Jiu-jitsu is an inherently social activity. There aren’t any really good ways to learn it by yourself. You can try practicing on a grappling dummy in your garage, but that will only take you so far. Eventually, you’ll have to go to a school and start learning to grapple in a room full of complete strangers.
For some people, this is an intensely uncomfortable experience. I remember when I was just getting started, I would have to sit in the car and talk myself into going into the gym before every class. I was terrified of not understanding the techniques or of getting hurt during rolling. I was an especially nervous teenager, but I don’t think that my experience was unique. I think there are many newcomers to BJJ who feel the same way I did, and who will have to talk themselves into going to class tonight. If you fall into that category, then I would like to share with you some of the lessons I learned as I went along in my training.
First of all, talk to your training partners.
Not just about how long they’ve been training or what their favorite move is, talk to them about what they do for a living or if they’ve got kids. Go in early and strike up a conversation with some of the people there warming up. Being in a foreign environment surrounded by strangers can be very stressful. If you take the time to get to know the other people you’ll be training with, at least you won’t be surrounded by strangers anymore. The better you get to know them, the more you’ll trust them, and the more they’ll be invested in helping you along. If you can make a friend or two, you’ll be able to look forward to class as a chance to hang out with them, and you’ll have someone you’re more comfortable around to drill with.
Getting familiar with your classmates will help you feel less anxious about training, and so will getting more familiar with going to class.
Especially when you’re starting out, it’s important to have a consistent training schedule that you stick with. Don’t let laziness or nervousness keep you from going to class. If you make a habit of missing, it will get easier and easier to convince yourself not to go. All that time away is time for you to build up more and more fear about the next time you go in. If you do make yourself go in, I think you’ll find that your fears were largely unfounded, and the more consistently you go in, the less and less afraid you’ll be of going in again. Eventually, going to class will just be another day at the office.
Finally, if your nerves are the result of a perfectionist tendency (mine certainly were) then you would do well for yourself to let that go. It is unfair to expect excellency out of yourself right out of the gate. All skills, and definitely BJJ, take a substantial amount of time to grow. It’s ok to just be good enough to get by, or to not really get it all yet. What’s not ok is to beat yourself up to the point that you dread ever trying again. If you can learn to relax, and allow yourself to be a beginner, then you’ll find it easier to stick with it until you do start to find success. It isn’t wrong to hold yourself accountable for making improvements, but that has to come with a realistic understanding of the time it takes to achieve mastery. Jiu-jitsu is difficult enough on its own, don’t impose ridiculous standards on yourself to make it feel even harder.
Jiu-jitsu is great for people who struggle with anxiety. It forces you to live in the moment, and the list of people who tout jiu-jitsu’s effectiveness as a de-stressor is endless; However, if you can’t overcome your anxiety about going to class, the benefit it could give you will remain out of reach. So, take a deep breath, and get out on the mats. Have fun and grow at your own pace. One day, the mats will probably become your favorite place to be.
Written by John Brashear.
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