I saw a question like this on Quora and thought I’d chime in with my answer.
Yes, I have been submitted by white belts in jiu-jitsu and thrown by white belts and green belts in judo. So in other words I lost to people with less experience and a lower rank.
Aren’t you supposed to be better than the lower belts if you are a higher belt?
Well, yes, but it’s not so clear cut. There are a few reasons why you might get submitted or thrown or beaten by someone of a lower rank.
- They are bigger or stronger
- They may have related experience in other martial arts
- They could be “sandbagging” (unlikely)
- They might have forgotten their true belt
- They might be better and more experienced than their belt
- They might have let you (the higher belt)
- You can get caught
1. Size, strength and skill all matter
Even if you are a higher belt than your opponent they can still be stronger, faster, bigger and all of those give them an advantage.
Yes, skill matters, but so doesn’t size and strength.
According to Rener Gracie 50lbs is a belt. So what that means is that if you and your opponent are both white belts, but your opponent is 50lbs heavier then he is basically a blue belt compared to you.
The bigger guy has an advantage. And so to be able to compete with him or her then your skill has to be that much better.
So if you got beat by a bigger guy then don’t worry cause it happens all the time.
2. They might have other related experience
For example, they are several grappling sports which have some similarities: wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu and sambo.
They all use some of the same positions, techniques and different ones, but they just have different goals. So maybe your opponent is lower ranked than you but has related experience.
I’ll tell you a story.
In my first school where I trained in San Francisco, (Romelo Melo). My teacher was a black belt and maybe 180lbs. And then there was a guy there who could submit him and he was only a blue belt.
Well there were two reasons:
- The blue belt was bigger. I can’t remember, but probably well over 200lbs.
- The blue belt used to wrestle in college.
Also in some BJJ competitions a judo black belt who is a white belt in BJJ has to compete as a blue belt in BJJ.
3. They could be “sandbagging”
It’s not very common, but some people might actually be a higher belt than the one they are wearing.
There are some people that enter competitions and compete at a lower level. They just switch their belt.
That’s deception and if the person sticks around anywhere eventually someone will probably fish out the truth.
4. They might have forgotten their belt
Also they might have forgotten their belt that day and be using a donor belt which is lower than their actual belt.
I have experienced this several times in different schools.
For example, where I train now in Fukuoka there’s a guy who is actually a purple belt, but wears a white belt.
When I first rolled with him and he tapped me out I thought this guy seems pretty good and maybe he has experience in judo.
So I asked him with my limited Japanese and he said yes that he did do judo before.
Later on my teacher told me that he was a purple belt, but he lost his belt. So IDK if there is some rule that if you lose your belt here in Japan you have to go back to wearing a white belt or if he just doesn’t care, but he still wears a white belt.
5. They are actually more experienced than you
The belt is a general system. It’s a bench mark and I think it kind of works, but there are variations from belt to belt and each school is different.
For example, no two blue belts (or any other belt color) are the same. One might have been a blue belt for one day and the other for 5 years.
So there is a big difference in actual experience there.
Different schools also have different standards. For example, in my first school most people would get blue belts around the 1-1.5 year mark.
But in other schools like Caeser Gracie or Ralph Gracie those tend to come later like around 2 years.
It took me 3 years to get a blue belt in jiu-jitsu.
And I know people who were blue belts for 7 or 8 years.
There are no systematic standards to jiu-jitsu ranks.
6. Sometimes the higher belts let you get them
Or sometimes they want to practice their escapes. But I’ve known a lot of higher belts to do this. They will play with you and let you get submissions or maybe put themselves on the line so that they can try an escape.
If it’s the case that you just tapped out a higher belt it might be that they let you or maybe not.
I’ve tapped out higher belts: purple, brown and even black, but I know in some cases they let me or just weren’t trying that hard.
7. Sometimes you get caught
As the funny Kurt Osiander always says, “you fucked up”.
Anyone can fail.
Overall you might be better than your opponent, but just because you are better doesn’t mean you can’t get caught or make a mistake.
Maybe your opponent who is lower ranked than you knows something you don’t or surprised you with something you weren’t expecting.
Most of the time you can see things coming with the lower belts. But sometimes they can still surprise you or they might know something that most lower belts don’t.
You can lose. You are not invincible.
Just yesterday I was rolling (sparring) with a white belt here in Fukuoka who was a guest from Korea. It was the first time that I rolled with him.
He said he wanted to “light” spar and well it was my first one of the day.
But he didn’t really go “light” and he was being aggressive. So we rolled for probably 12 minutes or so and one time he almost got me in an ankle lock.
He just caught my leg. I guess my mistake was that I exposed it at some point. And I almost tapped out, but I got out and did the escape I had learned before.
I didn’t get hurt and I was fine.
But it was close.
I could have tapped.
I was thinking to myself, “don’t get hurt because you don’t want to tap out to a white belt”.
He was bit stronger than me as I felt like I was loosing my grip on his collar to prevent him from going back and finishing the ankle lock, but I took one last chance to push down his foot on my hip and scoot past his leg and get out.
I actually really wanted to tap him out, because he said he wanted to go “light”, but was being really aggressive so that just made me mad. I like to go lighter for my first few rolls to warm up and not go 100% right off the bat.
But hey he’s a white belt and a lot of white belts are wild like that.
Eventually I caught him in an arm bar and he tapped out. And that was the end of that.
But you have to be careful.
I remember Steve Maxwell (cool guy) on the Joe Rogan show saying that a lot of the injuries that he sees are from higher belts not tapping out to lower belts.
You don’t want to lose to someone who is lower ranked than you, but you have to “remember that your joints have no pride”.
Someone said that on Reddit and it’s true. You have an ego and losing to a lower rank is more of a blow to your ego. But if you want to stay healthy you should get used to it.
And me too.
I understand it is hard when you are in the moment. You don’t want to fail, but tomorrow is another day. You got to think long term.
Getting thrown in judo
I spend less time doing judo, but getting thrown by a lower belt seems to matter a bit less to me.
Maybe because to me it’s just getting thrown and the consequences are not that big. But when you get submitted with a joint lock or choke the consequences in reality are much greater if you don’t tap.
That’s because if you don’t tap your joint is going to get damaged or you will be knocked unconscious (possibly die) if you are choked.
A throw is easier in my eyes. But maybe it also depends on what you value more. If you are a fierce judo competitor getting thrown is a big deal.
But I started with jiu-jitsu and it’s less of a blow to my ego if I get thrown.
Conclusion – It’s easier to lose to a higher belt
It’s less of a blow to your ego if you lose to a higher belt or higher ranking person, but if you lose to a lower belt it’s harder.
There are a lot of reasons on why you may have lost to a lower belt such as they could be bigger, stronger, actually more experienced, sandbagging, not the belt they are wearing, or you just might have gotten caught.
I have lost (been submitted, pinned or thrown) to lower ranks for all of those reasons.
We all want to win, but losing is just part of this game and you are going to lose many times. I know it’s a little cliche to hear but there is often some truth to it and that is that it is a “learning experience”.
Tomorrow is another day and you want to be healthy so despite their belt color you probably want to do what one of my teachers said, “tap early and tap often”.