Be a White Belt: The Secret to Success for FTO and Life

Field Training Officer training (FTO) is an extremely stressful and difficult time in a young officer’s career. FTO is typically where department’s will weed out those who may not be cut out for a career in law enforcement. Following these simple white belt tips can increase your chance of success while on FTO…and life!

Nobody has ever accused me of being the smartest or strongest guy out there. Physically, I am not gifted with the superior genes of an athlete. Nor am I the most talented at the things I undertake. Regardless of these unfortunate facts, I tend to be extremely successful when I train, attend education, perform physical feats or perform at work. If it isn’t because of any natural talent, how do I do it? I have learned one very important skill in life…How to be a Lifelong White Belt.


Don’t be the White Belt Waterboy…

Anyone who has ever practiced martial arts has hilarious stories about white belts. Especially when practicing contact martial arts that require you to spar against physically resisting opponents, such as Jiu-Jitsu. We have all had to deal with that 19 year old white belt who goes all waterboy on you, flailing away at 1000% with more strength and ego than self control or technique. I’m not talking about being THAT kind of white belt. What I am talking about is taking the lessons as a successful white belt and applying them throughout the rest of your life.

Here are the FOUR white belt traits that will guarantee success


1. Never Quit

One of the most successful traits of a good white belt is: NEVER QUIT. The difference between a black belt (In FTO, life or martial arts) and someone who never achieves success is PERSEVERANCE. When faced with adversity remember what the white belt does…show up every day and keep plugging on. This applies in all aspects of life from martial arts, your career and even personal relationships.

Perseverance will take you farther than natural aptitude ever will. See my post Q&A: Academic Failures in the Police Academy for some of the ways I was able to pass the police academy at the top of my class, even though there were many other recruits who were significantly smarter than I am. Ultimately my strong study habits and refusal to quit allowed me to outperform those who were more intelligent or talented. Whether it is FTO, an academic setting, training, martial arts, or the workplace, perseverance is critical.

FTO is can be an especially frustrating time in your life. Personality conflicts can and do occur between FTO’s and recruits. I have spoken to many officers on FTO who wanted desperately to quit. Many recruits are convinced they are going to be fired and will sometimes quit before this happens. It is stressful and overwhelming…and eventually it ends. FTO is purposely made stressful and FTO’s will purposely place the new officer in extremely difficult situations to see how he or she handles the pressure. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a cop…but you DO have to be able to handle stress. Regardless of how it feels while on FTO, you NEVER EVER QUIT.


2. I am a Sponge…

Regardless of your skill level or knowledge of a particular subject, those who are truly successful approach those tasks with the I am a Sponge mentality. Those white belts who move on to be masters realize that they do NOT have all the answers. When you approach things with an open mind and a willingness to learn, without any preconceived perceptions about your own knowledge or skills, you will be significantly more successful than if you close yourself off to knowledge. Think of yourself as a baby bird and your FTO/Boss/Teacher as the momma bird. You only survive by having your momma birdy (FTO) vomiting its chewed food (knowledge) into your mouth. Too much?

  • Ask questions of everyone…even if you think you know the answer. When on FTO, I would ask nearly every veteran officer I came across the same questions. I thought I knew the answers, but wanted to not only double check, but also get different view points. You would be surprised how many different solutions can be found to the same problems. Think of each answer as another white belt move put in your toolbox. Over time these solutions grow and you have the ability to pick from multiple options for any situation…just like a white belt learning different moves to respond to different attacks.


3. Warning: Your Ego is NOT your Amigo…

Closely related, but different from being a knowledge sponge is the need to LOSE THE EGO. There is truly no quicker way to fail FTO, alienate people in your life, make mistakes at work and generally make an ass of yourself than to allow your ego free reign.

I truly feel one of the most important traits of a successful person is the lack of an ego. It is okay to know your self worth, but work every day to suppress your ego’s attempts to control you. When on FTO, you are the FNG (Fucking New Guy). Tell yourself that you are new and need to learn from those amazing people around you…even if you don’t always agree. Here are ways I try to avoid the ego trap:

  • Seek constructive criticism – Change the way you think about criticism. Seek constructive criticism. One of the things I learned from training in the military was the importance of the After Action Review (AAR). Anyone who has ever gone through an AAR can tell you…they can be BRUTAL. Your every action and movement is broken down in detail and every mistake you made is talked about in exquisite detail. You have to keep a thick skin and realize the strength of the AAR: You don’t usually learn from the training itself…the learning occurs afterwards when you analyze your performance. Whether you are on FTO or the boardroom, it is critical to talk over your performance and make a note of all things you can do better next time. Ask your FTO or other officers if there was a better way to handle the situation. Talk about mistakes. I do this even as a veteran officer.
  • Celebrate Failure – None of us enjoy failure and failure in law enforcement can have significantly worse consequences than other less dangerous careers. In spite of this, we all face failure. What is important is HOW YOU RESPOND TO FAILURE. Personally, I learn more from my failures than I do accidentally getting something right. When you fail, act like a good white belt and figure out how to LEARN from that failure.

4. Find your mentor

All white belts have gone to class and looked at another student and thought, “Damn, I want to be as good as XYZ is!” All good white belts find someone who impresses them and tries to emulate that other student. It doesn’t have to be the teacher. It can be another student who is a few belts higher than them. It can be another white belt who seems to be “getting it.” This is true for FTO or any other facet of life. While on FTO you have to do what your FTO says…and for the duration of your time with he or she, your FTO is your mentor.

See Jack Catchem’s 2 Rule Hack to Survive FTO post for the importance of doing what your ‘FTO Daddy’ tells you to do. After FTO however you can pick an officer who more closely resembles who you want to be as an officer.


Ultimately if you refuse to quit, approach learning with an open mind, remove your ego and find a mentor, you will be successful. Whether it is FTO, in business or in any other endeavor in life. As someone who looks for feedback, can any of you think of any other ‘White Belt’ traits that will lead to success? Feel free to let me know!








Also published on Medium.

Author: Jaden Michael

Blogger, aspiring author and chronic smart-ass. Army veteran, former corrections officer, current law enforcement officer assigned to patrol.

Questions or Comments? Let me know here!