It occurs in all levels. White belts, blue, purple, brown, black belts, students, teachers, amateurs, professionals. Without taking anything out of your own problems and frustrations, we all have it.
For every student that comes up to me and tells me about these frustrations and asks for guidance, there are at least 10 that keep it to themselves. So I decided to write about these frustrations, why do they occur, how to deal with them and how to make progress despite them. Everyone is in a different part of their journey, and yet, everyone has some form of frustration and I think that everyone can take something out of this text. I am writing about Jiu Jitsu, but it is relevant to every sport, and every frustrating struggle you have in your life.
It is natural to feel this way. Because BJJ is important to you. You invest time, money, energy and even health, and in the end, you expect to enjoy the fruits of your labor and be the best version of yourself.
I never knew a person who is happy with their progress. No matter the level and no matter if he trains 6 times a week in the academy, 2 times a week in his basement and watches instructionals all day at work. No one has ever said “I am currently happy with the rate of my progress and I would not like to make more progress.” It is natural.
BJJ is frustrating at any level. Only in the last month, 2 white belts, 2 blue belts and one purple belt came to me for advice regarding their progress. Even I, at my level, the one who gives the advice, am having my frustrations. Both as a Jiu Jitero and as a teacher.
White belts have it hard. From day one they keep getting beat by EVERYONE and it is just so confusing and complicated at first. When they think that they start getting the hang of it, someone who joined 2 months after them, gets them.
Blue belt has the highest percentage of quitting in most academies. When you are a white belts, your excuse for failure (in your own mind) is “I am still a white belt. I am still a beginner.” When you are a blue belt? No more excuses. And there is nothing more frustrating than getting caught by a white belt. What is your excuse now? There are a lot of frustrations at blue belt.
Purple belt.. Brown belt.. Even Black belt!
You NEED to be the best in your academy. Everybody wants to get a submission on a black belt. No one goes easy on you. You are never the underdog. You are expected to know every position and every detail.
And an instructor? You are opened to a whole new deeper level of frustrations.
Every time you show a technique, every detail you teach, every sentence that is coming out of your mouth is being criticized by dozens of people in class. Some of them have years of experience. Judo black belts, wrestlers, Krav Maga instructors, other BJJ academies. Every detail you show is scrutinized by dozens set of eyes again and again in every repetition, and you NEED to have the answers to all those questions that put everything you said to the test. Every guy with an internet connection watches all the world champions teach their own way and can ask you “Keenan said that this technique doesn’t work in competition because of reasons. Who is wrong you or him??”
BJJ is hard and frustrating. But as much as it is hard, it is satisfying and rewarding when you succeed. Because true satisfaction and reward, comes only through hard work and effort. No real satisfaction in winning the white belts kids division when you are an adult purple belt.
Now that I made you all very happy and cheerful about how BJJ will be frustrating IN EVERY STEP OF YOUR JOURNEY, I will try to give you some tips to deal with it, and how to keep getting better, despite of it.
First of all, be more forgiving to yourself. Everyone is progressing in a different rate. Understanding in a different way. Making the connection between the theory and the physical application in a different way. Different levels of athleticism, different levels of Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Don’t compare yourselves to others. I know it’s hard to do, especially in BJJ. Because we measure ourselves with spars against other people, and you can’t do it any other way. But you need to measure yourself today, against who you were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago. That is your true evaluation.
Not everyone is progressing in the same rate. There is a misconception in BJJ that if you start in the same time you are in the same level. If one of you misses 1 week that means that the other person will always be “1 week worth” better than him. That’s not how it works. That’s why when you spar with someone from another academy you always ask “how long have you been training?” To understand where do I stand in comparison to him.
When they ask you how long do you train you reply “well, in total I train for 1 year and 2 months but I’ve hurt my shoulder once and there was a time I trained only once a week because of the exams so basically I REALLY train only 6 months.”
This is like a legitimization for my loss to this guy, who said he trains 8 months. So I am in the clear. He basically trains more than me.
That doesn’t work like that guys. I’ve had this student (who, by the way, is no longer training because the frustrations were too much for him) who just couldn’t understand how to forward roll. That roll over the shoulder we do EVERY WARM UP. He had to come every lesson for 3 weeks, 30 minutes before class, and practice with me, that forward roll until he understood it. Some people see me demonstrate it once and then immediately, in their FIRST TRY ever, succeed, without any explanation from me.
There are certain individuals that can see a video on Youtube, understand it, and execute it in live sparring without even drilling it first. And other individuals can learn a technique, drill it 50 times, drill it 50 more times in another lesson and still won’t be able to execute it in live sparring. We are built differently.
We all know that famous inspiring quote by Conor Mcgregor:
“There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equal as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that is that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.”
I hope you all understand that it is all bullshit, right? It is nice to put it on Instagram with your picture roaring like a lion with you magnificent ginger beard and be inspiring to all those children who look up to you. It is a beautiful message that says “anyone can do anything”.
Well, it is a beautiful message, it can motivate, but it is false. Anyone can’t do ANYTHING they want. Not every boy or girl in this planet can submit Gordon Ryan just because they work hard every day and believe in themselves very very hard.
This message, if you don’t understand that it is false, can be toxic.
Because every time you’ll fail, you’ll blame yourself. “I didn’t give enough. I didn’t do enough. I didn’t train hard enough. I didn’t want it bad enough”. Give yourself a break man.
I don’t say give up when it’s hard and don’t strive to anything with the excuse “I am not talented like the local Nicky Ryan –like teen in my academy so I shouldn’t even try”. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you have to take in proportion your progress in relation to the amount of time that you can invest. BJJ is not only mat time. It is nutrition, fitness, sleep routine, mindset, lifestyle. Not everyone is there. Our goal is to be the best we can be, in the time frame that we are able to invest in.
Most of you are training 2 times a week, juggling through jobs, school, family, kids, and other hobbies. Be more forgiving.
You want to be a world champion? You want to be a teacher? Then I’ll write other things as advice for you. Because if you want to be a world champion, you need to walk in the path of champions, and it is not a forgiving path.
HAVE FUN IN TRAINING! If you come to class in constant frustration because of the lack of content from yourself, then you are doing something wrong, or you don’t need to train. With all of my love for BJJ, if it makes you unhappy, and more frustration than fulfilment and satisfaction, then this is not the field that you need to invest your time in. It might not be worth it. And that’s coming from a guy making a living of making you come train.
This frustration is making a loop of frustration and lack of motivation.
You don’t come to class. You feel like you are making no progress, you get frustrated. You are frustrated so you are unmotivated to come to class. You miss classes… and the loop feeds itself.
BJJ should be the highlight of your week. You need to leave class with a big smile. Because you learned something new and you had fun.
True enjoyment will come as soon as you will be more forgiving to yourselves. Then you will allow yourselves to have fun and progress in your own rhythm, not being in constant pursuit of “how good I could’ve been” that comes with self-abasement and guilt.
In part 2 I will try to give some practical advice. What can you do to progress in BJJ and why, in my opinion, you are more in-charge of your own progress than your teacher.
Written by Timur Ouzlaner of Timura BJJ
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