Compass Points for BJJ Training
Your jiu-jitsu journey can be a daunting experience. While you start out with all the enthusiasm and excitement of a ten year old Swiss boy before his first day of prep school, there remain a host of seemingly overwhelming “problems.” How will I learn all of these techniques? Will I be accepted into this new community of cauliflower ears and hardened grapplers? What is the best route to martial excellence?
Of course, the questions vary by character, but there is a constant feeling of confusion felt by most BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) neophytes. With that in mind, I offer these four Cs as navigational aids, like points on a compass. They are as follows: Consistency, Comparison, Convalescence, and Compassion.
Other concepts have value. Nonetheless, based on my reflections from over two decades of grappling, I think that these are worth noting and exploring.
First, consistency. For many, finding jiu-jitsu can be likened to opening a new present. Be it a toy train or an Xbox, at first you play, play, and play. Eventually, it becomes a dust collector. Similarly, we have met many new grapplers with a seemingly sincere intention to train six, seven, or even eight days a week (this lack of understanding regarding the length of a week is indicative of how far removed their enthusiasm may have strayed from the realm of achievable reality). After their initial fervor wanes, their gi ends up collecting dust alongside the toy train and Xbox.
Don’t let your gi collect dust.
Instead, make consistency not zeal your first navigational point for jiu-jitsu success. An achievable initial goal is to train three days a week. Now, if at the end of the week you want to train more, that is fantastic. You will go into the next training week refreshed and excited. Focus on consistency.
Second, comparison. When I started training jiu-jitsu in the 1990s, a purple belt was a very rare sight. Getting a blue belt was a big, big deal. It my opinion, it still is. Every promotion is a big deal and one in which you should take great pride. Promotions should not be a time or place for you to get lost looking off onto the jiu-jitsu journeys of others.
To borrow a phrase from a younger generation: Stay in your lane.
Comparison in any form (from social media gazing to belt color) is a surefire route to an unfulfilled life. Make a concerted effort to concentrate on where you’re going in jiu-jitsu.
Use jiu-jitsu as means to achieve your best self.
Third, convalescence. In some capacity, we have all been damaged by life. The damages could be evident when we allow our physical body to fall into a place of embarrassing disrepair or they could be the more subtle emotional and spiritual damages caused by life in a cubicle farm, unhealthy personal relationships, or fulfilling our most base desires. We are in need of a space and outlet to regain our health, vigor, and strength. The activity and community of jiu-jitsu provides that.
Remember how happy you are when you leave a good day on the mat. Treat jiu-jitsu as your therapy, or your healing. Do not sacrifice your health on the altar of hedonistic or consumer pursuits. Rather, allow training to offer its therapeutic services.
Fourth, compassion. Jiu-jitsu is a solo sport. That is true. Jiu-jitsu is a communal activity. That is also true. To progress in BJJ, you need training partners who are healthy and reliable. Therefore, it is up to each of us to look out for the people with whom we share the mat.
This means making sure that we keep them healthy on the mat (as my high school wrestling coach used to say: “You break your toys, you have nothing to play with”) and we make sure that they keep coming back to the mat. If someone is missing training or falling into negative habits, take it upon yourself to send them a text, a social media message, a smoke signal…you get the idea.
Practice compassion. Look out for each other.
Like the points of a constellation, these ideas are meant merely to help you locate the outline of a fulfilling jiu-jitsu experience. It is up to you to fill in the picture.
It is up to you to complete your journey.
Now, go find your path.
Adam benShea, PhD, is a third degree BJJ black belt, the coauthor of the Jailhouse Strong series of books, and a college lecturer on the central coast of California.