The Mental Game of My First Year Back in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
On February 16th, 2011, I stepped back on the mat for a
workout for the first time in 15 years. Most of that time
away had been spent sitting in front of a computer or television,
eating poorly, drinking beer and Mountain Dew. At least I
Needless to say, it's been 12 months full of changes, sweat,
frustration, and triumph. On that first day, I could barely
get through the first five minutes of the warm-up, and could
do neither 20 pushups nor 20 situps. I'm in better shape than
I was, to be sure. But I hope the more valuable growth has
been in my mental discipline. Here's what I've learned:
1) The Competition Is With Yourself
In an individual sport, where you partake in physical combat
to defeat someone else, this sounds strange. But since Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu is a physical endeavor, I can only be as good as
my body will let me. One year ago, I was much farther gone
than anyone else in class when it comes to conditioning, and
even though I've lost 35 pounds and gained strength, I still
have a long way to go. There are a couple of students just
slightly better off than I am; most of the class is still
an Olympian compared to me.
Therefore, I'm not really competing against anyone else, because
I'm starting from so far back in the pack. A white belt in
good shape will be able to outlast, and eventually beat me.
My competitive drive and improvement has to be against the
last time I was on the mat. Am I better at keeping my breathing
relaxed? Is my technique improving? Am I incorporating what
I learned in the previous class? Am I more aware of what moves
my opponents are doing to me, and successfully countering
them? Did I do better against an opponent than I did the last
time we sparred?
2) Everyone Else is Improving Too
I've been viewing my training as a race, in a way, between
my body and everyone else's mind. I have a good head for the
technical details of the sport, both from my training years
ago, and how I see things in general (I'm an engineer at my
day job). My tests are all good, and my instructors consistently
comment that I'm doing things correctly. My problems mostly
stem for my body not reacting how my brain is telling it to.
The guys who are in good shape may not see the sport the way
I do. They don't remember names of techniques, and the details
in the weeks and months after a move is taught. But they're
learning with the same quality of instruction that I get.
They care about the sport and want to improve, just as I do.
It's easier for them to execute the technique as a good athlete,
than for me to improve my athleticism after years of neglecting
it. If I was a yellow belt losing to white belts stronger
than me, why shouldn't I be a green belt losing to those same
guys as yellow belts?
3) The Most Important Thing is to Keep Moving
When I'm tired, the natural reaction is to stay in one place
and rest. During a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring session, my
resting positions are normally in bottom side mount (where
my defense against submissions is good), and on the off-chance
I can get an advantage, top side mount (where I can use my
weight effectively). If I'm safe, I take advantage of the
opportunity to catch my breath. But is that the best thing
for my improvement?
I owe it to myself, and to my instructor taking the time to
work with me, to use every second. I should be more willing
to try something and fail at it than stay safe. If my escape
from bottom side mount to guard means I leave space for my
opponent to take the top mount... that's worse strategically,
but better than staying where I was when it comes to my improvement
as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. Not only am I giving myself
a chance to learn from mistakes, but I'm burning calories
and building endurance.
I find myself getting frustrated more and more often at my
progress...or what I believe to be my progress. My biggest
enemy isn't the opponents who keep defeating me. It's my mind,
giving me unrealistic expectations. Should I be as good as
other people at my belt rank? Shouldn't I be able to beat
other people at lower rank than I? What if I keep losing to
everyone when I reach blue belt, purple belt, and beyond?
What if everyone in the school thinks I'm some joke who keeps
passing belt tests but can't do anything when the time for
What I've learned in the last 12 months is my most important
lesson - the answer to each of those questions is, "Who cares?"
It is not up to me to determine if I "deserve" my belt and
am worthy of representing the school in that way. All I can
do is work as hard as I can and do my best to improve. Keeping
that positive attitude and the negative thoughts away is a
difficult mental game, as least as tough as anyone I've sparred
Paul Herzog and his son Christopher have been taking
judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instruction at Petushin Martial
Arts since the new Rosemount, Minnesota facility opened in
2010. In addition to receiving some of the best grappling
instruction in the Midwest, Paul has lost over 35 pounds,
and Chris has gained strength and self-confidence. If either
of those sounds appealing, please contact the academy at 612-991-9116
or go to http://www.petushinmartialarts.com
to arrange your first visit!
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