Black Belt Learning Strategies and Advice: Piet Wilheim

Piet Wilhelm is the founder of Triton Fight Center, and he is a first degree black belt under Renato Tavares.


Over the last few days, I’ve watched several of his videos on Youtube, and I’ve noticed a few things. The first is that he’s passionate about Jiu-jitsu, and that’s evidenced not only by the words he speaks but also the volume of work that he has done.


He also sees its potential to influence lives for the better. So he takes his role as a mentor very seriously. You may catch a glimpse of that in this interview. 

The Interview

What do you consider the basics of Jiu-jitsu?

I consider understanding the closed guard as a good starting point for jiu-jitsu. Knowing what posture and base is inside someone’s guard is essential for both participants.

Knowing where you are safe and when you can engage is also important. The survival aspect is where it all is in the beginning phases.

What would you recommend as a strategy for learning those basics in a short period of time?

I would recommend for anyone wanting to master anything to video tape techniques taught and drill them throughout the week before and after class with a training partner.

If possible schedule a private once a month with the instructor to review everything that was taught that month using your notes as reference. Also during the private lesson the instructor can cater the technique to fit an individual best as opposed to what was presented to a group of 30 plus people. The private lesson will give the student the individual attention that he/she may need.

What’s your criteria for blue belts? What’s the bare minimum of conceptual and technical knowledge that they should have?

I require my blue belts to have mastery and proficiency in 2 takedowns, 3 sweeps, 3 guard passes, 4 subs from top, 3 from bottom, mount escape, side control escape, sub defense top and bottom, and combining the techniques.

As an individual moves up the belt system the amount of techniques go up along with level of proficiency. I also require each student to at least do their minimum time in each belt rank (as per ibjjf) before they are considered for promotion.

What are some aha moments you’ve had both as a student and as a teacher of our art?

Things started to click for me as a purple belt. As a white and blue I just rolled without thinking or setting things up. My understanding and growth began as a purple.

That is when things began to click.

Now as a black belt things make more sense. I don’t have to drill something nearly as much as I did when I was a purple belt in order to understand what I was doing. I still keep my game simple. Being 40 I don’t try anything to crazy. I want my technique to work when I am 70 and 80 along with my body still being functional.

Given your experience, what would you do differently if you were a white belt all over again?

If I was a white belt all over again I think I would be more patient rather that worried about the next belt color. The color of your belt means absolutely nothing if you don’t have the knowledge and understanding to back it up.

Too many people still get caught up in that. They expect to be promoted rather than truly earning it. For me my students have to show consistency along with proficiency. I have some awesome grapplers that have all the talent in the world that I have yet to promote due to their lack of attendance.

I reward those that work hard.

If you had a student who could only make it to class once a week, because of other commitments, what would advise them to do outside of class in order to still progress?

I think training jiu-jitsu once a week is like trying to become a body builder lifting once a week or going on a diet once a week and expecting to get a six pack. I believe if someone has a good foundation and skill set that once a week would be sufficient if they are able to go home and drill and practice. But with limited knowledge by themselves, growth and progression will be extremely slow. Kind of unrealistic in my opinion. You could invest in DVDs, Youtube, books, online training but nothing truly can replace hitting the mats with a credible instructor.

When you compare how you were taught with how you teach now, what have you changed for the better?

When I was taught techniques in the past it was a lot of moves in one setting. Some of my instructors never talked to us after class. It was just a job.

I have learned through the years that it is important to develop a warrior ethos and espirit de corps. I keep my instruction short. Then I have them practice the move. I bring them all in again to point out some of the details that they may have missed and then I make them practice it again.

If the technique requires multiple moves I have them drill it in parts then moves are added along with the necessary instruction rather than teaching the complexity for 15-20 minutes. That has a tendency of losing people’s attention. So short and sweet is my style.

At the end of class I like to talk to my students about LIFE. I feel it is important for them to know me and know where I am coming from. It also lets them know what I demand of them in their journey to black belt. Character – Live a healthy life – technique. It that order. I have learned over the years that when you promote someone who is a douche bag that now you have just made that individual a douche bag with rank and others will think it is okay to conduct themselves accordingly.

Key Insights

  • It’s essential to focus on survival early on.
  • Devoting time to learning the art outside of class pays dividends.
  • Consistent effort is the only way to truly progress.

Closing Comments

Of the videos I saw, the one Piet created about his jiu-jitsu journey was the most interesting. I saw several similarities between him and my own coach, Mike Moses, and it’s also interesting to learn why different people are drawn to the art.

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