Before my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class, a friend gave me some advice: Leave your pride at the door.
This is a valid advice across the board but especially so in BJJ. While in some other sports you can walk in and understand immediately that the person who looks bigger than you will likely knock you out. But in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s less obvious. Often you’re just as likely to be out-manoeuvred and strangled unconscious by a ten year old as you are by the hulking behemoth you instinctively keep your distance from. Learn to shake it off and try again, your dignity safely left at home.
Another important rule that springs from this is, remember to tap.
Now I’m not saying if someone even looks like they’re contemplating armbarring you to tap. Eventually you’ll have to learn the potentially painful nature of hitchhiker escaping your way from an arm bar. But don’t put yourself into harms way for the sake of seeming tough.
After a while you’ll develop instincts for when there’s not much you can do to prevent a submission. But before that, keep both yourself and your training partners safe. And then, make sure you’ll still want to come back to training again, tap. Likely though, the members of the club will be kind enough not to hurt you or to let you go if they think you haven’t even realised the danger you’re in. So try not to freak out.
You are going to freak out. It’s natural. You’ll try and flop your way out of a leg lock and only through the discretion of your training partner letting you go will you avoid injuring yourself. But the sooner you start practicing a calm composure the sooner it’ll stick. Watch any higher-ranking belts and then watch white belts. The difference is astounding not just in terms of technique but also in having good reactions to tough developments. Staying calm in difficult situations is a hard won but incredibly value lesson from BJJ so keep practicing.
Let’s talk about cardio. Regardless if you can set a good pace on a 10km run or if you struggle to get a few hundred metres down the road, you are going to encounter some cardio problems. BJJ is intense. Sparring rounds can last around five minutes, and this seems like an eternity when you’re unused to close proximity fighting. Calm down and breathe.
People learn yoga of as a great tool to help breathing and keeping calm through life. And while yogic breathing exercises are extremely beneficial and will certainly help your progress the intensity of BJJ. It will also teach you to do these things all while someone is trying to choke you unconscious.
Being able to remain calm is an essential skill to develop not only on the mat but also in life. And controlling your breathing is a sure-fire way to accelerate that process. Being able to think clearly will help you plan and execute your next move with efficiency. Finding those pockets of moments, perhaps only a few seconds, where we can gather ourselves and make the next decision.
And it will also help when people thwart those plans. Setbacks are inevitable after all. Just like in our everyday lives where there are constant tiny bumps, struggles, and things that demand our attention. We must make the time for ourselves to breathe and relax because the world and our sparring partners won’t.
Most importantly know that BJJ is a process. You are going to suck. Everyone does. The common phrase is that a black belt is just a white belt who kept showing up, keep in mind that in the time it takes one to become a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, they could have trained to be a doctor. It requires that much time and training. So have fun, breathe, and keep showing up.