For the vast majority of my jiu jitsu career, I really had it all wrong. I spent all my time trying to be the best on the mats. I didn’t care about getting “better” as much as I did that I was simply better then everyone else around me. I used the people in class, my team mates, as a litmus test for my progression. If I was constantly tapping them out, dominating all the rounds, then I would leave practice feeling satisfied that I was getting “good” at jiu jitsu. Little did I know that “good” was in fact the enemy of “great.”
When I was a white belt, all I could think about was submitting blue belts, proving to my instructor that I was deserved of a long overdue promotion. When I was a blue belt, I couldn’t wait to show yet again that I should be a purple belt, using classmates and eventually fellow competitors as proof that I didn’t belong in the same category.
It took me exactly one decade to get my black belt. It wasn’t until then that I truly felt free to relax as a training partner and competitor. Before then, I always felt like I had to push 110% in every training session, every tournament, every time I was on the mats. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t get my next belt promotion if I was ever caught “slipping” and let a fellow white, blue, purple or brown belt tap me out. I never realized how much that actually hindered my growth.
Every session became about dominating the roll. My jiu jitsu self worth was seen in the ability to consistently be the most dominant force on the mats around me. The problem with putting all your self worth eggs in one basket is that the moment one egg breaks in the bunch, they all go rotten. Every time I got submitted or lost a tournament, I immediately questioned my ability and wondered if I should simply quit and move onto something that I could be perfect at. Thank god I lost many, many times.
Looking back at my competitive career, I can honestly say that my losses helped shape me as a person MUCH much more then my victories ever did. You see, it’s THAT part of jiu jitsu that I’ve come to realize is in fact the MOST important; the part that transcends the mats and FORCES you to be a better person. It forces you to be a better husband, father, friend, brother, sister, employee and/or boss. It teaches you that, even when life smacks you in the face and knocks you down, you HAVE to get back up and keep pushing forward no matter the perceived embarrassment or ridicule. You HAVE to run the race until it’s over.
I got so fixated at being the best in the room that I lost touch of what I now know to be the most important part of the jiu jitsu journey to black belt–the relationships you form with like-minded people traveling down the same path you are. That’s truly the central tenant that shifts you from good to great.
When you can let go of wanting to beat the absolute dog shit out of everyone else around you and shift your focus to investing the lives of those around you, I can assure you that you’ll see your jiu jitsu progress at a MUCH faster pace. Self-transcendence sits high above self-actualization.