In life, mistakes are simply a part of the learning process. Of course, there’s always an irony when it comes to errors; the more proficient you become at something, the more a mistake matters—and that’s certainly the case in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While on the surface that might not make much sense, all you have to do is look at the difference between a white belt and a black belt, especially in competition.

Obviously, white belts are a complete mess for their first few months on the mat. Like fish out of water, there’s a lot of flopping and flailing around—but mostly there are just a ton of mistakes. These lower level belts have no idea that they’re making these mistakes. But that’s not just because they are wildly inexperienced. It’s also because they’re getting away with them.

This is never more evident than in competition. When watching white belt matches it is much akin to a free-for-all. Underhooks are forgotten, posture goes to pot, and limbs beg to be snatched. Aside from poor technique, since white belts might not know the danger of a decision or movement, they’ll rush headlong into danger—and never suffer a consequence since their opponent is unaware of the advantage.

On the flipside, watch a black belt match. If a competitor makes a mistake, he’s toast. Honestly, that’s why black belt matches can often be the most boring on the planet. If you know the spider’s tricks, you’re must less apt to walk into his web. In a black belt match, impatience, poor timing, or even a missed opportunity often means certain defeat. That’s why many of these matches can be so conservative.

This is yet another reason why the belt progression is so fascinating. The more you learn, the less it works against advanced belts. As you advance, your teammates and competitors advance. And as everyone advances, that margin for error just shrinks and shrinks.

So what’s the moral of this story? For one, the magnificent spectacle of beginner mistakes is natural. As you progress, you’ll make fewer and fewer. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll just have to learn to live with the fact that the better you get, the worse you’ll suffer for a mistake. Really, it’s just another maddening paradox that comes with being a BJJ practitioner

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