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Never Give Up: The Most Important Lesson We Learn in Jiu Jitsu

Hello Friends and Teammates,

Recently I had an email exchange with a great mom and family that is part of the Emerge team.  I changed the names for privacy, but here is our conversation.  I think it is an important one regarding common struggles in jiu jitsu that also parallel life in general. My intent is for this to help anyone else who might have similar questions and challenges. Please give any feedback you might have or share with me your thoughts.

-Coach Don

Message from Mom:

Hello Coach,

Joey is starting to feel very discouraged that he isn’t getting better. He just told me that he when he does the rolling that everything happens so fast & he’s suddenly in another arm bar. He’s always been excited to come since day 1 & today he was very bummed. He doesn’t want to quit but he doesn’t know what to do. I think he need more direction towards kids that are on his level. He’s being paired with kids his height, but he’s the tallest in the class so he’s paired with kids that have many stripes or a grey belt. He really wants to get better. What do you suggest? Thank you, take care, Sarah

Coach Don's Reply:

Hello Sarah,

Thank you for your message.  I appreciate you sharing what’s going on and what Joey is feeling and thinking.  I would love to talk to you and Joey about it the next time you are in.  Face to face would probably be best.

Several things we can do that might help.  One is to give more specific coaching on any areas Joey is feeling like he needs answers that he cannot find.  As coaches we try to strike a balance of not over-coaching and giving too much information such that is overwhelming to the student versus not coaching enough and leaving the student guessing and without the coaching he or she needs.  Every student is a little different.  

Also, a significant part of jiu jitsu is learning to problem solve using the concepts and basics that one has been taught.  I look at it like learning mathematics.  A major part of building your mind for mathematics is to problem solve without someone giving you the answers at every step.  So overall there is a positive effect to facing problems and learning to persist and figure them out.  That being said, I do not want to leave anyone too much alone and see them get overly frustrated or discouraged.

Joey needs to know that what he is experiencing is very normal.  Virtually everyone feels the way he does when they first start.  Now some people can make up for it with extra athleticism which they likely have brought with them from another sport.  So even with that they likely had to pay a price to get where they are.  But in my opinion jiu jitsu is unique where it takes time and a lot of persistence to get past the feeling that you know nothing and are way behind.  Joey is doing great where he is at.  What he is feeling now will pass as he continues to train.  In particular live rolling will be especially hard at first but over time it will improve.  

In time he will begin to train with people less experienced than him and he will notice the difference his training has made.  The team improves together so it can have the effect of giving one the impression they are not improving.  Because relative to everyone else the whole room rises as each individual rises.  Hence it feels like a zero effect.

He has come a long way from when he first started.  So Joey needs to know he is doing great.  He need not worry about performance but just focus on getting a little better each day by learning one thing each day.  Perseverance and patience is key and during this time it will be hard.  But it will improve as long as he doesn’t give up.

I will help him with arm bar defense.  But a lot of that is going to take time to build muscle memory and to be in those situations where you have to defend.  We can know the answers but doing them takes time especially in a live roll. There is a saying about the “master” of the martial art and that he or she has been tapped thousands of times more than any of his students.  This is the truth that most don’t talk about.  To get to a master level or even to those intermediate levels along the way to master, one must fail a lot.  Over and over you will get caught or get submitted or get shutdown.  And it takes a lot of repetitions but it will improve. Learning to fail and get back up and keep going is a huge part of the lessons in jiu jitsu. 

Again, I want to emphasize that he is doing great even though he may not feel like it.  Just showing up and stepping onto the mats is huge.  Just finishing a practice is huge.  Participating in live rolling is enormous.  Most people do not have the courage or the discipline to do what Joey is doing.  Now the next step is learning to persevere during this time and to enjoy the process even on those days you feel like you were not doing well.  I really do believe this is the most important thing we learn in jiu jitsu.  It’s more than the self-defense skills and confidence in fighting part.  The latter is huge but the strength of character and noble spirit is the most important and useful lessons for life.

I know that it is easier said than done. I know that often times people feel like they are alone in their experience or that they are the exception to what Coach is saying.  But I think if he can trust me in what I am saying and just keep showing up and doing his best he will really reap the rewards.

Let’s talk more at the gym. I want to hear what you and Joey have to say about what is going on.  Thank you Sarah!


Coach Don




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