Often we see articles outlining the top things we must learn when we start studying BJJ, like the Triumvirate of Tap (triangle, armbar, omoplata), RNC, how to break guard and how to regain your own guard. But what about the OTHER stuff, the things you weren’t prepared for, the little lessons out of left field that really test our character? Here’s my list of things that have no obvious link to BJJ, but you’re gonna need them if you’re going to survive.
1 Humility. Yeah, we hear this a lot, eh? “Stay humble”, “Ego isn’t your amigo” and so on. It’s absolutely true! Tapping sucks, tapping all day long sucks more, and knowing you’re going to show up to class and tap to someone better than you for several months is disheartening. Get used to unhitching your self-worth from an arguably bloated pride, and get to work on deflating that thing, too! You’re gonna tap a lot before you get to the point that you tap others regularly, or even survive a full round with someone better than you. Get comfy!
2 Curiosity. Lucky for you, most of the more common attacks and guards have been well hashed out by the geniuses that have come before us, but that doesn’t mean you need all your information handed to you unquestioned from a professor. Rolling is magic! Every roll is a series of almost endless possibilities, the opportunity to discover tons of things in your roll, and the worst case scenario is you tap. Explore, get creative, be curious about where you’ll end up if you do something unfamiliar or accidental in a roll. There’s a ton of variations to just a simple armbar. Get out there and don’t be scared to muck around until you find what works best for you! Ask questions, too!
3 Tenacity. I mean, obviously if you’re being passed, swept and submitted repeatedly for a good length of time, you’re going to need to dig deep inside yourself to find the strength to keep hitting the mats. You’re also going to need that tenacity when you finally start catching your partners. No one’s giving you a tap. You gotta earn the tap, and often it’s earned through being just a bit more tenacious than your opponent. Let’s also not forget that catches (when you get a hold of a submission position, but aren’t finishing) eventually turn into taps. It may feel like you’re constantly losing the kimura you set up, but remember that you weren’t even able to set up a kimura once upon a time, so have the faith and tenacity to keep trying and to keep holding on until catches turn into taps.
4 A Sense of Humour. You’re really going to want to learn how to laugh at yourself, and see the humour in having your face squished under a friend’s butt while they impose their armbar or kimura set up on you. There’s a fine line between being funny and being childish. Find that line, get close but don’t cross it and spend the years you invest in BJJ laughing. Not taking yourself too seriously will not only help you adjust to the reality of BJJ but also help you make and keep friends on and off the mats. Sometimes (ok, a lot of the time) I just chuckle quietly to myself about something I saw on the mats, sometimes I share the humour, it’s really situational, but never malicious. Laugh out loud with love.
5 A Healthy Lifestyle. Lots of folks talk about ‘living the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle’, but too often the lifestyle most practitioners adopt is a combo of late hours on Youtube watching Miyao videos, over/under training and eating too much sugary acai-flavoured everything. “But it’s cool, I put kale in my shake this morning!” is not going to save anyone from stalling out living that kind of lifestyle. Cut the sugar down, sleep well, train consistently and put good, whole foods down your gullet. Going into ketosis is cool if you’ve got the money and discipline to reach it, but if you’re making it onto the mats 3 times one week, skipping a week and returning for five classes the following week, chances are you don’t have the discipline to stick to a tough fad diet. Get a handle on the easy stuff first. The idea of ‘clean living’ is pretty relative, so don’t get carried away or intimidated, just stick to the mantra “healthy food, lots of sleep, less sugar, regular training” and you’re going to get pretty far.
6 Patience. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes a long time. Naturally you’re going to need to cultivate patience. First you’re going to be frustrated with your progress. Once you start seeing a little bit of progress, you’re probably going to rush catches and submissions, losing them in the process and wind up frustrated with that, too. Sooner or later you may even get impatient for your next belt. Work on your waiting skills, and don’t even think about asking or hinting to your prof that you’d like another stripe or belt! Don’t even think about it! Trust that your instructor is competent and will tell you when you’re ready to belt up.
There are so many more characteristics and qualities we need to cultivate in our journey through BJJ, but get started on nurturing these and you’ll have tools for life, on and off the mats!