Over the past month or so I’ve written and re-written this post about earning my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) Blue Belt. Earning this blue colored piece of cloth is one of the most difficult and rewarding events of my life. For those that do not know about BJJ, a basic summary of BJJ to me is a combination of the combat arts of Japanese Jiu Jitsu (chokes and locks), Judo (throws and trips) and Wrestling (grappling and control). In other words, we learn how to physically control resisting opponents through dominant body position combined with the threat of choking someone unconscious or breaking a limb or joint. To say the least, the “gentle art” often times does not feel gentle at all…and I love it.
This week my wife and I watched the movie Chick Fight. *Spoiler Alert* The core message of this film is to me 100% in line with that of BJJ: learning to fight in a controlled area helps one deal with the challenges of the outside world. This is what BJJ does for me and many others I’ve trained with. We learn real grappling focused hand-to-hand combat skills on mats from skilled “Professors” to be ready to apply the skills in the gym or on the streets. Through this adversity the outside world’s challenges can sometimes pale in comparison. In other words, BJJ builds confidence and serves as mental and physical therapy for many…including me.
To share with others currently training, particularly BJJ White Belts eager to get to the next level, in this post and this podcast episode I’m going old school with a “Between the Slides 5” style list of 5 things I believe will help the brand new through advanced White Belt student become part of the 10% of BJJ practitioners that start to move to the Blue Belt level.
- Accept we will lose more than we will win
- I learned as a new student that I could not grapple as well as I thought I could. I learned the techniques of BJJ are great equalizers in that a smaller person with good technique, decent strength and endurance can easily control and submit larger opponents.
- As we develop as BJJ students the curve of failures will flatten for us a bit, e.g. we’ll start to be able to defend longer before being submitted and with consistently showing up we will then be the one who can more easily control the newer, untrained or lesser trained person off the street.
- For those that like timelines, numbers and “how do I get there” type notes, I started at 44 years old and it took me 2 years to earn my Blue Belt. Throughout those two years I’ve partially torn a ligament in my right thumb, had left knee surgery to trim my meniscus, been kneed, elbowed, nose bloodied, mat burned, neck cranked and more many, many times. More specifically, over 2 years I trained consistently 3-4 times a week in 1-1.5 hour classes that consisted of 10 minute warm ups, 20-30 minute technique drills and 20-30 minutes of 5-7 minute rounds of “rolling”, e.g. fighting against live resisting opponents. In short, there is no shortcut and the mats don’t lie. You have to put in the time.
- We have to put in time outside of BJJ
- I’ve heard and shared the sentiment, “There’s in shape, then there’s BJJ in shape”, quite a few times. When I started training BJJ in September 2018 I regularly did burpees, sprints, kettlebells and many more garage gym workouts, so my baseline of fitness was pretty good. Then I had my first “roll” in BJJ against another person who had trained longer. It was humbling to say the least and emphasized the importance of having and continuing to improve cardiovascular and muscular endurance to be able to roll longer in BJJ and in reality, to not “gas out” in the event of a real confrontation outside of the gym.
- In addition to exercising to enhance our BJJ mat time, I highly suggest leaning into the history of BJJ, watching YouTube videos on important BJJ White Belts skills and more. This research won’t replace mat time, but it will help supplement it.
- We have to care about our progression
- Like anything in life, if we show up to BJJ and just go through the motions we won’t really get better. It’s up to us as BJJ students to care enough to show up to class regularly, to go to open mats and to try both Gi and no-Gi style classes. While our Professors and Instructors impart their knowledge, we as their students control our will to “just keep showing up” day after day, week after week, month after month and year after challenging BJJ year.
- As with life, in consistent BJJ training we undergo an emotional roller coaster inside and outside the gym. Had a successful roll? We will be elated and feel like we’re progressing, only to get smashed during open mat and have our egos level set for us. Quit on ourselves during a roll because we freaked out with a wave of claustrophobia? The self-imposed shame will hit heavy and stick with you. So what do we do? Accept it. Kick your ego to the curb. Wash your Gi and rash guard. Go to the next class and do it all over again.
- In BJJ as in life, we cannot accept our own failures or crumble to the hardships on the mats or in the world. If we do we won’t progress in the gym or in our professional or personal lives.
- We need to ask questions
- Someone just tapped you out? Ask them what you could have done to defend the choke or joint lock longer or completely. There is huge value in conducting our own immediate after action report with each 5-7 minute roll.
- In addition to our training partners, we need to ask our Professors and Instructors what we need to work on, the good and the bad. One great tip I received was to start and maintain a BJJ journal. In the journal we need to write what we want to accomplish for our next class, e.g. pass the guard with a leg drag or defend the armbar, etc., then we should document if we hit our goal and remember the good and bad of the class and each roll.
- We need to be honest with ourselves
- Is BJJ the hobby, sport, art, etc. for us? Not sure? Try an introductory class. Good, welcoming BJJ gyms should be open to allowing interested folks to try a class or two and the BJJ gym may even have a full introductory course to try. Check out a class or sign up for the intro. Like it? Super, welcome to the BJJ family. Not your thing? No problem and Godspeed.
- Those that do stick with it will face many of the things I mentioned above. As we face these things we have to keep self-honesty at the forefront. Feeling tired and don’t want to train today? We should push ourselves to anyway. As a now 46 year old BJJ practitioner I do factor in what my body is telling me and listen to it’s aches and pains, but I also try and stay honest with myself on whether I’m truly injured or just being lazy. If we want to keep progressing we often have to train and put in work, particularly when the warm sheets are enticing us on a 20 degree morning.
I hope this helps both newer BJJ practitioners with perspective on how to stick with this amazing combat art and sheds light for non-BJJ students on how challenging and rewarding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is and why adults are sometimes brought to tears when their BJJ belt changes colors.
Thank you all for every read of this blog and listen of the podcast, and to every Professor, Instructor and training partner that’s pushed me the past couple of years in BJJ and in life.
Kevin Pannell, PMP Creator & Host, ‘People, Process, Progress’ Connect and subscribe at https://linktr.ee/peopleprocessprogress
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