Desire and motivation
There are many things one can learn from. You can willingly study something and deepen your understanding of it. You can reflect on experiences, find your mistakes, and adjust your theories. You can seek out mentors and other people you can learn from and pay attention to their teachings. All these things are more or less voluntary and require one very important prerequisite – motivation. If you are not motivated to learn, your progress will not be optimal. You might not even make progress. Most of us have busy lives and other things outside of BJJ that pull our attention, so staying focused on our development on the mats is not a given. It’s up to you to keep getting into the driver’s seat and putting the machine in motion.
Victory and failure
Most high-level achievers, whether it’s entrepreneurs, athletes, craftsmen, artists, etc. talk about how failure is something to learn from and how it drives you to be better. I keep reading about learning from your failures, about failure being the prerequisite to success, about how you fail your way to the top. So, what is failure in Jiu-Jitsu? Tapping? It depends on who you are. If you are training to become the next world champion then yes, tapping is a micro-failure on your way to the top and you need to analyze why and how it happened. What if you are like me and you’re not a 20-year-old purple belt, who has few responsibilities and is single-mindedly aiming at becoming a savage competitor?
What if you’re in your thirties or older and you started a couple years ago? What if Jiu-Jitsu gives your life a deeper dimension, makes you feel confident and connected to other like-minded people? What is tapping then? Do you still consider it a failure in this context? To be caught up in the cycle of victory and failure on this small scale, is not really seeing the next level of Jiu-Jitsu. This is something I understood for myself very recently and it is profound enough for me to write about it. I think the real reason why people quit (apart from injuries) is the fact that they never abandon this tiring mindset of winning and losing.
back to basics
I was promoted to blue belt in the beginning of January 2022. On January 13th I tore my meniscus in training and needed to get surgery. At this time, I had already had 3 surgeries on this knee, and it didn’t scare me as much as my first injury, almost 10 years earlier. I know what it’s like to not be able to walk for a long time, so in the fashion of a true martial artist I decided to accept this as part of my journey and make the best out of it.
I stopped watching random technique videos and focused on the most important part of Jiu-Jitsu – the fundamentals. Mount, closed guard, side control. Armbars and chokes. I listened to Roger Gracie talk about his game. In an interview, Jean Jacques Machado asked him how he managed to become so good with, what on the surface looks like, a very basic game. Roger`s answer was that, when he came to England, he basically only knew the fundamentals and he didn’t really have anyone to learn from, so he kept practicing what he knew. We all know the rest of the story. The basics are the beginning, and they are also the end. You can watch this short interview here:
A new kind of victory
The more time went by, the more I realized, that this sport will be forever in my life. It never faded from my mind. I never thought once that I’ll just do something else instead. I didn’t feel sorry for myself that I could not train (ok, maybe I did a little bit but come on) but instead realized the status BJJ has in my life. I have always been curious about finding out what I am good at and what I think is worthy of pursuit. I tried many things in my life and some of them gave me that feeling of being passionate. But never in the way Jiu-Jitsu gave me that feeling. Not even close. I don’t want to spend too many words on describing what this sport means to me. Mainly because I think we all have this feeling in us, and we all know how all-encompassing and far-reaching it can be. I think using words to describe it, can only take away from it.
It is at this point that I stopped thinking in terms of winning and losing, competing, smashing, dominating and crushing. Again, you are not me, so please don’t take this as an attack on your athletic ambitions. It’s not meant that way. I came to the conclusion, that having a life with Jiu-Jitsu in it, is the victory. This is the real gold in your hands. That’s the reason why I am excited to go to class. That is why Angelos, Edo and me created MTG. It is why I am truly well-intentioned and patient toward others and myself.
Your combat stance
Because of this my focus shifted to longevity. Who knows how long any of us will be able to roll? As you get older, you need to take care of your body first. Take care of your joints and your spine. Stretch and mobilize. Not only when you have time, or something hurts and you need to fix it. Do it every day, for the simple reason that time will do its thing no matter what and your best bet is to have good habits that support a well functioning physical structure. In „The Book of Five Rings“, Miyamoto Musashi, a 16th century Samurai, writes: „In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance.“
When I first read this, I thought I have to walk around like a boxer, always ready to fight. That’s not what’s behind this quote. It simply means that the positions you spend most of your time in, will be your dominant positions. If you’re slouching at work and lying around contorted on your couch, you will have problems with your joints or spine down the road, even if you are muscular and you train all the time. Bad everyday posture will also take away from your potential as an athlete and will put you in higher risk of getting injured.
During my time away from training I came across Kelly Starrett and his book The Supple Leopard. This shifted my paradigm about movement and athleticism profoundly. You know when you don’t know that you don’t know something? This book taught me the thing I had no idea I didn’t know. This kind of knowledge should be taught to all of us when we’re kids. Well, as they say, the best time was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now. Make your everyday stance your combat stance.
Hard times and motivation
In the beginning I talk about motivation and the drive to learn things and how your progress depends on it. The truth is that motivation comes and goes and the only thing that will keep you on track are your habits. What I experienced in the last months is that life can suddenly take you down and lay you out flat. Then all your habits go out the window and you have to re-evaluate your entire plan. And even though it’s confusing, frustrating, and painful, with enough time and discipline, you will get the insights you need.
Thus, the biggest catalyst for your evolution, is not your mentor or your desire to improve but the way you face a total reset of your structures. It is the times when you are being driven to the edge of „is this really me or am I pretending to be someone I’m not? “ Only then do you get to see who you are. That´s when you get to slay the dragon that is in your mind and bring home the gold it has been harboring.
Everyone will face hard times. Literally everyone. Remember that even when you´re down and out and you´re hobbling around your apartment like a three-legged dog, because you don´t have crutches at home, you will be fine. That´s the hero’s journey – that´s your journey.
Me, in the white gi, happy as shit to be back on the mats with all my friends.