Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 15: Finding a Balance Between “I’m Registering For Worlds!” Days and “That’s It, I’m Burning My Spats” Days.

We’ve all had those days on the mats that make us truly question both our progress up to that point, as well as possibly our intellectual capacity. Similarly, most of us have also had those magical days when we tap a swath through a deep room. So how do you balance all this out? Obviously on good days I can’t get all delusional and submit my registration for Worlds Black Belt Adult, but I also can’t dwell on that night a room full of lower belts all passed my guard and held me in side for a round (I’m not still bitter about that…Really.). Somewhere in there, my actual skill level exist. The key to psychologically mastering the mats is to accept that those days are atypical- they’re just good and bad days- and to remind myself that my mat career is going to be a series of incremental progressions and improvements rather than leaps forward or backward. Enjoy the experiences of good and bad days, but at the end of the day, leave it on the mats.

This is easier said than done…I like to cling tightly both to my successes and my failures. I know that to progress, grow and to continue enjoying bjj, I’ve got to let the good and the bad days go, but I recognize that this is a struggle and a skill. Sometimes the gears are greased, the engine is running smoothly and your teammates are dousing you in praise. Coach saw you pass a notoriously difficult guard, and saw you submit a killer. This is a moment to relish, and you’d be a fool not to revel in your own glory for a bit, but you’re going to have to leave it on the mats when you go home. Not every day will be your day. I’ve been around long enough to know how quickly after tearing up the room, I can find myself spending three rounds trying to get out of an armbar, and the rest of the night tapping to almost everyone I roll with. Sometimes you are the hammer, sometimes the nail. Keeping this in perspective can go a long way to help mitigate the deep gully in confidence you might experience when facing a bad day on the mats after a string of good days.

I don’t suffer from an over attachment to my good days, really. My hangup lies in a propensity to dwell on my bad days, the days that I’m the nail. This is probably the more common mental scenario for the average practitioner, and it often makes it tough to cultivate a realistic perspective about your Jiu Jitsu. Spending a bunch of time convincing yourself you suck is obviously a stupid waste of time, so fostering a habit of letting go of your losses alongside your wins is essential for mat mental health. Chances are you don’t suck, and if you do, it’s very likely because you’re just new-ish and you’re supposed to suck, so don’t worry about it.

The moral of our story today is that you’re neither Garry Tonon nor the Reggie Strickland of BJJ; keep your good days and your bad days in perspective, enjoy and learn from them when they happen, then forget them.


Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 14: The Three Principles of Passion.

What’s the one thing that virtually all highly skilled and very successful athletes have in common? It’s true that dedication, work ethic, resilience ect are all essential qualities, but I think underlying all of those is one singular attribute; passion. It isn’t enough that you train hard, become skilled and apply those skills to win. You have to miss the mats when you’re away from them, you have to LOVE what you’re doing. The greats like Marcelo Garcia treat their Jiu Jitsu like it were a high-maintenance lover, who will not be satisfied with anything less than their full attention when they’re together. Jiu Jitsu will build you up and break your heart, but it’ll always be there, giving you all the feels so long as you’re always pouring your best into it. There’s a lot that goes into becoming a champ, but among those things are following the three Principles of Passion: Be physically present as much as possible, be mentally present at all times and don’t dwell on failure.

Not everyone can train 2-3 times per day, six or seven days a week like Keenan or the Miyaos, that’s a given, but you gotta show up! Time to spare for the mats is one of the toughest hurdles to clear for a lot of folks, but if you want to be more than just ‘OK’ at BJJ, you need to put the time in. There’s a saying I really like, and the longer I train the more sense it makes: “You can’t cheat the grind”. You really can’t, especially in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There’s no secrets, no special techniques and it doesn’t matter how strong you are. If you can’t execute a technique properly, if your skill level is lower than that of your opponent’s, you lose. Plain and simple. You have to put the mat time in- and a lot of it- to get good.

To some this is painfully obvious, but to many there’s a disconnect, here. I’ve spoken about the high attrition rate in Jiu Jitsu before, and expanded a bit on why people leave, but at the heart of a lot of the insecurities that lead to people quitting is fundamentally a lack of mat time, resulting in a lack of skill. Pretty straight forward, but some folks don’t get it and wind up stunting or halting their growth with an inconsistent and uncommitted training schedule. Commit to your training. Most people have jobs that prevent them from training all day everyday, but do yourself a favour and set aside at least 3 training sessions a week. More is fantastic, but realistically speaking, consistent growth is possible if you agree to commit at least 3 good quality mat sessions per week and stick with it over time.

Being mentally present every time you hit the mats is just as important as physically getting on the mats, but for some this is even harder than making it out in the first place. Most of us struggle with mental presence; we’re constantly thinking about a number of things in our lives while we perform unrelated tasks. This is one of the beautiful features of our impressively complex brains, but it doesn’t allow us to focus properly at the task at hand. When you step on the mats, you need to consciously decide that you would rather be nowhere else in the world than there, doing nothing else but training Jiu Jitsu. For some people this comes really easy. They just slap hands, and their problems melt away. For others, mental presence is a skill to learn like any other, and it takes practise to master. If you’re preoccupied with how much you hate your job, your financial stresses or family issues, you can’t pour your full attention into your Jiu Jitsu. We all have problems, and we all need to practise leaving those problems in the changeroom with our street clothes. It’s not simple to do, but it can be done and it’s a necessary step on the path to greatness.

There are tons of ways to practise and accomplish mental presence. Do what works best for you. For myself, I like to think in pictures, and I’m a product of my time, so I’ve had a lot of success by replacing imposing thoughts with a quick flash of Grumpy Cat as my cue to re-focus. Other folks use meditation or different, less meme-based forms of visualizations to get their minds back to the mats. However you accomplish it, and however long it takes, discipline your mind to focus only on Jiu Jitsu when you’re on the mats.

Failure is an unavoidable fact of life. You probably wont fail at everything you do, but from the day you’re born to the day you kick the pail, you will fail multiple times at many things. What sets successful and exceptional people apart from everyone else is their ability to move on from failure, even catastrophic failure. You’ll probably never experience catastrophic failure in BJJ, but you will taste defeat again and again. What will set you apart from everyone else will be how quickly you let those failures roll off you, and how well you turn the negativity of those experiences into something positive. My first loss at a competition floored me. I dwelled on my loss for a few weeks, and I drove my coach up the wall in the process. I kept clawing for reasons why I lost: I need to roll with a larger variety of bodies, I need to lift weights, I had the wrong kind of tights on…blah blah blah. To my coach it was simple why I lost- I didn’t sweep when I should have, I need to work more on sweeps. Determine what led to your loss and pick away at it. Move forward, make something useful out of something crappy and don’t cry over it. Easier said than done, but it’s doable and essential to your growth both on and off the mats.

Lessons I’ve :earned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 13: You Shall Not Pass, Goon!

I’ve heard of a small handful of goons who were blue belt or higher, but the goon on the mats is pretty much a white belt phenomenon. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why, either; goons get sorted out pretty quick. Either they’re straightened out by an observant higher belt, they quit all together because they tapped a few too many times or they eventually realize that “winning the training” as Hannette Staack puts it, isn’t the point, and they chill out.

I’m a bit on the small side (although in my head I’m a 270lb brick wall with arms and legs), so avoiding a goon is in my best interest more often than not. I’ll still roll with a known goon, but generally it doesn’t serve me any to potentially get hurt just to help someone inflate his or her ego. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a few whoopings at the hands of a less experienced but way bigger dude. The goons usually sit on me and crank away at a choke or Americana. I’m not saying this is necessarily unfair, it just isn’t the finest example of technique or sportsmanship.

Most of the goons I’ve rolled with quit before their second stripe, but some of those same guys that gooned me long ago have grown out of their goon type behavior, stop being goony and now they’re great people to roll with. I’ve heard stories of blue and purple belt goons, but I’ve never personally met or rolled with one. People realize pretty quickly that they will likely never be the king of the mat, or even crack the top half. All they can do is learn from those who have put more time in on the mats than them.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 12: The Blue Belt Blues Part 2- Promotions Don’t Give You New Powers, Sadly.

I spent most of my white belt surviving underneath heavier rolling partners, doing a lot of tapping and only catching a tap of my own here and there. The closer I got to blue, I started getting this notion that after I earned my blue, I’d be better at jiu jitsu. I certainly didn’t think there was some secret magic jiu jitsu juju embedded in my new belt, but I did think that maybe I’d start to “get it” better with the new shift in the way I saw myself (no longer a rookie) on the mats. I was mistaken.

I’m still getting my rear handed to me daily by people I’d rather not admit are tapping or drawing with me. My stretchy blue rashguard, the cape of the Blue Belt Super Hero, has failed me. Or rather, I thought I failed it; “Wtf, I still suck? I don’t deserve this belt!” Turns out my coach knows what he’s doing. I don’t suck, I’m just not a very good blue belt yet. And that’s okay. I can take stock of the skills I’ve learned in jits thus far, and an inventory of blue belt super powers are not among those skills.

What exactly is a blue belt supposed look like, anyways? It took me 2.5 years from my first day on the mats to my blue belt. When I was rocking the first stripe on my white belt I sucked. I sucked real bad, but it didn’t matter because at that point I was supposed to suck. A couple weeks before my blue belt test I was on fire on the mats! Tapped folks I never thought I’d tap and saw opportunities for the catch I’d normally miss. Am I consistently like that? No. But that’s not the point. I was much better with 4 stripes on my white belt than I was when I only had 1. It follows that ranks are spectrums, and I really shouldn’t be beating myself up for feeling inadequate as a new blue belt. I’m really just a very good white belt who’s growing into her new blue shirt. I suppose this is the onset of the Blue Belt Blues, https://torontonogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/lessons-ive-learned-studying-brazilian-jiu-jitsu-lesson-5-belt-blues-the-struggle-is-real/ and it’s totally normal. I really didn’t level up when I got my blue belt, my coach just acknowledged my achievements so far.

Lessons I’ve learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 11: Mat Snobs, and How to Shut Them Down.

What the heck is a Mat Snob, you ask? A Mat Snob is a mercifully rare creature who, for whatever reason, thinks their jits/academy/style/entire being is better than most other folks. They only roll with certain people, they often skip drills with their nose in the air, or drill something entirely different and they’re about as huggable as Joffrey Baratheon on the throne once they earn their blue belt. The Mat Snob isn’t always a snob on the mats, either. This is the person you hear stirring up forums with crap like “Gi is real BJJ, No Gi is catch wrestling/you have to train in the Gi”, they can go on at length about how superior their academy is while throwing shade all over you for your academy and generally tries to tear folks down around them in relation to BJJ.

My suspicion is that these folks are already pretty condescending people, BJJ didn’t cause this poor behaviour, it’s just being used as an avenue to act out. Thank the powers that be that these people are really rare in their final form. Most full-fledged Mat Snobs tend to live out their BJJ career online, and even the most insufferable snob eventually gets straightened out on the mats sooner or later. That said, we should take care to remember that at some point, many of us may have been a Mat Snob about something too; be it talking down to someone new to jits regarding something they’re probably justifiably ignorant about or refusing to roll with a newbie simply because they’re not very good yet.

So how do you shut a Mat Snob down? Don’t engage with their poor behaviour and don’t waste any time arguing with them. Your time on the mats is important. While we all work as a team to improve each other, the Mat Snob probably isn’t all that interested in helping you improve. In fact, to these jerks, the people around them are more like bit actors in their own personal sitcom; walk-on extras, only there to develop the Mat Snob’s own plot and devoid of much personhood. Hold your head high in dignified silence when you’re forced to be around someone like this. If you’re disgusted by their behaviour, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in some way a better person than they are. Probably. Don’t be rude, just keep your distance and stay classy.

Sometimes the Mat Snob is ranked higher than you are. Understandably, some people can feel trapped in the system, a bit uncomfortable about avoiding someone in a ranked environment. Pick a drilling partner before that awkward moment when your instructor tells the class to pair up, and half the group is looking around uncomfortably like pre-teens at their first dance. If someone else does the pairing and you keep getting the Mat Snob, speak up! Talk to your coach if they’re sucking the fun out of your mat time. No one who coaches a team or runs a gym wants anyone to have a bad time. They would rather get things running smoothly and harmoniously as quickly as possible, so bringing a joy-assassinating Mat Snob to your coach’s attention is in the best interest of everyone in the gym.

Mat snobs suck, but thankfully they’re rare and the vast majority of gyms are not very inviting to them anyways. With any luck, you’ll never run into one during your time on the mats, and hopefully you’ll never be one yourself.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 10: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Body Image.

I like to think as a woman in Jiu Jitsu, I’ve got a pretty positive body image. I feel strong, I rarely think I’m fat or anything like that, I generally like my body and in part I attribute that to Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu helped me not only change my body, but also change the way I think about my body as well. I’m not going to sit here and say BJJ made me into a hot and skinny woman or something silly like that. Jiu Jitsu has taught me both how to take care of my body as well as how to really value my body.

Like many teenage girls, I often hated my body growing up. I’ve got big calves, a propensity to general thickness and I was made fun of a bit in school. I felt like I was fat and definitely didn’t consider myself athletic at all. Growing into adulthood took care of a lot of myouthful body image issues, but it took Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to help me understand how to appreciate my body not as an object that simply projects from my character, but as a machine that I’m in control of, and actually like to operate.

I used to be preoccupied with what people thought of my body, and in some ways I still do a bit, but learning how to impose a submission on a BJJ partner makes preoccupations about how I look in shorts suddenly seem silly and unimportant. It didn’t take long after beginning Jiu Jitsu that I stopped worrying about how fat I looked in my rashguard and started thinking about how I was going to get stronger and more explosive. When I step on the scale, I’m concerned about staying within my chosen weight class, not an arbitrarily chosen ’target weight’. It’s been one of the most singularly life changing tweaks in thinking I’ve had, and Jiu Jitsu got me there.

I’ve learned how to value the power in my body. I’ve got really strong legs. They’ll never be elegant, slim and lithe. I often joke that I’ve got cows instead of calves. They’re thick, blocky, muscular and perfect for keeping strong hooks and a powerful closed guard. Without even thinking about it, almost by accident, I learned how to love my most disliked body feature. I learned how to strengthen my body for BJJ, and in the process I learned the mechanics of my body. My diet got better (People often absorb “the bjj lifestyle” when they start training, changing to and experimenting with a healthier diet is one of the first aspects), which helped my body perform better, and somewhere in the past I had left my preoccupation with whether or not people thought my body was sexy or gross. It just plain stopped really mattering.

I can’t say I never get down on myself. In the last month for instance, I dropped the ball on my diet and training schedule and consequently gained about 15 pounds. It’s taken me pretty far away from featherweight, and while I’ve noticed I fill my jeans out a bit full right now, I really don’t care about how my silhouette is cut in my rashguards, I’m too busy trying to figure out how to catch my opponent’s arm.

Top 6 Non-Jiu Jitsu Things You Need To Learn When You Start Jiu Jitsu

Top 6 Non-Jiu Jitsu things you need to learn when you start Jiu Jitsu.

Often we see articles outlining the top things we must learn when we start studying BJJ, like the Triumvirate of Tap (triangle, armbar, omoplata), RNC, how to break guard and how to regain your own guard. But what about the OTHER stuff, the things you weren’t prepared for, the little lessons out of left field that really test our character? Here’s my list of things that have no obvious link to BJJ, but you’re gonna need them if you’re going to survive.

1 Humility. Yeah, we hear this a lot, eh? “Stay humble”, “Ego isn’t your amigo” and so on. It’s absolutely true! Tapping sucks, tapping all day long sucks more, and knowing you’re going to show up to class and tap to someone better than you for several months is disheartening. Get used to unhitching your self-worth from an arguably bloated pride, and get to work on deflating that thing, too! You’re gonna tap a lot before you get to the point that you tap others regularly, or even survive a full round with someone better than you. Get comfy!

2 Curiosity. Lucky for you, most of the more common attacks and guards have been well hashed out by the geniuses that have come before us, but that doesn’t mean you need all your information handed to you unquestioned from a professor. Rolling is magic! Every roll is a series of almost endless possibilities, the opportunity to discover tons of things in your roll, and the worst case scenario is you tap. Explore, get creative, be curious about where you’ll end up if you do something unfamiliar or accidental in a roll. There’s a ton of variations to just a simple armbar. Get out there and don’t be scared to muck around until you find what works best for you! Ask questions, too!

3 Tenacity. I mean, obviously if you’re being passed, swept and submitted repeatedly for a good length of time, you’re going to need to dig deep inside yourself to find the strength to keep hitting the mats. You’re also going to need that tenacity when you finally start catching your partners. No one’s giving you a tap. You gotta earn the tap, and often it’s earned through being just a bit more tenacious than your opponent. Let’s also not forget that catches (when you get a hold of a submission position, but aren’t finishing) eventually turn into taps. It may feel like you’re constantly losing the kimura you set up, but remember that you weren’t even able to set up a kimura once upon a time, so have the faith and tenacity to keep trying and to keep holding on until catches turn into taps.

4 A Sense of Humour. You’re really going to want to learn how to laugh at yourself, and see the humour in having your face squished under a friend’s butt while they impose their armbar or kimura set up on you. There’s a fine line between being funny and being childish. Find that line, get close but don’t cross it and spend the years you invest in BJJ laughing. Not taking yourself too seriously will not only help you adjust to the reality of BJJ but also help you make and keep friends on and off the mats. Sometimes (ok, a lot of the time) I just chuckle quietly to myself about something I saw on the mats, sometimes I share the humour, it’s really situational, but never malicious. Laugh out loud with love.

5 A Healthy Lifestyle. Lots of folks talk about ‘living the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle’, but too often the lifestyle most practitioners adopt is a combo of late hours on Youtube watching Miyao videos, over/under training and eating too much sugary acai-flavoured everything. “But it’s cool, I put kale in my shake this morning!” is not going to save anyone from stalling out living that kind of lifestyle. Cut the sugar down, sleep well, train consistently and put good, whole foods down your gullet. Going into ketosis is cool if you’ve got the money and discipline to reach it, but if you’re making it onto the mats 3 times one week, skipping a week and returning for five classes the following week, chances are you don’t have the discipline to stick to a tough fad diet. Get a handle on the easy stuff first. The idea of ‘clean living’ is pretty relative, so don’t get carried away or intimidated, just stick to the mantra “healthy food, lots of sleep, less sugar, regular training” and you’re going to get pretty far.

6 Patience. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes a long time. Naturally you’re going to need to cultivate patience. First you’re going to be frustrated with your progress. Once you start seeing a little bit of progress, you’re probably going to rush catches and submissions, losing them in the process and wind up frustrated with that, too. Sooner or later you may even get impatient for your next belt. Work on your waiting skills, and don’t even think about asking or hinting to your prof that you’d like another stripe or belt! Don’t even think about it! Trust that your instructor is competent and will tell you when you’re ready to belt up.

There are so many more characteristics and qualities we need to cultivate in our journey through BJJ, but get started on nurturing these and you’ll have tools for life, on and off the mats!