) held a BJJ tournament at his club on the South East side.  It was a room in a health club filled with wrestling mats and not much else.  At the time I was 23, 6’2″ about 150lbs and a orange belt in Karate (I know… look out).  My BJJ experience at the time was little more than seeing a couple UFC’s on video tape and rough housing with my friends.  My knowledge of any BJJ technique was non-existent.

I went to the tournament by myself just to see what it was all about.  I had no idea at the time that Edmonton even had any BJJ instruction going on and was quite surprised with how many people showed up.  About 20-30 guys were there, it seemed like most knew what was going on.  I remember talking to one guy’s dad who said his son was going to start his own club called Scorpion Fight Club or something to that effect, I don’t think it got off the ground.

Anyways, the cost to watch was $5 (which back in 1997 dollars is more like $100 today) and the cost to compete was $7… $7! how could I go wrong?  I remember thinking to myself “for $7 I’ll get a lesson”.

judoI weighed in and I not sure how divisions were made because my first match was against a Judo Black Belt about the same weight but much shorter.  Ok, whatever… I remember not being scared (I should have been), the guy threw my in about 3 seconds and I managed to get my guard.  Now I had no clue what a Guard was, what to do from there or how to even win.  So I held him there… for 13 minutes.

In that time he tried numerous times to cross choke me from inside my guard after failed attempts at trying to pass it.  All I could think of is “he seems to not be happy where he is, let’s just keep him here”.  I had no idea about trying to choke him or counter his choke by sweeping him or armbarring him… nothing.  I am sure it was painfully boring to watch and ref.

At about the 12 minute mark he postured up and then dived forward headbutting me, giving me my first black eye ever (score).  He then continued to try and cross choke me and I eventually tapped.  Partly from the choke, partly from the headbutt and partly cause I had no clue of what to do.

triangle-slamMy second match (double elimination??? don’t know) was up against a guy in a shirt and shorts (ya, not every one had a gi) almost as tall and similar weight.  He jumped guard and I stayed standing.  I remember looking around and no one said anything, so I jumped up and bellyflopped the ground.  He made a pretty horrible noise as I pancaked him and his guard broke open.

I remember thinking that I probably shouldn’t have done that, but no one said anything so I just passed his guard.  I grabbed on to his head (Kesa Gatame) and held him there trying to figure out what to do as he struggled.  I saw the collar of his shirt and thought I could choke him like the Black Belt had done to me.  So I grabbed his shirt and tried wrapping it around his neck, stretching the crap out of it and not really getting anywhere.  During this he was trying to push me away and I grabbed his wrist, stretched his arm out and armbarred him over my leg… Hooray I won!!!

Standing-Guillotine-Jason-Culbreth-e1402510949790My third match set me up against a Judo Brown Belt about the same build as me.  I thought “I haven’t taken anyone down, I’m going to try that”  I shot in for a double leg (which was more me bending over at the waist and stretching my arms out in an attempt to grab his legs) and was immediately met with a Guillotine.  7 seconds in and the match was over.

I didn’t get a medal, beside my black eye, and to be honest I didn’t care.  I got out of it what I wanted, a lesson.  This sparked a big interest into learning this “BJJ stuff” and turned into something I love the most.  It has led me to competing more times than I can remember and has always given me what I was first looking for, a lesson.

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As adults it’s all to easy to stay in our comfort zone, for many going to BJJ class is enough excitement, but there is so much more out there that the tournament scene can offer.  Team Building, Instructor Bonding, Friendly Rivalries and meeting new friends plus so much more.  As an Instructor and father I understand the value of competition very well.  I want my students and my son and daughter to win, but only if they learn too.  Yes it suck to lose, but it really sucks to lose and not know why you lost.

Tournaments offer you a chance to test yourself, to challenge your skills against an opponent of similar skill and size, then go back to the club to get better.  You can work with your Instructor on how to fix your mistakes.  Moves you thought were good at didn’t go as planned.  Your Coach and Team mates can help you.

In the club things are much more relaxed, you choose the people you like to work with and it rarely gets out of hand.  You are in a familiar setting, your Instructor is near by if not watching directly and you are working with people you like and trust.  Once you get comfortable here it is very easy to not want to push yourself to the next level.



At the Mind Body Soul we offer White Belts an opportunity that other tournaments don’t.  Usually at a BJJ tournament All white belts get grouped together and then split by weight.  But belts in BJJ take a long time up to 2 years between White and Blue, some take more.  That is a huge experience gap.  We set up 2 BJJ divisions for white belts, under 9 months and over 9 months.  With those in the first, or Novice division getting Double Elimination.

This is a great opportunity for those new to BJJ.  Two matches to get the nerves out (which is great) and you get to go against other beginners, which is great too, but sometimes clumsy.  Don’t worry about winning.  Try to focus on doing things you know and achieving mini victories.  Can you defend a takedown?  Can you get your guard? Can you break their posture?  Can you attempt a sweep or submission?  Can you recognize if when they try to pass your guard or submit you?  Can you escape mount?

It’s the small battles that win the war and for you the war is not the tournament… it is a series of battles that will strengthen and sharpen your skills and your mind.

MBS LogoIf you haven’t registered
already or you didn’t want to compete, I urge you to reconsider.  Talk to your coach, you trust them to teach you, trust them to make this decision for you if you are not sure.  Tournaments can offer you so much, it’s been 19 years for me and it’s one of my most fun and memorable BJJ experiences ever!  It might be for you too.


I really hope to see you Saturday.

Love and respect,

Mike Yackulic

About myackulic

Arashi Do North has been open since Jan 2004 (since 1985 in Alberta). We offer Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai classes to Children 4-7, 8-12, 14-16 and adults (16+). Come try out a class with use and check out our other social media for neat videos and photos.
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