5 Things You Can Do To Propel Your JiuJitsu Competence
1) Work on building healthier habits
Big surprise! Being healthier enables you to push yourself harder and more often on the mats. A few key habits that will offer the biggest benefits are, in fact, the most basic. Get your 8 hours of sleep. Avoid eating 2 hours before going to bed. Avoid going to bed intoxicated. Avoid your phone and screens before bed. Its not easy, but its honest work! Avoiding those things will allow you to sleep deeper and for longer. A few students of mine use Whoop to track their sleep and athletic performance, and it’s always incredibly clear when they’ve slacked off on these rituals, with the “recovery tracker” feature in their app. Eat well! A healthy diet is easier than you might think. No, you don't need to follow the latest and greatest trendy diets on instagram. Keto, carnivore, vegan, and the rest. Nice! Not necessary. I’m no professional, but I’ve had great personal trainers help me with my diet and it’s paid dividends. Here's a link to some suggestions from one of those trainers. See "Reach Habits". Eating well is one of the most common things you’ll hear of when looking for “the secret” to better jiujitsu. I mean seriously, why do you think the Gracie’s had a Gracie diet?! You don’t need to follow the Gracie diet to become a black belt, but avoiding the DisGracie diet would be in your best interests. Trans fats, sugar, wheat, and those pesky vegetable oils that are highly processed are some of the worst impacts on your mat goals. There will always be outliers; the guys showing up absolutely fried to train, and smoking their opposition as quickly as they smoked whatever they smoked before class. That doesn’t mean you need to hit the local dispensary stat, it probably just means they’re good at jiujitsu already, and may or may not be abusing marijuana. Competent jiujitsu, check. Healthy habits...? I’m not trying to hate on the ole devil’s lettuce, you can abuse just about anything, these days! Their glove may not fit your hand, and that's fine. We're here to improve your jiujitsu after all - not theirs. Okay, you eat well, you sleep well, you enjoy your recreational drugs with reason, and you have the whole 9 set up. You still suck at jiujitsu. Cheeseburger Chad is making fun of your post training asparagus dinner. How can you get the upper hand? Tap into your network! You should...
2) Ask questions.
Ask. Questions! If your instructor isn’t fond of extra questions after training, either find another coach or find someone else! Especially early on, you can learn from just about everyone else in the room, anyways! Someone submits you. “How did you do that?” is a great way to respond. If you want to save that for later, or don’t want to impose it on them during the round, “Can you show me what you did after class?” will do just fine. This is how I learned a huge amount of jiujitsu early on. Asking the senior students, purple, brown, black belts, how they submitted you, or maybe simply what you could improve on, will open your mind to another perspective you wouldn’t have come across for a while yet if you hadn’t another mind to help you. Sometimes, all you need is another perspective. Not everyone will be receptive to these questions, might try to sell you a private, or might honestly not have the time. Keep asking. Ask someone else. If you ask each black belt in the room for their favourite tip or trick from side control, you’ll get insight to improving your own. You’ll learn things far sooner with the help of someone who’s spent more time on the mats than you. Chances are, they had similar help when they were newer to the sport, and would love to help you. If they think they should withhold all knowledge until paid, they should probably read more about business. Maybe you have the funds for a private! Would you rather pay someone who was more than happy to help you early on, or would you prefer to pay the person who thinks of you as a dollar figure, thinking of ways to sell the most amount of privates to teach you something that may only take one lesson. Ask, ask, ask. People will say no, people will say yes. They’ll see you’re trying to improve yourself, and that’s what everyone likes to see. I read of a story of someone’s broken down car. Their car broke down, and they were upset that no one on the freeway pulled over to lend them a hand. “Selfish,” he thought. He called a tow truck, and was on his way, salty as ever. While in the tow truck passenger seat, he passed by another stalled car. To his surprise, he saw people pulling over to lend the man a hand. Why? The man was already outside, pushing his own car, trying to solve the issue proactively. People want to help people who are proactive. People are far less likely to help someone pouty and looking for detours to competence. Do your due diligence, set your standards, and live up to them. Be someone you’d like to be around, and then...
3) Look For Likeminded Individuals, or “Accountability Buddies”
This one is, while not necessary, one of my favourites. Finding someone that will hold you mutually accountable to showing up, giving your all, and being consistent is a great way to make sure you can make it through the “blue belt blues”... when you realize you suck, and you see the mountain of effort and time it’ll take to suck less, and you decide Krav Maga might have been the better choice (it isn’t). You and your chosen buddy can set up some off hour drilling sessions (if you gym allows it, otherwise... get some mats for your home), set up a schedule where you can both be present, and open a line of communication to chat about what your individually having trouble with in your games. Your buddy may have an answer to one of the problems you’re facing on the mats. A lot of people get anxious, whether socially or otherwise, to go to jiujitsu class. Having a buddy that you know will be there to support you is one of the easiest ways to conquer that anxiety and make sure you can feel good about hitting that session. When you skip out on a session, they’ll be on your ass. When they can’t make it, you’re on theirs. Metaphorically. You rely on one another to bring their A-game, to show up and put the work in, and to adhere to the schedules you guys can agree on. When they catch you slacking off in training, they can remind you of your goals.
You can learn something from everyone, but when you find the core few who have similar goals, you can find and build the community you guys will thrive in best organically. The competitors will meet in the mornings and get their hard training in (at least, the serious ones). The casuals will meet up in the evenings after work, and a good number of them stay after class exchanging techniques and conversation. I’m not suggesting you find your “clique” like Mean Girls, but rather a few individuals who know and understand your goals, and have agreed to help you accomplish yours if you aid in their journeys, as well. For example, a “casual” or someone who does this for enjoyment and hobby, might happen upon a tournament poster and get intrigued. He may not be able to hit the early morning competition sessions, and may not feel he will be made ready through the standard evening classes. What’s the solution? Your network of likeminded individuals. This could also be your accountability buddy, and maybe you established this buddy for the sole purpose of committing to the upcoming event. Whatever the scenario is, you guys are in it together, and you guys can decide to find time to get some extra preparation in when and how you can. Extra drills after class, asking your gym’s competitors for help or drill ideas, maybe a private lesson. Inquiring to your gym staff about whether there is a competition class catered to people such as yourselves, looking to get a peek into the competitive culture of jiujitsu, to be prepared and to learn the rules of the sport. Together you’ll be stronger. Together you’ll set a great example, and before you know it, you’ll have a small community growing into a bigger one with more likeminded individuals inspired to aspire to compete or test themselves how they see fit. Now, how do you prepare for a tournament? Well...
4) Keep it fun, but competitive
Relax! Not every training session needs to be Worlds Finals! Just because you signed up for the Ontario Open doesn’t mean you can’t crack a smile. Not every session should be a social gathering, either! There is a happy medium in which you can get quality preparation in for your next event, while still finding joy in the process. Having a fun approach to competition training sessions may not always be an appropriate approach, but its not burning the candles on both ends, either. You’ve probably seen it at your local academy; the competitors going really hard in training, only to finish the round and assume a resting “I suck” face. Let’s call it RISF. These individuals expect to have their cake and eat it too, every training session. Michael Jordan demanded greatness, why shouldn’t everybody else? Michael Jordan also talked notorious trash to his peers and competitors. I’d tally some of that under the “keep it fun” category. A good attitude can make or break a group environment, and the leaders within the group have the most infectious energy of all.
The demeanor of the leader finds its way into the attitude of the group, and the same goes for the senior participants, anyone who’s being looked up to by the rest of the bunch. Cursing, becoming visibly upset and frustrated, or storming out of a session is a great way to guarantee you lose the interest of people training with you happily, or you build their desire to roll you even harder. It comes off as you expecting that you should consistently be molliwopping the rest of the room, and the fact that you aren’t is so unfathomable that you lose control of your emotions. Not unlike the child in the cookie section of Loblaws throwing a tantrum about Oreos. Don’t let this be you. If this is you, you shouldn’t reject the word or advice from your peers following the incident. “Its just training,” “you did well,” “everyone has bad days,” whatever commonality you’re being told, rejection of their olive branch won’t inspire them to continue trying to help you, or train with you. Everyone should have bad days. Everyone should get smashed on occasion! As has been said, “if you’re the smartest in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” The same goes with jiujitsu; if you’re the only one not tapping, you are probably in the wrong room. Maybe we call that one “hammer syndrome”. You can be the hammer happily, but as soon as you’re the nail, you get bent out of shape.
So you need to relax more, great! You can also be too relaxed. If you’re spending more time talking than rolling, maybe wait until the training’s finished to talk about how the Raps are doing. Mind you, a little smack talk has, for me, generally always made the training more fun, more competitive, and more interesting. Between friends it’s a great tool to get a friendly wager up on the round. You’ve got to recognize who you can and can’t take this approach with, as not everyone is as kind towards chirping as others. In my experience, it helps to keep the vibe light, while promoting a competitive environment that everyone can enjoy. People watching on the sides will be enjoying the spectacle, you and your friend can have a verbal and grappling back-and-forth, and upon submission, a little salt on the wound. Big deal. Get them back next time. I’ve found this also helps negate the big bad “hammer syndrome” as you realize that one moment’s triumph can be the next moment’s tragedy, and vice versa. All of a sudden, tragedies are hardly an inconvenience, and triumphs are simply positive reinforcement. When the entire room can have fun, train hard, and work together, chemistry will improve, more people will be interested in joining, and all ships will rise together.
5) Don’t sweat the technique
Aside from a throwback track, this is sound advice. If you’re always focused on how poorly you’re performing, especially in comparison to others, you’ll be hard pressed to find yourself enjoying your time on the mats. To me, “Don’t sweat the technique” doesn’t mean not caring about whether your technique is performed well or not, but on finding enjoyment in simply doing your best. You don’t have to be the best. You just need to DO your best. If you do your best, great! You can go home happy and with a clear conscience. If you didn’t give it your best, it’s not that you shouldn’t be happy. It’s more so that you shouldn’t be unhappy. Why? You didn’t do your best!!! There are days where you decide before the session that you’ll be moving and training at a leisurely pace, with no pressure put on the effort you expend during training. Many times, those are my favourite sessions. Sunday afternoons, kicking it with my friends on the mats, and getting a few rolls in. I’m okay with offering my partners positions they would have a tough time getting on me otherwise here. I’m okay with tapping. I’m okay with having a laugh on the side or during the round. If you believe that every single time you train, you need to be deadly serious... I’m not sure what to tell ya! That’s all good and well, but there are occasions that call for or allow for a relaxed, social environment where everyone can get some good rounds in while enjoying eachother’s presence. Have a laugh, have a choke, have a tap. Remember what lead you to the sport. Were you looking for something to make you extra critical on yourself, to help you develop neuroticism to the extent that a pajama wrestling contest can have you out of your wits? Wait, what? You did? Right on... Nevermind then! Carry on. Oh, you’re joking. Ha ha.
If you can’t train without leaving the academy unhappy, maybe it’s something you need some extra help with. A therapist, whether general or sport, might be able to help you understand why you have trouble mentally on the mats. Are you expecting to do as well as someone else? Are you trying to uphold an imaginary image of yourself? Are your standards excessive, and are your habits supporting them? You might need an extra pair of eyes and ears to help you figure it out, or journaling your thoughts after training sessions good and bad might help expose the culprit. There’s certainly nothing wrong with therapy, but there’s definitely something wrong with joining a gym to gain a positive experience, skill, and to network, only to have a bad time, get in the way of your own improvement, and to burn bridges along the way. Maybe your coach can help you here, as well. They might’ve dealt with something similar!
There you have it. There are 5 things I believe can set the tone to bring you more success on the mats, to whatever extent you’d like. Whether hitting the top of the podium, or simply improving your guard, these 5 will surely help you along the way. Jiujitsu is an excellent tool to improve your life. I’ve seen it become the “why” for countless people to fix up their diets and examine their current habits. I’ve seen it help improve their social skills, get comfortable in their own skin, and become confident folks. I’ve also seen it drag people into the depths of “not good enough”. Unfortunately, its fairly common, and I surmise it’s not just jiujitsu that people bring these attitudes towards. Anything you do is everything you do, how you approach A is generally how you’ll approach Z. Granted, how you are now is not how you will be, forever. Unless you opt not to take action. Life is too short, and we’ll be dead for so long! Don’t waste time with negative thoughts on a niche sport you picked up for fun. Set the example for your peers, and help them along their journeys. Should you ever be the one needing a hand, they’ll be willing and pleased to support you.