“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
If I had to describe with one word what (in my mind) is required for a successful journey in jiu jitsu, I would have to say: patience.
I find the idea of “no ego” misleading in the short-term, when trying to figure out how to live day-to-day life. It’s like telling a kid in a candy store to have no ego. For myself, it’s better to tell that inner kid to be patient and instead give him a salad.
Speaking of patience, you will probably need a lot of it in order to get through this post, so instead, just skip ahead to the parts you find more interesting:
1. Working on a New Technique in Training
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
– Winston Churchill
Learning a new technique (or position/concept) in training requires that you stick to that new technique even when it is failing, in order to learn how and why it is failing. The result, however, is you might do a lot worse in training than you usually would. For example, I’ve been working on a weird cross-collar grip while passing. Conceptually this solves a few problems in my game, but for a while it was allowing many people to off-balance me and sweep me easily. Every time I got swept, I learned something. But I’m also human, so if I get swept, I get a little frustrated, and patience is the process of silencing that frustration and sticking to the new technique anyway. By the way, I’m not in the school of thought that says frustration is bad. Frustration is good. Frustration is the fire that inspires progress.
2. Survival: Escaping Bad Positions
This was a tough one for me, still is, especially in competition. As a wrestler, my instinct has always been to act in all bad positions as a wrestler acts when he is getting turned to his back. Basically: go berserk. This is often not a good idea in jiu jitsu.
The moment you stop going berserk, you also have to face that weak-ass negative voice inside yourself that says: “Shit, shit, damn it. I’m losing. I’m going to lose.” I have seen some incredible competitors, more often than I ever expected, get in trouble by being swept, get their back taken, or even put into submissions, and… escape to eventually win the match.
The kind of patience required here is very zen. It’s a calm under fire, staying relaxed and focused on defending. Jiu jitsu is a game where taking a step back is sometimes required in order to take two steps forward. As absurd as it may sound, it is difficult to dominate in good positions without the confidence that you can defend yourself in bad positions.
3. Stalemate in Training or Competition
There are several kinds of stalemates in jiu jitsu. One is because the other guy is blatantly stalling by having a controlling grip or position and yet not making any effort to progress from that position. Patience is required here because a lot of guys that do this are waiting for you to make a mistake and capitalize on it.
The second type of stalemate is when you and your opponent are evenly matched in a particular position, both with a controlling grip, and constantly battling to progress position without success. It goes on back and forth: attack, defend, attack, defend. Especially in competition, there is a big temptation here to throw in an unorthodox attack because your main A-game is being defended well. Patience is required here to stick to the game plan, stick to your strength. Unless you have a wild open style, leave improvisation for the academy and keep to well-tested techniques on the competition mat.
The last kind of stalemate is a tricky one, and comes from experience. In competition, you have to face a lot of different games and sometimes you get a weird feeling about a particular position. It may be one you’ve been in many times, but this particular opponent is doing it slightly differently. Patience is required here to “test the waters” and feel out what the opponent is looking for or maybe backup and try a completely different strategy of attack. Follow your instinct, but ignore irrational fear, if you can tell the difference between the two.
I’ll go to chess for a brilliant example of the third kind of stalemate. The following is a world chess champ V. Anand taking almost 2 minutes to think over a standard early position during a world blitz game (where he is given a total of 5 minutes to make all the moves in the game). Why did he wait so long to make such a simple move? Because something was off. His instinct told him to rethink the position and he was confident enough to calmly follow his instinct without letting the pressure of the clock break his focus.
4. Tournaments: Getting There, Waiting There
When you sign up for a tournament, most of your competition experience is not spent on the mat competing. You will spend anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days in transportation to and from the tournament (cars, trains, or planes). Once at the venue you will spend an average of about 6 hours at the tournament site, registering, weighing in, warming up, waiting for your first match, waiting between matches. And all that is for one division.
If you decide to do gi and no-gi, or weight and absolute, you can easily show up at 10am and leave at 9pm for a nice 11 hour experience. That’s a lot of dead time. Patience here is required in the same way as in any situation that needs waiting for a long time in an uncomfortable environment: relax and make yourself comfortable.
5. Losing in Competition
Reality is a bitch. And nothing hands you a cold hard dose of reality like losing in competition. Some people blame the ref. Some people blame cutting weight or not cutting weight. Some people blame doing adult instead of masters. And all these could be legitimate reasons, but deep inside you know: you fucked up. This knowledge will stay with you for days, weeks, and in some cases months. Patience here is required in order to channel the pain of that knowledge into productive learning and training, and not into self-pity and clever excuse-making.
6. Training Around an Injury
Damn this is already a long post, so I’ll hurry up, just three more…
Training injured is a big part of jiu jitsu. If I took time off every time I lightly hurt something I would never train. I have not been seriously hurt (yet) after 4 years of lots of competing, but take my advice for what it is: an opinion. My opinion is that the best way to avoid serious injury is to never take a lot of time off. If you take time off from the mat, you have to be drilling on a dummy or alone or doing yoga-type movements that mimic grappling at least remotely.
But if you are slightly banged up, you have to train around that injury. Patience here is required in order to take the ego hit from not being able to roll 100% or sometimes even close to it. In the grand scheme of things, your guard being passed by a white belt for a few days/weeks does not even come close to mattering, if it means you get to continue training, and living the happy healthy jiu jitsu life.
7. Training with a “Dangerous” Training Partner
The previous one (#6) also applies for training with a “dangerous” training partner. Some people are VERY aggressive or spazzy or just not sensitive to the music of jiu jitsu. Training hard and training rough are very different things. You want to train hard not rough. So if a person has hurt you in the past, you should not try to go HARDER this time. You should go lighter. Let them submit you a few times if ego is an issue at all. If you are training for competition, you should still go hard but the #1 goal should be get from safe position to safe position without injury. Again, my opinion. Take it for what it is.
8. Training When You’re Mentally Worn Out
This is one I deal with often personally, especially at this stage in my life. I have a lot of deadlines at work, and really my whole life at this time is my work, so sometimes the lack of sleep spills over to my training. Add women on top of that, and the idea of being mentally engaged in 1+ hours of hard rolling with purple, brown, and black belts is just… tough. Patience here is required to suck it up, enjoy the grind, and train your ass off through the mental exhaustion with a beautiful fucking smile on your face.