About the author: Sam Joseph is a 2nd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
Whether a new white belt or a world champion black belt, there is something that we all have in common: we are all susceptible to frustration during our Brazilian jiu jitsu journey.
Frustration can worm its way into our minds due to a poor result at a tournament, a bad day in training, inability to master certain techniques, injuries that interrupt training and any other number of reasons. If frustration were a guard-passer, it would be a world champion, because no matter how mentally attuned and well guarded you are, there’s not a person out there who can keep it at bay all the time. Frustration is the NUMBER ONE problem I get asked about, so I want to share some tips on how we can derail its ability to impact the BJJ experience.
Tip #1: Train regularly!
The number one tip to keep frustration from having major impact on your BJJ is to commit to training regularly. It sounds simple but, like the saying goes, so is dieting. Just like dieting, it is harder to actually put in practice than conceptualise. Getting on the mat consistently and regularly has a way of “working out” issues and stamping out the embers of the frustration fire. Remember, it is more likely that we will find the answers to what is frustrating us about the mat by actually training on the mat than by talking about how “frustrated” we are. Even when things are not going our way, training has a way of reminding us about the things we love about BJJ – taking our focus away from the negative and back to achieving our BJJ goals.
Tip #2: Celebrate the “small” wins!
Another great way to keep frustration from gaining traction in our minds is by remembering to celebrate the small wins along the way. Recognising progress like technically escaping bad positions we were getting caught in previously or hitting new sweeps and submissions in live sparring is healthy. Now, the key is to do it in the right way by avoiding putting others down while we do it and also by actively recognising the same progress in our training partners.
Alliance black belt, Derek Kaivani, has been one of my training partners for years and we roll regularly. One of the best things about our sparring is that we consistently help each other by both giving tips on perceived gaps in our games AND by providing positive feedback on the positions the other is proficient in or gaining proficiency in. In doing the later, we help each other keep at least some focus on the positives in our games, which in turn helps us stay in healthy frames of mind in terms of our training. After training, it is common for people to hear us laughing together and “celebrating” the small wins as we make improvements in our BJJ games. This not only helps us but it also models that behaviour for others on the mat and helps set a healthy tone in the academy. It is hard for frustration to take up space in our heads if we are too busy recognising the progress we have made and are making!
A great way to help implement this in our BJJ lives is to surround ourselves with positive people in an uplifting environment. That environment includes our local BJJ academy and the BJJ environments we can create online via Facebook and forums etc. Some of my best friends and supporters in the sport live in other places, but are able to stay in touch online and help me stay positive and on track as I move towards my BJJ goals.
Tip #3: Ask the right question!
This tip is all about controlling our individual focus when it comes to BJJ. When “bad” things happen or situations do not overtly go our way, it is easy to put that focus on the negative. My personal solution to this is to ask myself one question after every challenging situation: “What can I learn from this and how can it help my BJJ?” At times, stopping to do this can be very difficult, especially if the roadblock or obstacle encountered inspires a high level of emotion. Sometimes we need time to pass before we can do this, or we need someone close to us (training partner, instructor, etc) to “force” us to stop and do this. In 2001, after losing in the purple belt division at a local tournament, I was depressed and seriously considering quitting BJJ. The team went out to eat after the tournament and I was lost in my own head wondering why I should continue doing BJJ if I was not going to ever be good enough to earn a black belt. My instructor Mario Yamasaki seemed to read my mind and told me something, in front of everyone, that I have never forgotten. He told me that I had great jiu jitsu and that all I had to do was believe in myself. After hearing that, my focus immediately went from planning my exit strategy to what I could do to improve my game so I could enjoy success in the future. The next year I won my division at the Pan BJJ tournament in Florida and the first thing I did was hug Mario who was in my corner. The upside of stopping to ask this question is unmistakable. When we do this, we allow ourselves to put situations in perspective, learn from them and move forward towards our goals and/or real progress.
Tip #4: Challenge ourselves!
It is commonly accepted that growth is often painful. Childbirth if painful, but that is how life is brought into the world. Lifting weights is painful as we tear muscle fibers so that they can grow back stronger. We push our cardio limits to painful limits so that we can extend those limits. All of these are examples of how growth follows the pain that comes from challenging limitations. BJJ follows the same laws – we must challenge ourselves physically and technically to achieve growth. We can do this in many ways: by signing up for a tournament, working on perceived weaknesses, simply trying new positions and techniques or starting in inferior positions in training. What is awesome about consistently challenging ourselves in order to grow is that it consumes our focus in a way that helps us either avoid frustration or quickly push it away when it comes up. The last man to beat Marcelo Garcia in his weight class (gi or nogi) was Pablo Popovitch in the 2009 ADCC. Marcelo had beaten Pablo in the two previous additions and most expected the same result in 2009. Pablo pulled off the upset with a last minute guard pass in the last match and finally achieved his goal of winning the ADCC. I celebrated that win, as I trained with Pablo for a year at his former academy in Florida and I saw first-hand how he dealt with the disappointment of losing to Marcelo. Pablo, though obviously unsatisfied with the defeat, chose to focus on CHALLENGING himself every day in the academy and with his physical conditioning program. His commitment to pushing his limits and keeping his attention on how he could improve himself consumed his time and gave him a positive outlet for his emotions. It was awesome to actually see how a world-class athlete could stay focused on his goal while holding off frustration even when things did not go his way. The message is clear: when frustration knocks, let it find us too busy challenging ourselves to let it in the door!
Again, frustration is something that comes for us all and it can be fatal to a BJJ athlete. The good news is that we have the tools to not only deal with it but also potentially avoid it altogether by implementing these tips. We can stop frustration from ruining our BJJ experience by putting things in place to keep it from finding a home in our heads and minimising it’s impact when it does. We can stay the course and enjoy our BJJ journeys FRUSTRATION FREE. See you on the mat!
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