This is written as I reflect briefly on the past 16 years of my training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We all have our story when it comes to the major turning points in our life that help mold and possibly change us. Starting BJJ was one of those life events for me. I have been training BJJ since 1999. I started in the art at 18 years old, received my black belt in 2007 at 26, and now at 33 I am proud to be the instructor of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym in Arlington, Massachusetts called MassBJJ-Arlington. If you do the math, it took me 8 years to get my black belt and I’ve also been one for 8. I truly feel that I’ve learned more in the 8 years since I got my black belt than I did during the 8 years it took me to get one. I honestly can’t recall a period of time that I spent away from the BJJ mat in the past 16 years. Even when injured I found a way to stay on the mat. For example, I injured a rib in training and it hurt every time someone was able to secure a solid side control. This forced me to work my guard retention and not allow the person to achieve side control in the first place. Instead of complaining my rib hurt when someone got side control, I just worked smarter to not let it happen! Here’s my list:
I love how training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brings out the character of a person. If you haven’t built toughness for some reason before, this art will do it. In some grappling arts, rules will save you from bad positions. In wrestling if you are pinned it’s over. In judo, on the mat you have 20-30 sec to work until you are stood back up. In BJJ, if you are mounted, no one will save you so it forces you to get tough and find a way out!
2) Emotional Stability
I always tell students they should not be training with emotion. You should not celebrate victory or express disappointment in defeat. That doesn’t mean you can’t have those emotions, I just don’t want them affecting your technique. I don’t want people expressing emotions after tapping someone or slapping the mat in disappointment after they’ve been tapped. You just dust yourself off and put your hand back out there to start the next roll. Emotions are up and down, technique shouldn’t be. Putting your technique on the line every single time you spar will develop this emotional stability.
In many things in life you are able to develop a relatively competent level with practice. For example, I recently wanted to learn how to shoot a compound bow. It took me about 2 hours of practice to hit the bullseye. Granted there was a component of luck involved but regardless I hit the bullseye and this is the “objective” measure of ability in that art. You can’t get this with BJJ. You will never hit the bullseye in your first class. I’ve been training 16 years and still haven’t hit it!! In BJJ you will train for 2 years and still not be sure if you are any good. I tell my students at MassBJJ Arlington you need to be patient and just enjoy the journey. Don’t count stripes and don’t keep score with who beats who. Just continue to train and work hard. As a student if you do 2 things you will improve: 1) Do your best 2) Be willing to learn.
This goes along with patience. If you want to improve, you need to be persisted through the ups and downs and just keep going back. I’ve never met anyone that regrets going to train when they don’t feel like it. It’s only those that don’t go train that regret it. A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.
It’s not about you! Your training partners need you. If you make your training partner the most important person in the gym then the culture of the gym will be a place everyone wants to be a part of. Having that in mind will make you better because you’ll be training consistently and as your partners improve. So by being selfless you will improve faster than if you are selfish.
6) Potential for Leadership
There will always be new people that want to learn BJJ and this gives you a chance to take them under your wing and show them the ropes. Tell them the things it took you a while to figure out or pick up on. Be a smile and a resource for them as they will gravitate toward you as you will be a familiar face on a regular basis. Pay it forward. They will do the same for someone if it’s done to them. A BJJ school is greater than one person, it’s a sum of all its members and each person contributes to the overall culture of the gym. You don’t need to be the instructor to be a leader.
7) Summer jobs
This is true! I was in college and needed work for the summer. I was talking with some guys in the school and a few mentioned they needed their houses painted. I had no idea about painting but I told them I would do it anyway. Turns out I wasn’t too bad and made some money to help fund my BJJ addiction. If you have kids, maybe they will find a connection through the team or an internship for them to build life experience and help choose a future career. Then again your kids should be training and building those relationships themselves!!
I’ve seen a quote that goes, “I’m at a point in my life where most of my best friends are also trying to choke me!” I’ve had the chance to meet people from all over the world and could travel to many parts and know someone there. I also always travel with a Gi so I can drop in at different schools and meet fellow practitioners of the art. I would encourage you to do the same.
I’ve had the luxury of never being out of shape due to BJJ. I don’t fluctuate in weight because I’m always training. I don’t even look at BJJ as exercise which means I never get bored of it or dread training. I even miss it if I’m unable to make it to class. It’s perfect. Improving health and fitness is a side effect of learning and training in BJJ. Along with learning a practical martial art that might save your life one day. I can’t really see a reason not to train.
10) Beginners mind
There is so much to this art that you can’t possible know everything. I’m constantly studying and reviewing techniques trying to stay fresh, learn and improve. There can be no boredom since the learning is endless. You get bored when you no longer care, and people that don’t care about learning do no last in BJJ.
I’m sure my list has evolved over the years with training and being involved in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When I was a white belt these 10 things were totally different. That’s the beauty of BJJ, constant evolution!
See you on the mat!
2nd Degree Black Belt