What’s the one thing that virtually all highly skilled and very successful athletes have in common? It’s true that dedication, work ethic, resilience etc are all essential qualities, but I think underlying all of those is one singular attribute; passion. It isn’t enough that you train hard, become skilled and apply those skills to win. You have to miss the mats when you’re away from them, you have to LOVE what you’re doing. The greats like Marcelo Garcia treat their Jiu Jitsu like it were a high-maintenance lover, who will not be satisfied with anything less than their full attention when they’re together. Jiu Jitsu will build you up and break your heart, but it’ll always be there, giving you all the feels so long as you’re always pouring your best into it. There’s a lot that goes into becoming a champ, but among those things are following the three Principles of Passion: Be physically present as much as possible, be mentally present at all times and don’t dwell on failure.
Not everyone can train 2-3 times per day, six or seven days a week like Keenan or the Miyaos, that’s a given, but you gotta show up! Time to spare for the mats is one of the toughest hurdles to clear for a lot of folks, but if you want to be more than just ‘OK’ at BJJ, you need to put the time in. There’s a saying I really like, and the longer I train the more sense it makes: “You can’t cheat the grind”. You really can’t, especially in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There’s no secrets, no special techniques and it doesn’t matter how strong you are. If you can’t execute a technique properly, if your skill level is lower than that of your opponent’s, you lose. Plain and simple. You have to put the mat time in- and a lot of it- to get good.
To some this is painfully obvious, but to many there’s a disconnect, here. I’ve spoken about the high attrition rate in Jiu Jitsu before, and expanded a bit on why people leave, but at the heart of a lot of the insecurities that lead to people quitting is fundamentally a lack of mat time, resulting in a lack of skill. Pretty straight forward, but some folks don’t get it and wind up stunting or halting their growth with an inconsistent and uncommitted training schedule. Commit to your training. Most people have jobs that prevent them from training all day everyday, but do yourself a favour and set aside at least 3 training sessions a week. More is fantastic, but realistically speaking, consistent growth is possible if you agree to commit at least 3 good quality mat sessions per week and stick with it over time.
Being mentally present every time you hit the mats is just as important as physically getting on the mats, but for some this is even harder than making it out in the first place. Most of us struggle with mental presence; we’re constantly thinking about a number of things in our lives while we perform unrelated tasks. This is one of the beautiful features of our impressively complex brains, but it doesn’t allow us to focus properly at the task at hand. When you step on the mats, you need to consciously decide that you would rather be nowhere else in the world than there, doing nothing else but training Jiu Jitsu. For some people this comes really easy. They just slap hands, and their problems melt away. For others, mental presence is a skill to learn like any other, and it takes practise to master. If you’re preoccupied with how much you hate your job, your financial stresses or family issues, you can’t pour your full attention into your Jiu Jitsu. We all have problems, and we all need to practise leaving those problems in the changeroom with our street clothes. It’s not simple to do, but it can be done and it’s a necessary step on the path to greatness.
There are tons of ways to practise and accomplish mental presence. Do what works best for you. For myself, I like to think in pictures, and I’m a product of my time, so I’ve had a lot of success by replacing imposing thoughts with a quick flash of Grumpy Cat as my cue to re-focus. Other folks use meditation or different, less meme-based forms of visualizations to get their minds back to the mats. However you accomplish it, and however long it takes, discipline your mind to focus only on Jiu Jitsu when you’re on the mats.
Failure is an unavoidable fact of life. You probably wont fail at everything you do, but from the day you’re born to the day you kick the pail, you will fail multiple times at many things. What sets successful and exceptional people apart from everyone else is their ability to move on from failure, even catastrophic failure. You’ll probably never experience catastrophic failure in BJJ, but you will taste defeat again and again. What will set you apart from everyone else will be how quickly you let those failures roll off you, and how well you turn the negativity of those experiences into something positive. My first loss at a competition floored me. I dwelled on my loss for a few weeks, and I drove my coach up the wall in the process. I kept clawing for reasons why I lost: I need to roll with a larger variety of bodies, I need to lift weights, I had the wrong kind of tights on…blah blah blah. To my coach it was simple why I lost- I didn’t sweep when I should have, I need to work more on sweeps. Determine what led to your loss and pick away at it. Move forward, make something useful out of something crappy and don’t cry over it. Easier said than done, but it’s doable and essential to your growth both on and off the mats.