Jul 012010

Georgette’s recent posts have really got me thinking again. Ranks and promotions. Skill, anxiety and self doubt. Goals and expectations, too. I’ve written probably 5 or 6 comments on her blog that I haven’t submitted. I write them out, then think about them, then delete them, and not because I don’t have a reaction or thought on the subjects. Rather, I have almost too many, and they’re a little jumbled up. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to try and organize them.

First, if you haven’t read these two articles over on Georgette’s blog, along with the comments, do that now. I’ll wait.

What we’re learning here isn’t easy to do. It’s hard. It’s hard physically. It’s hard mentally, and it’s hard emotionally. I’m not as gifted athletically as some. I’m older, and less fit than others. And some people just get it. Bingo and Josh, two guys I mention frequently, recently got their brown belts. They’ve been training only a little longer than I have if you look only at a calendar. But if you consider the amount of time they’ve put on the mats, there’s really no comparison. After rolling with them sometimes, it’s pretty easy to get down on yourself.

I mentioned in the comments section on Georgette’s blog that I sometimes sit there on the mat thinking through the entire match. What’s often frustrating is that I believe I did things correctly. I just got out techniqued (if that makes sense). It wasn’t that I did anything really wrong. I just didn’t do things… I don’t know… right enough.  Strategic and tactical domination.  So, I sit there on the mat for a moment, shaking my head at every transition. Then I’ll look up and Bing’s smiling and saying, “What’s up? Thanks for the roll. You did good.” Really? Cause from my seat, things didn’t go so well.

But that’s when I’m right there… nice and close to it. After some time and distance, I try to take something away from my rolls with Bing, and it goes along with something he said.

Lesson 1: While we all train together, our journey is ours alone.

My path to blue belt was my own, as is my journey to purple, brown and black belt. They are mine alone. I hope they’re ones I can complete. I can drive myself crazy worrying about why I was given my 4th stripe or my blue belt when so and so is so much better, or because x and y white belts catch me all the time. I can give myself ulcers wonderying why I’m not a purple belt yet when I dominate so and so who is a 3 stripe purple belt (not that this has ever happened… but it could!). I can waste energy worrying about where I am relative to my peers, but that’s all it is: a waste of energy. My path is my own.

Without going into any details, I’ve seen how destructive placing too much importance on belts and ranking can be. It leads to insecurity, an unnecessary amount of angst and eventually causes friends to alienate each other (to put it nicely).

Lesson 2: The person least competent to judge my own progress is me.

Or in other words, “Shut up and train.” 

I have an idea in my head of what I expect from a blue belt, purple belt and brown belt. I also know what I think of as Black Belt level BJJ. I have opinions and I think that they’re usually pretty close to on target. I’m seldom surprised by a promotion at my school. But the person least able to give a rational, objective analysis of my progress in BJJ is me. Ultimately, any significant time I spend thinking in abstract terms about where I “fit in” on the BJJ scale is completely wasted.

I was very unsure of myself after receiving my blue belt. I was adrift for at least a couple of months (probably longer). I didn’t know where I fit in. I was constantly second guessing myself, rolled timidly and was a little embarrassed to put on the belt. It took a while, but I really began progressing again once I understood this lesson.

Lesson 3: We can try deceiving ourselves, but it doesn’t really work.

I can’t control what other people think. If I want to roll light or sit out a round, I can’t worry about what someone else might think. A few days ago I wrote about the archetypes that exist in a gym. I mentioned that most of those stereotypes are funny because they’re familiar. We can all think of people that fit these types at least in part. Most of them are also negative. So… chances are some of us represent a negative archetype to other people in the school.

Since posting that, I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, we should all strive to be a positive influence, but I can’t ultimately manage someone else’s internal dialogue. If I choose to sit out, I have no control over whether someone else decides that I’m lazy. If I’m injured and want to roll light, I can’t control whether someone else thinks I’m milking it.

But, and this is the big one, I should be honest with myself. If I sit out a round because I’m feeling lazy, I shouldn’t try to convince myself otherwise.

Another example of this came up ust a couple days ago.  I rolled with Rhino, a 4 stripe white belt. I didn’t do very well. He passed my guard to side control, moved to mount and maintained very solid, positional control. Rhino deserves his nickname. He’s a big guy, very strong and athletic. It would be very easy to just write the match off and feel better because he’s bigger and stronger. But he’s also very technical and his game is tight. He didn’t outmuscle me. He outgrappled me. In order for this to be productive training, I have to acknowledge that first. Only then can I begin to break it down and look for successes and areas to improve.  

As a quick aside, writing it off as just his strength and/or size diminishes his own accomplishments.  I hate it when someone begins making excuses for a loss or poor performance because it undermines someone else’s accomplishments.  I really try to give credit where due, and being honest with myself is integral to this. 

Lesson 4: Learn from mistakes, but focus on successes.

Very early on in writing this blog, I made a conscious decision to try and focus on what I did right more than what I did wrong. I don’t try to pretend that I don’t make mistakes. Not at all. What I’m talking about is acknowledging the mistake in an effort to avoid making it again, but really zeroing in on what I did well.

There’s a lot of support for the idea in learning that spending any significant time discussing mistakes can actually lead to repitition of that mistake. For example, I’ve been in situations where something goes poorly and a meeting is called so that we can all debrief on what went wrong. These are excruciating meetings in which we are expected to painstakingly relive every mistake we made. From a training perspective, this can include spending undue time discussing the wrong way to do things: Don’t do this… avoid this… this is wrong…. this is bad.

It’s much better to focus on the right way to do things. All of the time spent reinforcing the wrong way could be spent reinforcing the right way, instead.

Lesson 5: This is fun. Jiu Jitsu is fun.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Reading the posts lately on the blogosphere, I truly believe that we all need to cut ourselves some slack.

In conclusion, I’ll just add that these are, once again, only my own thoughts. I’ve got four stripes on my blue belt. At some point I, like everyone else, will get my purple belt. I have no idea whether that will be tomorrow, 6 months or 6 years from now, but it’s bound to happen if I keep training. I LOVE where I’m at right now as an experienced blue belt because I’ve been around long enough that I know what I’m doing, but there’s no expectation of perfection. I truly don’t feel that I’m ready for a purple belt. Of course, as I’ve said, I’m incompetent to judge myself. So, I will instead not worry about it. It will come when it does. And when it does, I’ll start that chapter of my journey to black belt.

 Posted by at 3:30 pm

  20 Responses to “This is fun?”

Comments (18) Pingbacks (2)

    Lesson 5 is the motto I bring with me to the academy every training session.


    Nice. Being new to this sport, I can’t really comment from experience. But at this early stage of my journey, belt colors/stripes are only useful to me if it’s an opponents belt. It gives me an idea of where that person is in his/her personal journey. Has nothing to do with me or my skills relative to my opponent. I am what I am and s/he is what s/he is. I just want a heads up if I’m going against someone who is clearly more experienced than or if I’m rolling with someone who is close to the same place as me. If I do well one day against an upper belt or poorly against a newer classmate, that could mean any number of things. But my guess is the roll says nothing about my belt.

    A guy I roll with a lot, Dr. Steve, has this down to a science. I see him sweep purple belts and blues all the time. Even swept our Professor twice in one day (for that he earned a fourth stripe on his white belt)! Dominates other whites and submits blues regularly. Aggressive, but never uses force, and always always seeks to learn from others no matter their belt color. Dr. Steve has two years experience and trains hard, but has bounced around schools due to relocations. He hasn’t been with one school long enough to earn a belt promotion. But…NONE of that seems to matter to Dr Steve. He’s just rolling to have fun and acts like he doesn’t give his belt color a second thought. He’ll get his blue in due time. But I doubt that will change a thing in his game or for him personally.

    If during my hopefully long journey I ever feel stuck in a rut or feel like I’m not getting a promotion I think I deserve, I hope to think of Dr. Steve who is teaching me – by example – to remain teachable and roll for fun.


    That’s a great post. Every bit of it. Thank you so much.

    I will print it out and read it to myself regularly :-)


      Chris, I’m genuinely flattered. I tend to shy away from posting this kind of thing because I don’t want to come off as self important… if that makes sense. I’m the last guy to be giving any kind of advice, but if anything I posted helps, I’m really glad. :)


    I agree with you and Seymour, but I’m also leaning toward the idea of being the “least competent” person. Oh, wait – you qualified that with “to judge my own somethingorother.” Never mind. I typically just feel like the least competent person in a given situation. 😉

    Great post, buddy.


    Holy crap. That’s some tight thinking, and writing, and I’m… speechless. I need to reread a couple times.

    Holy crap.

    That was really well thought out.


      I used to be a pretty bright guy, until I started letting my friends choke me. 😀

      Seriously, though, coming from you, that’s high praise indeed. If I could roll half as well as I can write, I’d be in good shape! Hehe.


    Georgette speechless? Dude, you REALLY did a good job. 😉


    I’m with Chris — print it out and read it regularly to myself.


    Yeah…I have to check myself on this on a VERY regular basis. Anything I enjoy or want, I have a tendency to turn into a really intense pursuit…and usually I’m the only one that can’t see when I’ve gotten to that level. That’s why I originally wished my school didn’t do formal belt tests. Anything with a list and a goal and I go into overdrive.

    It may be a maturity thing, but I’m actually doing ok lately, even with a belt test looming just 2 weeks away. I think I’ve gotten good, solid perspective on the part BJJ plays in my life. That’s one reason why I think I may never compete (not that it’s even ever going to be an option)…I just have enough in my life that I can push for, and I need to leave something untarnished by the need to excel.


    I love this! thanks a ton


    Happy 4th of July. This post should be required reading for all of us that train bjj. Much wisdom in there. Thanks.


    Good stuff, and perfect opportunity for me to post a link to my favourite thread, here, on a similar topic.

    Your point on focusing on success was interesting: I very much do the opposite. It’s something I’ll keep in mind when I next type up a session, though I tend to struggle to think of anything I can categorically say I’ve done ‘right’. 😉


    Steve I just reread this again and it is outstanding. It was particularly helpful to me today after a frustrating class. Growth right? I want to print “Shut up and train” and post it on my fridge. I need to remember that always. Thanks to you and others on here that have helped my game.

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