When you go to tournaments and seminars you begin to notice that there are tons of white belts, lots of blue belts, a hand full of purple belts and a scattering of brown and black belts. It’s rather evident that the higher you go up in belts, the fewer students that are left participating. Jiu-Jitsu by nature is a very physically and mentally demanding martial art. It’s really no surprise that so few make it to black belt. In fact many of you reading this may never make it to black belt just based purely on numbers. (Don’t let that dissuade you…keep reading) You could even argue that it’s probably good that not everyone makes it to black belt….and that’s what makes it so special, etc. But is that really the answer? That Jiu-Jitsu is just really tough? I’m not advocating we make Jiu-Jitsu easier either. What I am suggesting is that we help each other stick with it by being better at not quitting.
So lets explore why people quit in the first place. Here are the main reasons anyone would stop.
- Injury that prevents them from training
- Financial challenges
- Conflict with a student or instructor
- The training is too mentally challenging
- Lack of perceived progress
Injury Over the years I’ve met very few people that couldn’t do Jiu-Jitsu due to an injury or limitation. One of the great things about Jiu-Jitsu is that it is completely modifiable. In other words, you don’t have to adapt to Jiu-Jitsu, the training will adapt to you. If you only have the use of one arm, you could adapt your training to accommodate this “limitation”. BJJ black belt Aaron Lapointe is a great example. He only has use of one arm and modifies his Jiu-Jitsu beautifully.
I work with a student who has a similar injury as Aaron and he too has been able to make Jiu-Jitsu work effectively in spite of this perceived “weakness”. If you have a physical challenge that is either slowing you down or putting a halt to your training then it’s time to be resourceful. Instead of making it black and white…you’re either all in or all out. Try to play in the gray area for a while. If you have an injury that stops you from live rolling, then maybe you temporarily just practice technique on non-resisting partners. That may not sound as exciting as live rolling, but at least you’re still on the mats. Another option is you come to class and watch and take notes. There is so much to be gained by observing. You can also develop another part of your game while one body part is healing. I personally gained my biggest improvements in my cross collar choke game when I couldn’t use my old standby the triangle choke due to a knee injury. So sometimes one door closing can open another door of opportunity. If it’s a case of you getting constantly banged up and broken, then maybe you need to dial things back a bit and adjust your level of intensity on the mats. It can’t be all out war every time you roll. Maybe some days you roll hard but on other days you give your body a little break and go lighter. When I was a purple belt I had two shoulder surgeries within a three year period. Both took me out of live rolling for up to six months each. But I made the best use of that time to lay on my back (protect my shoulder) and use my guard. The point is to be creative and inventive in your approach. (If you’re struggling with recovery between training then refer to this blog I did on injuries)
Financial Challenges, BJJ on a Budget Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is fairly expensive as far as martial arts lessons go. But when you compare to to other activities it’s really not that bad matched with the benefits we receive physically, mentally and socially. When it comes to equipment the only thing you need is a clean gi and a rash guard / shorts. Of course it’s fun buying all the crazy gi’s and rash guards, but you can do BJJ on a budget.
Tips for saving money:
- Equipment Challenges – Looks for deals on a gi and save money. Several sites offer discounted gi’s / rolling deals, etc. The warrior line offered by Origin has excellent quality, made in the USA, gi’s at a decent price. If you’re really struggling to buy a new gi, ask your teammates if they have any old gi’s they want retire when they purchase their next gi.
- Transportation Challenges – You can save money on gas and transportation by carpooling with teammates. If you don’t have transportation for class, then ask a teammate for a ride. If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to make it work.
- Tuition Challenges – If you’re having trouble paying for tuition, then talk to your instructor before you get behind on tuition and make things worse. There may be an opportunity to clean the school, trade services for classes (electricians, plumbers, contractors, marketing, fliers, cleaning, secretarial, etc.). You don’t know until you ask.
Conflict with a student or instructor A BJJ school, like any community is subject to gossip, cliques and personal conflicts. If you’re having a disagreement with a staff member or instructor it’s important to speak to your instructor immediately to clear the air. If you feel like it’s unresolvable then maybe it’s time to switch schools. But only switch schools when you have exhausted all other possibilities. I’ve found that most conflicts turn out to be more of a miscommunication that’s easily resolved through dialogue with both parties. If there is a conflict with another student it’s best to address it privately with an instructor. Always take the high road, and never bring personal conflict on the mats.
The training is too mentally challenging Jiu-Jitsu is tough and it never really gets easier because everyone is always getting better. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get better, what it does mean is that you never really arrive at a place where it’s all bliss and no struggle. Even at black belt where you are at the “top of the food chain” you’re going to get challenged by other black belts and all the lower belts that keep getting better and younger. The challenge never ends, but rather your perception of it changes as you adapt to it. You have to remember that when you get to black belt you won’t be the person you’re today. So your perception of whether you can or can’t be a black belt is flawed. The truth is, it remains to be seen whether you’ll be a black belt or not. If you’re a white belt or blue or even purple belt then the question isn’t relevant right now. Because the person you’re right now cannot be a black belt. That conversation doesn’t really become relevant until brown belt. It’s better to focus on coming to class, learning as much as you can and letting go of the belts as your main point of focus. If you’re doing everything right (attending class, drilling, taking notes, applying the lessons, etc.) then the belts and progress will take care of themselves. If you’re a beginner and you think you suck at BJJ, then you’re probably right because everyone is terrible at first. Remember, you have to be bad before you’re good. Sometimes it might even feel like you’re going to be eternally bad at BJJ. I’m here to tell you that everyone eventually gets good. But when you’re standing in a place of adversity it’s hard to imagine anything different. Our brain does much better in small steps versus giant leaps. So instead of focusing on whether you’ll be doing this in two years, three years or ten years…enjoy where you’re right now and let time and work take care of the rest. Remember, nothing interesting or compelling ever begins with knowing. Trying to figure out if you’ll make it is a great reason to keep going.
Lack of perceived progress If you’re stuck at a belt, I know what that feels like. Remember, I was a brown belt for thirteen years. My breakthrough came when I set small incremental steps toward a desired outcome. My long-term objective was to get my black belt, but I needed gradual steps to get me there. Remember, the brain does better in processing small steps versus quantum leaps. The first thing I did when I reached a wall was to talk to my professors and mentors for feedback. We created a two-fold plan, setting a short term goal that helped me lose weight and get in better shape while improving my Jiu-Jitsu. (At that point I was 50 pounds overweight and my Jiu-Jitsu was suffering because of it.) My immediate goal was to sign up for a tournament which leveraged me to improve my Jiu-Jitsu and body simultaneously. This allowed me to create momentum and ultimately get to my black belt. I’m not saying you need to compete to be a black belt, or blue belt or any belt. (although it can be very helpful to some) What I am suggesting is that you communicate with your professor and create a dialogue on what you need to do to progress in your training. Scheduling a private lesson is a great forum to address these questions and to formulate a plan.
If after reading this you’re still thinking about quitting…then wait until tomorrow.
If you feel the same way tomorrow…then come back and talk to me again.
But I must warn you because I’ll probably give you the same advice again!
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