This is terrible. I’m going to write a post that people simply aren’t going to want to read. They aren’t going to want to read it because, unfortunately, it ends badly.
I’ll even give you the punchline to the title of this post right here, so you can close this page if you want to. Here it is: relatively speaking, you don’t get any better. And in your own mind, you may actually get worse.
Here’s what I mean, and I’ll preface this by saying that Jiu-Jitsu is a mind game that never lets go. If you’ve decided to dedicate a good portion of your life to it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s never a day that goes by when someone who’s been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for any amount of time says to themselves, “Yeah, I’m where I want to be.” It doesn’t happen, and if it does, you’ve been hanging out with white belts too long.
Do you remember those early days of training? You were rolling around with all your beginner friends. There was probably the one guy who thought he knew more than the rest of you, coming in with Youtube techniques every class. It didn’t matter though, because no matter what he did or what he thought he knew, when it came time for the rubber to meet the road, he was just as terrible as you, me and the next guy.
What’s the reason we were all so bad? Well, it was probably because we didn’t know what to do or how to handle a given situation. Or, some of our partners knew how to handle things just a tad bit better than we did.
Now, think about later on – during your mighty blue belt days. You trained with the same partners you always had – and you knew you had gotten better. You must have. But oddly enough, there were nights you went home thinking you had actually gotten worse. I like to tell the guys that the training curve is like an “S” in that it starts at the bottom, climbs rapidly, plateaus, and then goes down (smacking you in the face on its way) to only go back up again. It’s a good ride, but there’s a few depressing areas thrown in for good measure.
What’s the reason you felt like you worsened? Probably because by that point, the guys in your class had begun to develop “games.” Yours went one way and theirs went another. While you managed to get your taps, they managed to get theirs as well. And it’s the taps that we’re forced to give up that we dwell on the most. It’s nearly impossible to give and take ten submissions in one night and walk away thinking only of the successes. It’s the failures that live in my head all week.
Let’s talk about training as a purple belt. I think this is probably the worst (and as far as I can go) because most opponents you put yourself against have really begun to develop themselves. They’re dangerous. In any other martial art, they’d probably be black belts. But in Jiu-Jitsu, they’re mere purple belts with a whole lot of commitment. You don’t become a purple belt in BJJ by wandering into class once a week, to only leave early. No, you live, breath and sleep the stuff.
But the problem lies in the fact that it’s getting tougher and tougher to roll with people. Submissions are scarce and the ones you do manage to get seem somehow hollow. Sure, you tap guys out, but those probably don’t happen the way you want them to. By this point, there’s a certain “form” you like to have and when you don’t feel it, you tell yourself that you somehow cheated. The good feeling of success you should have – the deserved feeling of a job well done – never arrives.
Tapping to lower belts is a reality in Jiu-Jitsu. I don’t care who you are – it happens. It hurts, but it happens. I think the reason so many higher belts yield to lower ones are multi-fold. Sometimes the lower belt is simply better. Sometimes they’re more athletic or just stronger. They beat you and it gets to you. People tell you that it shouldn’t, but it does and that’s why I called it a reality. Because sometimes reality sucks.
The thing is though, higher belts have got to remember that they are refining their games. In order to do that, they need to think. Jumping around like a lunatic and “pinning” everyone in class isn’t a thinking man’s endeavor. And even if you did attain submission after submission, would you be achieving them to your standards? Probably not, because by this point, being technically correct is becoming more important to you than your ego ever was. It would be a rare occasion for you to lay on the mat, after a match, patting yourself on the back because you liked what you saw. A rare occasion indeed.
Think about how hard you are on yourself. Think about your response to a friend when they ask how training is going. “Hey man, how’s the Jiu-Jitsu stuff? You still doing that?” “Yeah, it’s pretty good. Not where I want to be, but I’ll get there. Guys just aren’t the way they used to be. They’re a lot better now.”
I see a lot of articles and videos about how to get better at BJJ. I smile each time I see them because I know from personal experience, that once bitten by the bug, in your own mind, you’ll never be “good.” You might get better, you might get worse, but you’ll never be where you want to be. And that’s probably the reason we keep coming back for more.