Being your own worst enemy in training
By David Close
One thing that plagues many students across all martial arts is the delusion of where they think they should be when it comes to the learning process. Regardless of rank, students will have an easier time with certain moves/concepts than others. But when students have difficulty during the training (be it the actual roll or technique phase), there is an unfortunate habit of being too hard on themselves. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your performance, but there are realities that one must accept in the learning process if you do not want to sabotage yourself.
The people who normally are the worst in regards to being too hard on their performance are those in the lower phase of training (white and blue belts). White belts are surprised with how uncoordinated they are while blue belts will be too confident in where they think they should be. Let me elaborate just on these two levels for a moment. BJJ is a physical activity and like all physical activities, one must accept that you must acclimate to it. So no matter how in shape you may be, it will not translate over completely to this activity until you gain the proper bio-mechanical nuances that comes from developing a strong fundamental base.
Being a white belt in BJJ can quickly show most normal people how un-athletic they are in basic planes of movement, and that can be discouraging. It is paramount for you to accept the fact that you are, as I tell students of mine at times,” bio-mechanically uneducated”. You will have trouble doing a basic armbar from guard or even doing a bridge and roll escape. But remember, in this physical activity YOU are a rookie and it is expected for you to miss things and to not be good at doing much of anything. So no matter how great you may be at other physical activities, the reality is that there are going to be many aspects of beginning BJJ training that you are just going to be bad at. This is a new activity for you, hence you will having a learning curve that you will have to go through (consequently this is why wrestlers and judoka have an easier time in the beginning and plateau more at the blue belt phase). What you have to accept is that as a white belt you are a blank slate and need to be molded properly. So the failures you experience are actually building blocks that will make you fundamentally stronger, which in turn takes you from “bio-mechanically uneducated” to “bio-mechanically educated”.
Blue belts are above white belts but honestly (for the average blue belt) it’s not by much. But because they are no longer a white belt there is the danger of believing that they should be more advanced than what they are as they have a stronger bio-mechanical education, creating potential for self-sabotage. This is where the common thoughts come in for many blue belts such as “man I got this belt too early” and “wow I should be farther along” etc. They are no longer a novice; however, having a colored belt can create a delusion of having to prove themselves to the extent that they can’t see the forest from the trees. So instead of accepting that they are still learning, the ego will lead them to believe that they should be near mastery, and this is why many experience the dreaded “blue belt curse”. People will drop out because they feel they are plateauing because *gasp* they are still experiencing times when they aren’t doing great or have difficulty doing things. This can be compounded with people coming from a Judo or Wrestling background as they normally are past the normal white belt phase. As a result they can get their blue belt faster and not have as many beginning struggles as they have bio-mechanical knowledge that is similar to that found in BJJ. However the danger comes at blue belt as they may not have experienced pitfalls in BJJ as they have a base that initially helps them (and can inflate the ego) and as a blue belt now their eyes are opened as they see the ocean they have to cross that we look at as technique. They cannot solely rely on their past knowledge and have to adjust to the strategies of BJJ, which can be counter intuitive from their base training (for example no wrestler likes to be on their back hence why most wrestlers when learning BJJ have weak guards as they don’t like working from that position). As a result they may see others they used to dominate surpass them quickly when they are blue belts as they have not had other knowledge to fall back on, making them immerse themselves in BJJ. This results in building their skills faster than their more grappling varied counterparts.
What people of all ranks have to accept is that no one gets to short change the process. You will experience highs and lows because you are human. There are levels to all physical activities and the more you train the deeper you go. At every new level you will have an adjustment period and with every skill at that level you will have adjustment periods. So even as a black belt you will struggle with some things and be near mastery at others. This is where the thought process of being the ever-learning student comes into play. You accept that you will never know everything and never be great at all aspects from the beginning. As a result this allows you to continually learn and better yourself.
The solution to these self-defeating practices is something I learned from a speech by BJJ legend/OG pioneer Chris Haueter. You have to always see yourself as an athlete, regardless of your background or lack thereof in athletics. As an athlete, the only thing you care about is the end result of your performance. If your performance level is low, you don’t whine about it. You analyze the weaknesses and go back into training to strengthen yourself so you can improve. This way you create the mindset of self-improvement instead of self-sabotage. Keeping this mindset of a proper athlete ensures that you will always continually improve even after you get your black belt, as you are not stuck to a fantasy image of where you “should” be and will instead focus on where you WANT to be. You will be expecting to lose in training, and this lets you gain experience to improve for those times where it will be needed. (Be it a real-life confrontation, tournament, etc.). Embrace being the athlete and take yourself to new levels! – David Close
David Close is a lifelong martial artsist, a BJJ Black Belt and a 3rd degree Black Belt in Judo.
He holds two engineering degrees and teaches BJJ and Judo classes at Alliance Champions in Greenville, SC.