Imagine if you will, a particularly tough night at BJJ class. You walked out feeling destroyed. Maybe during class, you struggled to perform a drill your coach used to set up the technique. Whether it’s half guard or the berimbolo, the first time you perform a technique, with zero muscle memory, it can be pretty awkward.
“I HAVE TO DO WHAT WITH MY WHAT?!?”
For whatever reason, you couldn’t get your limbs and body coordinated to perform the move correctly. Maybe the technique was particularly challenging, with lots of steps that didn’t come naturally at first and you found yourself getting more and more frustrated as class went on. If it was a class on leg locks, don’t even get me started.
“ASHI BASHI KAZUSHI WOOSHI”
After class, you decide to stay for open mat, or after class sparring. About three minutes in you are already regretting your decision. The lower belt you’re working with seems to have progressed exponentially since the last time you rolled with them, while all of your skills seem to have been forgotten. It’s like you can do nothing successfully during your matches. At the end of the session, you pick yourself up, dress and jump in the car for the commute home wondering why you seem to suck so bad.
“Are you there Helio?…It’s me Margaret”
If you’ve been training more than a week, then it doesn’t take much to imagine these kind of evenings. It goes without saying that BJJ is an extremely difficult activity to become proficient at and even when you are proficient, it’s extremely difficult to know you are proficient because there’s always another training partner or opponent that can edge you out in a match.
In these moments of dejection and self-doubt, it’s important to remember a few key things about jiu jitsu and life in general. The old cliche, we’re never as good or as bad as we think we are, is never more apparent than after a tough training session. It is these tough training sessions that can ultimately teach us the most about ourselves and help us the most.
Here are a few things that it’s important to do after you feel like you’ve been destroyed in class? By following these guidelines, you will have a much better experience on your way to black belt. And spoiler alert–these feelings won’t go away when you’re a black belt. How do you think the world class athletes who did not reach the podium at the IBJJF World Championships feel this week? It’s important to always keep these things in perspective.
After any tough training session, you need to catch your breath and remember to be thankful. What should you be thankful for? First and foremost, be thankful to yourself for showing up to class. No matter how you did in class, you’re doing better than nearly everyone else who is sitting on the coach or talking about training someday. It takes a lot of commitment to show up day after day and humble oneself on the mats.
You should also be thankful that you came out of a training session feeling destroyed. Imagine for a moment if everyday you went to train and you were able to dominate and tap everyone in the room. Ultimately, what would that do for your jiu jitsu? It’s important to have training partners, coaches, etc. who are better than us or have things to teach us that we are not proficient at. That’s the point of constantly working to better ourselves.
No matter what your belt level, you are going to get tapped. You are going to make mistakes and find yourself in bad spots. To think that as you progress, you become somehow impervious to submissions, is a delusion. High color belts and blacks may seem to walk on water when you’re just starting out, but when you get there, you will find that you are not invincible and can still make mistakes and get caught.
Reflect On the Session
Once you’ve realized how important it is to have the right mindset about a challenging training session by being thankful for being put in a position where you can improve, it’s time to sit down and do some reflection. Skipping this step, will definitely hold back your progression. By taking a hard look at what you can do better, what you can improve on, and also recognizing what you did right, you will keep a constant improvement-oriented mindset that will make you a better grappler over time.
So on that drive home, or in the shower, or vegging out in front of the TV, take some time and think back to the things or areas you felt like you made mistakes. What are the things that were in your control? Where did you go wrong? What did you do right? Own your performance, make no excuses, and you will go a long way towards getting better with just that mindset and reflective exercise.
Formulate a Plan
Once you’ve reflected on the good, the bad, and the ugly from the training session, you’ve got to ask yourself “What can you do to fix those areas?” Overwhelmingly, the plan will most likely involve “More Training” somewhere in the course of the agenda. Be as specific as you can. If your guard was repeatedly passed, what can you do to get more guard retention practice? Maybe schedule some extra training with friends and training partners and work on guard retention exercises or drills.
If your game plan was haphazard and discombobulated maybe it’s time to schedule a private session with your coach or instructor to have them help you develop a cohesive game plan that fits your current skills and style of BJJ. This investment can do a lot to help speed up your progress and save you a lot of time going through a normal process of trial and error. Your instructor and coaches have been observing you and know what you like to do, both in a good way and a bad way. They’re going to give you a handful of things that you can begin to implement right away that will help make those tough sessions more palatable.
Perhaps during the session, one of your training partners or opponents used some technique that you’ve not had much experience with. Maybe they utilized a unique half guard pass that you’ve never encountered, or perhaps they utilized some John Danaher style leg attacks on you. Rather than shake your fist at the sky, start doing some research. Check out resources online and even better head over to BJJ Fanatics and check out the dozens and dozens of online and dvd BJJ resources available to educate you on the widest variety of positions.
Get Back On the Mats
The absolute worst thing that you can do after a tough training session is not come back to class as soon as humanly possible. If you are normally scheduled to train the next day, then get right back onto the mats. By missing training, you are doing nothing beneficial for your jiu jitsu development and you are defeating yourself as a grappler. The old saying, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail, should be recast into “most of the time, you’re the nail”. That’s how it is supposed to be. That is why the jiu jitsu black belt is so meaningful. If you wanted easy, you’d do something else, almost anything else.
So how do you go about minimizing these tough training sessions? First off, don’t wish them away, as Tom DeBlass is fond of saying, it is the tough days that teach us the most and reveal the best things about us as grapplers. Secondly, focus more on how you look at these tough sessions, rather than trying to escape them. Accept them as a fact of life on your journey to black belt and beyond. By being thankful, reflecting on what you can fix and then putting a plan together to fix it, you will go a long way to having more fun on the road to your goals.
You will also want to take advantage of the new instructional series by the legendary Bernardo Faria, Foundations of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Bernardo is a five time world champion and one of the most sought after instructors in the world. As one of the sports most accomplished competitors, he has done something that many athletes are unable to do. He has been able to translate his BJJ knowledge in a way that is applicable to EVERYONE. You do not need to be a gifted athlete to benefit from Bernardo’s knowledge. Do not miss this one. You will not be disappointed.