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!

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 8:Gear, Gis and Endless Laundry!

Lesson 8: Gear, Gis and Endless Laundry!

I’ve never in my life ever had to do so much laundry than I have since starting BJJ. If I wanted to do this much laundry, I’d have kids. At least twice a week is darn unreasonable in my opinion, but I also think having 9 gis, 25 rashguards and a pair of spats for every rashguard is a little excessive too, so whaddaya gonna do? I’ve been the primary laundry-doer in a domestic arrangement and I still think I do more laundry as a single person training Jiu Jitsu than I ever did while trying to keep clean clothes on the backs of two grown adults. My heart to BJJ students with a bunch of kids, or worse, those who have a bunch of kids training. That must be a nightmare of a laundry day! But, as anyone who trains would agree, it’s a labour of love.

I used to frequently hand wash my rashguards in the hopes of keeping laundromat costs down, but that turned out to be way too time consuming and just not thorough enough.  Although I know I did a good job of cleaning them, my tights and rashguards never came out smelling “clean”, and let’s face it, we’re trained now to associate cleanliness with a scent, be it lemon or ‘meadow fresh’, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Gis are way too tough to hand wash, and while it can totally be done, you need a recovery day just to rest your arms after scrubbing and wringing the thing out. Now do that to all of your gis…nope. My stint with hand washing my gear actually got to the point that I started dreading jits, simply because it became associated with scrubbing clothes in a tub. Needless to say, I cut that out pretty quick and got back to loving jiu jitsu without the pressure of having to hand-bomb my rashguards every day. I also sucked it up and bought a few more rashguards, tights and bras to stretch the weeks’ worth of gear out, too.

You know what’s worse than having to wash a metric ton of training clothes all week long? Showing up to class and realizing you’ve forgotten some or all of your gear! For the women, nothing’s more irritating than lugging all your gear around all day, getting to class only to find you forgot your sports bra at home. Few things make me want to choke someone (mostly myself) than that, and lo, I can’t even hit the mats without the stupid thing.  And if you spend a lot of time in a gi, woe betide the cat who forgets to bring something to wear under their gi. I mean, you can get away with wearing your undies only, but it’s just awkward for everyone. I made a horrible call once when I forgot all my under-things and only managed to remember my gi, but trained anyways with a regular bra and just my underwear under the gi pants. I made it through drills with most of my dignity intact (this was long before I accidentally shrank my only gi and finally chucked it aside for a primarily no gi life), but once the rolls began I started looking as though I were inadvertently trying to stage my own Kyra Gracie photo shoot. My roll lasted all of two minutes before my partner looked at me imploringly with these ‘you’re-barely-wearing-clothes, I-don’t-feel-good-about-this’ eyes.  Needless to say, I quickly packed up with what pride I had left and went home, with a tough lesson about BJJ modesty under my belt.

I think another runner up for the “Ugh, That’s the Worst!” award is forgetting your sweaty gear in a bag overnight. Gross. Burn it. Kick out the invisible cat that seems to have peed on your gear while you’re at it. Ever forget your sweaty gear in your car overnight, then go out to it in the afternoon, after the car’s been sitting in the sun? Might as well burn the car down with the gear, it simply isn’t road-worthy anymore.

I cry about having to do so much laundry and having smelly gear, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I love jits, even when it stinks!

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

This isn’t quite so much about being cool as it is minimizing any awkwardness we might inadvertently cause. I don’t really know how to be cool, so to say I can pass that skill on to you would be a wild and spurious claim on my part. That said, I’ve sat back and watched, sometimes cringed, while people come, go and stay at the gym. Some people know what they’re doing in a team setting and others need some help. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym is home to all walks of life. Men, women, gay, straight, married, single, young, old and so on. Sometimes it’s tough to navigate all the corners of a heterogeneous team sport. This barely-cool blogger is coming to the rescue! I’ve laid out a loose dos and don’ts of how not to make people feel awkward, based on my own experiences (I’ve been aaaaaawkward!) and observations in and around BJJ.

Do: be friendly and personable on and off the mats. We’re not all chatty and smiles all the time. If you’re a reserved person, don’t feel pressured to come out of a shell you’re not ready to emerge from, but being friendly and approachable will go a long way. Likewise, if you’re an extrovert, small doses of your charm can draw out even the shyest student, and help to create a really inviting environment.

Don’t: be overly personable. This sounds a bit contradictory considering the previous ‘do’, but being too friendly too fast makes people on the mats feel uncomfortable. I’ve seen it over and over again: A new student joins, then they’re immediately trying to be best friends with everyone, and posts YouTube videos on the coach’s Facebook wall daily. Basically, don’t smother your new partners! The overly-friendly individual is always a really great person, but they need to let people figure that out for themselves. The alternative is that folks start thinking there’s something a bit off about them, which sucks and probably isn’t very fair. The new student’s intentions are good, but the approach was messy. Take your time when you first start and let people warm up to the awesomeness of you in their own time. Generally people in a gym (mine, at least. Can’t vouch for every other one, but most should be fine) are pretty friendly already, and will make you feel right at home in no time anyways.

Do: have a full and wonderful social life that includes Jiu Jitsu and the friends you’ve made through it. Keep in touch on social media with the people you’re friends with through BJJ. The community’s pretty small; you can end up in huge and often hilarious online discussions with people who share your passion for Jiu Jitsu. And then go do something else for the rest of your day because you have a life outside of Jiu Jitsu.

Don’t: make Jiu Jitsu your sole identity. It’s really easy to get caught up in the lifestyle and hype around Jiu Jitsu. Lots of new white belts Instagram their kale shakes, tweet about their full-shin lockdown bruises or mat burn and join every BJJ related Facebook page they can find. That’s fine and actually, par for the course. But don’t be one-dimensional about your love of Jits! After a few months of hammering your social media with nothing but bjj memes and your opinions on everything involving Jiu Jitsu and BJJ politics, people can start to think you’re either really boring or a know-it-all. No one likes a white-belt-know-it-all, and I’ll be frank with you: it’s embarrassing to watch. Use restraint when you dive into the BJJ online community. Remember that it’s small and people talk. Don’t overdo it and definitely don’t be overly familiar online with other Jits folks that you don’t really know. Like I said, people talk. It’s best they don’t talk about you at all, and if they do, make sure you give them good things to talk about- like the crazy good baseball choke you posted from your last competition- rather than have them quietly agreeing that you’re being annoying, or worse, creepy.

Do: work to become part of the team. Come out to class, roll, roll, roll and when you have no more left, roll again. Mat time is the quickest way into everyone’s heart, and the only way to get better at BJJ!

Don’t: get sour if you don’t feel like you’re ‘part of the team’ after a month of training. Yes, mat snobs are a thing (we’ll address those cats another day), but if after a month you don’t feel like you’re on the team or accepted, don’t panic, quit or give everyone stink eye for being exclusionary jerks. It isn’t that your team doesn’t like you, they just don’t know yet if you’re going to quit tomorrow. This was something I personally struggled with in my first few months. I began at a college drop-in BJJ program that had a handful of vets who watched as dozens of new faces came and left in a two semester period. I felt ignored and disliked, but after displaying my dedication (I travelled five hours round trip three times a week to train…no biggie), I was part of the team! Give it time. BJJ isn’t for everyone and mat vets know that. They’re just waiting until it’s safe to get attached to you.

Do: be respectful to everyone. Always. In the gym, online, at competitions, at the bar, the bus stop…I could keep going. Think before you speak, and consider other people’s feelings and experiences before you say something you’re not sure about.

Don’t: be a crude and disrespectful person, especially on the mats. Race jokes are not kosher. Rape jokes are never okay.  By calling your buddy on the mats gay, you meant he was totally fabulous, right? You get the picture. I’m not going to proscribe what you can’t say in life, I have faith in you. Don’t be a jerk. If you absolutely must be a jerk and tell a stupid, offensive joke, save it for your stupid and offensive friend’s ears only, m’kay? I once heard an Eddie Bravo quote: “Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate douchebag filter”. That isn’t always true, but it’s one of the better jerk filters available. We see through jerks quickly.

At the end of the day, just be as naturally you as you can. Sometimes a little insight into how an unfamiliar social setting functions is helpful, though.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

You’re sitting there on the edge of the mats, mouth guard at the ready, eying potential rolls. To your left a tiny, shy voice breaks in: “Hey, uh, you, uh, you wanna roll?” It’s a new guy, eight weeks into training, looking meek. “For sure!” you say. He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, but he’s only about 160lbs, won’t be too bad, right? Let him work, you’ll work on your defenses. You slap, bump…and suddenly he grabs your wrist and throws his body into yours in his best attempt at a guard pass. You’re struggling to control him while you eat knees and elbows to the face, chest and shins, fending off every ounce of strength and exertion he can muster. This guy is going H.A.M on you like you’re in the finals of No Gi Worlds, knowing the deed to his house and his first born son are yours if he loses. He’s holding onto anything within reach, reefing on every joint in an attempt to get some kind of submission out of you. You’re not having much fun at all. You decide to turn it up in the hopes he might get the picture that he’s going too hard. Nope, he goes harder, with even less thought about where his limbs end up. You’ve set up an armbar from mount, but he’s bucking wildly trying to get out. That arm is yours, but during his little freak out- which can only be compared to a cat trying to escape from a burning pillowcase- his hand suddenly slips from his defense, and only the control you’ve learned over the years saves his elbow from pointing the wrong way. Mazel Tov, you just rolled with a White Belt Spazz. Dress your wounds, be thankful for a good cup or mouth guard and try to forgive him, knowing you probably did the same thing when you first started.

The White Belt Spazz is ubiquitous in every gym, primarily because inexperience and pride go hand in hand (see Lesson #3 for more on this), and there’s always someone new on the mats. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, it’s just a fact of life; we don’t know what we don’t know, but dammit, we’re not going to lose. After a bit of time on the mats, almost everyone learns to slow their roll down, use more leverage than strength, seize the opportunities available and tap when caught. But most folks who are new don’t understand the mechanics of Jiu Jitsu yet, don’t want to lose and often roll way too hard, hurting themselves or their partners in the process. This can lead to the Spazz having a tough time finding someone willing to roll with them and sometimes even hard feelings. So how can you avoid being the White Belt Spazz? It’s a pretty simple three-step process: Slow down, relax, lose the pride. Let’s break it down.

Slow down: This is pretty straight forward. I could get all preachy and talk about how much more you will learn if you take your time, but in the first formative months of a white belt’s journey, slowing down is more of a safety issue than anything. I remember once trying a no gi torreador pass when I was still quite new. I had an idea of how it worked, but all I managed to do was this weird wobble from side to side, slipped forward and smoked my face on my partner’s knees. In my head I imagined my coach beaming down at me in approval for my skill and speed. In reality, I just bit my tongue and got triangled for my troubles. Similarly, you’re going to do a lot less damage to your rolling partner when you slow down and quit flailing wildly. You’re a long way away from being a BJJ great, so explosive movements aren’t going to work for you yet. Chill out and master control before you work on speed. Shooting a leg through to catch a straight ankle is a really great skill to have, but you’re not making friends in the gym if 7 out of 10 times you wind up violently gas-pedaling your partner instead. Slow. Your. Roll.

Relax: This goes along with slow down, but has it’s own special place. A couple weeks ago I was drilling with a young man who was so tense that I though the guy was going to vibrate into another dimension all together. He held onto my arms like a vise grip, and even when he wasn’t engaged I could see the muscular stiffness in his whole body. By the time he was done his second rep, he was breathing heavy and sweating profusely. When my turn came, he was so stiff and resistant that I couldn’t work through the technique properly. Quietly in my head I resolved to drill with someone else next time, and myself being a bit on the smaller side, I totally wrote him off as a rolling partner until he relaxes more. But I understand! I was datch guy. I had to be reminded to breathe, sometimes. Tenseness is tiring. You’ll gas out in no time. Practice an economy of energy as often as you can. Breathe slowly, control your exertion as well as your emotions. I try to imagine myself as a large predator in an environment with few opportunities to eat, and all my prey is fast. If I use too much energy on the wrong thing I may starve to death if I fail to catch what I’m chasing. This is especially important to keep in mind for larger people who only have so much in their gas tank. Relax, use your energy strategically and use your muscles wisely.

Last but not least, lose the pride: This is hands down the most important part of de-spazzing. Arguably, pride is the single largest contributing factor to the Spazz, but it’s the hardest to conquer. We want to be good at what we do, and this drive is magnified in competitive, athletic environments. I’d be lying if I said I never imagine my superiors talking about how much of a natural I am at jits, how I ‘just get it’ and so forth. In reality I’m pretty average, but I want greatness, and my inner dialogue can trick me into thinking greatness can be mine if I just give it my all and mimic the superstars on the scene as best I can. I’ve seen naturals, but trust me when I say they’re only slightly less rare than a unicorn that speaks perfect Klingon. The rest of us have to settle with earning first our mediocrity, then greatness through good old fashioned grind. Don’t settle for mediocrity, but don’t force greatness, let it come. Accept that you’re going to be not-very-good until you learn to be good. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you can bust down the mental wall that’s blocking you from seeing your true skill level, and where you need to put work in.

The White Belt Spazz, in its natural habitat is a curious beast to observe, and formidable to encounter. If you’re the spazz, just slow down, relax and check your pride. If you find yourself facing a spazz, be patient and honest. Tell them politely they need to slow their roll and help them, don’t alienate them. I’m pretty sure from time to time I still throw a careless elbow or knee, but I do my best to try and check myself when I get carried away.