Things I’ve Learned Studying Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 2: You’re Gonna Suck- For a Long Time.

Lesson 2: You’re Gonna Think You Suck – For A Long Time

On some level most people begin almost any skill- based venture with at least a basic understanding that they will suck really bad at it at first. Jiu jitsu is no different in that respect, except that you will in all likelihood do poorly for way longer than you expected. That doesn’t mean you won’t have tons of fun in the process of becoming great, but don’t let the realty of inevitable ignorance spoil one of the greatest journeys you’ll ever take in your life. As a wise man once said, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something”. – Jake the Dog.
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Acquiring any nuanced skill set of course will be long and difficult, but many people underestimate the process required to become proficient at Brazilian jiu jitsu. Lots of folks see their 16 year old nephew with a Tae Kwon Do black belt and think that achieving their BJJ black belt will be a walk in the park. The fact that jiu jitsu is tough and takes a while to get good at often results in a number of drop outs by new white belts and early blue belts (we’ll chat about the Blue Belt Blues another day), who can’t handle the stress of being bad at something before they get good- So they quit. But this won’t be your fate, primarily because now you know what to expect, right?

Heck, catch a brown belt on a bad day and you might be privy to their grumblings about the shortcomings of their game. Meanwhile you’re looking at the two stripes on your white belt thinking ‘damn, if he thinks he sucks, I must be terrible!’. Well, yeah, you are terrible – compared to a brown belt. But you’re not a brown belt, you’re a white belt who is in all likelihood doing a very good job at being a white belt in jiu jitsu. Don’t rush the process and embrace the simple fact that the vast majority of folks starting out in bjj must first be the nail before they can be the hammer. And don’t forget that you’ll also have the magical days- those days when you light up everyone you roll with, your game is on fire, things click and you just get it. This is what keeps you going and reminds you that despite feeling as though you’re not improving, you really are.

This process of not being very good is actually good for you, both for your jits as well as for you as a person. You must first learn humility to accept your place on the mats, but you also need to foster the hunger to succeed, to keep coming back despite being subbed more often than you’d like. Finally, you need to learn how to swallow your pride enough to listen to your coach when he or she tells you to work on something, or tells you which submission to go for when they coach your roll. Trust your coach’s years of experience. Afterall, they spent a great deal of time sucking at jiu jitsu just like you before they got to where they are now.

Things I’ve Learned While Studying Jiu Jitsu: Lesson 1

1. Size really does matter…Sorta…

I don’t like starting off with this but we’d better get it out of the way first; One of the top benefits of BJJ most people tout is it’s ability to minimize size differences, going on at length about how great BJJ is for the smaller practitioner. On paper this is true, but anyone under 130 lbs or so can testify that climbing up the ranks in Jiu Jitsu is tougher when the average weight of their training partners is 170 lbs+. Technique and experience are undeniable equalizers, but at the end of the day a 209 lb body has an advantage over a 112 lb body.

That said, another size- related lesson I’ve learned is that women and men both come in all sizes in the spectrum. Whether you roll with a man or a women doesn’t matter much provided they’re roughly your weight. Will a 145 lb blue belt survive long against a 145 lb brown belt? Nope, but chances are the blue belt isn’t going to needlessly wreck up their body supporting someone’s excess weight. Besides, a 109 lb brown belt (and you can find more than a few of these guys training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Toronto!) can make it feel like you’re rolling with a 230 lb opponent anyways, so take the opportunity to work your technique on the mats, not your bench press by rolling according to your size. But don’t be fooled; that 109 lb brown belt will tap a 230 lb blue belt into oblivion. Experience will win out over size 95% of the time, so don’t walk away from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just because you’re 120 lbs. At the end of the day, a good blue belt of any weight will win out over someone with no experience regardless of weight. Don’t despair if you’re smaller, just stick with your training and trust your technique!

This isn’t to say that at any skill level a smaller person shouldn’t roll with a bigger person. There are benefits to training with someone above or below your weight class. A smaller person can benefit from working their attack timing, bottom escapes and sweeps against a heavier person, for instance. Similarly the bigger opponent is forced to focus on controlling their attacks and more often than not, their back and choke defense!

Size really does matter, but at the end of the day when the field is leveled, an individual’s BJJ skill and experience is what defines the roll.

Stay tuned for lesson number 2 next week!