I began training Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) when I was 21 years old. My path since then has been meandering with gaps and roadblocks along the way, but my love for the martial art was undeniable. I enjoyed being in an environment that was far from my element. Previous to starting the martial art, I had never been athletic. You might have caught me at the gym, but there was no set plan, and using my body to choke or submit someone was a far thought from my mind.
In the years that I have practiced jiu jitsu, I have developed a deeper relationship with my body and its capabilities. No longer do I solely look at fitness as a method to make my body look a certain way, but as an avenue to improve my grappling. I have learned how to move my body in new ways, utilizing my limbs to choke, bend or almost snap an opponent’s joints. On average it takes a decade to earn one’s black belt in BJJ. This provides an ample amount of time to learn the art in depth and truly master its techniques. Through the study of jiu jitsu, one can easily begin to learn about the body, how it moves and how easily it can be manipulated. Simply place your foot on your opponent’s hip to keep them away. Pressure the elbow so the arm bends in the opposite direction. From natural to unnatural movements, jiu jitsu is a study of the body, examining how it moves, so the practitioner can manipulate the system.
This is just one of the reasons why it takes so long for the average person to progress in Brazilian jiu jitsu. There are also a myriad of techniques with many innovative people creating more everyday.
As for the intangible lessons Brazilian jiu jitsu has taught me, I list them below.
There is no greater martial art to teach humility than Brazilian jiu jitsu. I remember trying to spar after my very first grappling lesson. My instructor quickly trapped my leg in what I know now to be half guard, and I was instantly immobilized, I had no idea what to do to get into a better position. Similar and more intense experiences will happen every day as a white belt. To be a white belt means to “lose” constantly. From getting stuck, swept, or submitted, a new white belt simply does not have the technique to contend with higher level practitioner.
Take this as no surprise, however. Unlike striking-based martial arts, grappling techniques do not come natural to the human body. All people have a basic understanding of a punch and kick. Submitting someone with a triangle choke, however, does not come so naturally. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that each training session comes with a healthy dose of humility. Every training session is an opportunity to learn and grow as a grappler.
There Are No Bad Days
This may sound nonsensical at first, but with the right attitude it is the absolute best way to approach training. Like with most things, some days will feel worse than others. There will be difficult days, days that test limits, but in those most difficult moments, it is still a great day at jiu jitsu.
“Why?” one may ask. Because of learning. Getting caught in the same submission multiple times, doesn’t mean your opponent is that much better than you, but that you are placing yourself in the position to get submitted. Figure it out or ask, either way, this is a learning opportunity. There have been times when all did was defend myself while sparring. It can feel like defeat at the time, but I learned that I can survive against more skilled or bigger opponents. I have also learned where the weaknesses in my skill set lie, and a day in which you learn is not a bad day.
Discipline Is the Key to Progress
As of late, I have talked about discipline quite a bit on my social channels. I talk about it because it is an attribute I still struggle with. Jiu Jitsu, however, is unrelenting and starkly honest. It is impossible to be inconsistent with training and still see progress. Students who attend more often typically progress more quickly. I can remember seeing the progress of newcomers who attended at least three classes a week. They quickly gave me trouble.
In my experience, discipline comes easy when you’re fresh and well rested. It is on those evenings when all I want to do is go home, eat dinner, and go to sleep that I try to convince myself that jiu jitsu will be there tomorrow. After a long day at work, I can be my greatest enemy. Yes, there have been days when I succumb to the exhaustion, when I haven’t pushed myself even though deep down I knew I still had it in me. However, on the days I push through that exhaustion, it has always paid off in dividends. It is on those days that I learn a critical technique, tap out a new opponent or simply prove to myself that there is a deeper well of energy from which to pull.
Even though discipline is still something that I struggle with, implementing it in Brazilian jiu jitsu has taught me that expanding my use of it will only improve other areas of my life. That, however, sounds like a post for another time.
By no means is this an exhaustive list. I have learned an infinite amount of lessons from this amazing martial art, and I am only a blue belt. I have a long road ahead of me to obtain that black belt, but I am looking to every lesson.
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