Everyone starts as a white belt. I certainly did, as the faux tough guy picture above clearly shows (I am on the left).
More importantly though, every technique starts at white belt.
Your overall rank may be purple, but that does not mean that all of your techniques and positions have reached the purple belt level. In fact, you are probably still a white belt in some areas, and you may have reached brown belt in other areas. Your favorite spider guard sweep, the one you constantly hit in the gym and in competition, may be at the brown belt level while that new set up for the omoplata that you saw in class yesterday is at the white belt level.
Assigning ranks to techniques is a useful mental exercise. Anyone can say “I am good at this but bad at that,” and having a general idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie is helpful, but forcing yourself to rank your escapes and attacks and set ups allows you to clearly define the progress of every component of your game.
Once you have analyzed your game, you can use your results in two ways:
1. To identify a need for self-improvement and create a plan.
2. To structure your game plan against an opponent in competition.
Using your technique ranks to identify what you need to work on seems straightforward, but it’s not as easy as you might think. If I admit to myself that I am a white belt with De La Riva guard, simply trying to use De La Riva guard more when I roll will not completely solve the problem and elevate my rank. I need to talk with an instructor about what I have been trying to do, what I should be trying to do, and what techniques I should be drilling. If I have to take a private to have these questions answered, it is money well-spent. Otherwise, I will be left to flail about blindly, hoping that I happen upon the right path, which is incredibly inefficient.
To use your self-analysis in competition requires an analysis of your opponent as well. Every time I prepare a fighter for a match, we run through this process. We identify my fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, and then we identify his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, ranking everything so that we have a detailed breakdown of every component of their respective games. By comparing the findings, we can see where my fighter should take the fight, and where we should be concerned. Having this knowledge lets us construct a game plan, both for preparing for the fight and for the fight itself. While this is most useful in mixed martial arts where you have a few months to prepare, you can run through this process from the edge of the mat at a jiu-jitsu tournament.
Experiment with applying this process in friendly competition, and use it to protect your ego. Your training partner might be a blue belt, but if he was a standout collegiate wrestler he is probably a black belt in doubles and singles, so you should not feel bad if his black belt takedowns trump your blue belt sprawl. And you certainly shouldn’t expect your brand new sweep, which is still at white belt level, to work on blue or purple belt competition, even if you are a purple belt yourself. Use your white belt sweep against people with white belt defenses and gradually test it against tougher and tougher competition as your rank in that technique improves.
An exercise: post your rank, and then rank your overall game. You can rank positions or go above and beyond and rank individual techniques. Share your results.
Completely unrelated: how I feel rolling with one of my black belt instructors, even after six years of training.