I would need many pairs of hands to count how many times I wanted to quit BJJ, or anything else for that matter for which I’d put in a great deal of effort and did not receive the results I was expecting. There comes a time for every single jiujiteiro when they feel like they are backtracking instead of progressing. And out of utter frustration, many just feel like giving up entirely. But have you ever heard a black belt, or any other high level grappler tell you that it was easy? Did anyone ever approach you and say Jiu-Jitsu is a cake-walk — that you might only break into a small sweat? We all know that this is clearly not the case. But there comes a point for most when you feel like you’re putting in maximum effort for little result.
But don’t fret! Everyone goes through rough patches.
At one point, I wanted to quit BJJ when a new student joined my academy claiming to have no experience in martial arts, and turned out to be an amazing grappler. The young woman had no previous experience in BJJ, although she said she had done some kick-boxing in the past. At the time, I was doing everything I could to be in good shape for Jiu-Jitsu, such as micro-managing my diet, eating clean, lifting weights to strengthen my body on off days, and attending practice religiously. After training at the academy for less than two weeks, the new recruit was submitting me left, right and center in practice. Of course, the right thing to do was not to turn my feelings of surprise and defeat into frustration and anger. But at one point, I gazed at her through my mangled hair, the sweat clouding my vision, and said, “Wow, you’re amazing, how did you get to be so good so quickly?!”
Here I was doing everything right, and waiting for that “Aha!” moment to celebrate my achievements. But instead I felt the complete opposite. It made me want to quit BJJ, because I couldn’t possibly understand how a new student could submit me with such great ease. Maybe my BJJ game wasn’t good to begin with, and I would just have to go back to the drawing board. After going back in forth with the idea of taking a break, or going back to practice, I realized how much Jiu-Jitsu has impacted my life. I thought about it when I bought groceries at the corner store, when I washed dishes and when I cooked. I was clearly obsessed and decided to give it another shot.
And that was my “Aha!” moment — when I realized that progress is not the end goal. Many jiujiteiros believe their BJJ experience will get better with a higher belt, or a shiny gold medal, that those “things” will translate to dedication or achievement. When you get the blue belt, you want the purple, and so on. But this isn’t the proper mindset for training. Jiu-Jitsu is never a straight-line journey, and even the use of the word “journey” is wrong, because there’s no destination or end, not even when you receive the coveted black belt.
Some days are going to be your best and some days will be your worst — much like all things in life. It’s not possible to be perfect at every practice, but what you can control is how you deal with the situation.
Jiu-Jitsu has given me the opportunity to grow, mentally and physically, helping me overcome barriers I didn’t think I could ever break down. One example is my lack of flexibility. By training Jiu-Jitsu, I surprised myself. I pushed through my comfort zone, and kept trying even when I felt I looked ridiculous. And, in the end, I was able to do it. The moral of my story is that before you decide you’ve had enough and are ready to quit, ask yourself how much BJJ has impacted your life. Are you going to quit when all things get tough? Pushing through even when it feels impossible to go on, will change you in ways that will surprise you.
There is no destination in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and chasing perfection is never going to make your experience authentic. Don’t compare yourself to others, and in moments of defeat, take a step back to look at where you can improve, and what you can learn, rather than dwell on your lack of skill.
And remember this: A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.