Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone, but if you want to be your best self on, as well as off the mats, you have to fight for it.
Recently, everyone's favorite BJJ Coach, John Danaher, wrote a very insightful post on Facebook, "It's natural to leave every workout strongly doubting whether you are making any tangible progress. This is because as you rise in skill level, EVERYONE AROUND YOU IS RISING AT ROUGHLY THE SAME SPEED AND THEY ARE LEARNING SIMILAR TECHNIQUES AND TACTICS, SO THEY KNOW MOST OF YOUR ATTACKS. As such, you never really feel like you're making forward progress. It's natural that you should feel discouraged by this – no one likes to expend large amounts of time and effort without result." This post hit home hard for me, and after sharing it on my personal Facebook page, it was clear that it hit home for many other BJJ practitioners as well…
The prevalence-induced concept change shows that as the prevalence of a problem reduces, humans are naturally inclined to redefine the problem itself. As white belts, most of our decisions on the mats are wrong. It is easy to pinpoint our shortcomings. However, as we start to understand the art better, those poor decisions are less prevalent. Despite this fact, our brain will force us to find negatives where there aren't any. This phenomenon may help to explain why individuals fail to recognize progress, even as everyone else can easily spot their development. My entire purple belt era was a never-ending demonstration of this concept. And try as I may to look for positives; I felt as stagnant and inert as ever.
Almost in tears, I once typed a cryptic Facebook status about quitting. Not many understood what I was referring to, and many others simply didn't care. But, one person messaged me privately, and I will never forget that day. Tom DeBlass took the time to talk me off the metaphoric ledge. It wasn't his personal experience or the fact that he is one of the most beloved practitioners in our sport. It was the words he said that made me reflect. He asked me about what Jiu-Jitsu meant to me and to think about all the times the mats were my therapy. He reminded me of what Jiu-Jitsu has gifted me with since the first day I tried it. And more importantly, he reminded me that it was never about glory or belts for me. Through his explanation, it became clear that we all evolve at different rates.
Understanding that I am just average was one of the biggest lessons I learned in BJJ. Average Janes don't win gold or go on to be world champs. Or do they? The truth is, being average is not necessarily a curse. On the contrary, it is an opportunity for immense growth without the pressure of being the "gifted one." Once I understood that my journey was custom-made, I stopped worrying about plateau and began enjoying the process of learning. Being just average pushed me to work harder and train more often. I once read a quote that stated, "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." With this quote in mind, I chose to work on my discipline and consistency to control the controllable factors.
If you are still convinced that you are experiencing a plateau, I invite you to look at your trajectory retrospectively. Compare your current skills to where you were six months ago, a year ago, and on the first week on the mats. I am sure your perception will change. Make sure that you are not experiencing learner fatigue. It pays off to take a break from the mats sometimes. Because it's is not just the joints and muscles that need to rest. The mind also needs a break.
Try your game against folks you have never rolled against. Your teammates know your game because they are also privy to your instructor's teaching, so it is easy for us to break down our teammates' games since we are often exposed to them. Visiting other gyms, entering competitions, and attending seminars open us to try our game on new opponents. That is a good measure of where you are.
Adopt a white belt. You will be surprised as to how much BJJ knowledge you possess. Teach to learn, and remember to enjoy the process. BJJ is undoubtedly one of the hardest things I have ever attempted to learn. And it is precisely that what makes it so worthy. And lastly, when the feeling keeps creeping up, tell yourself what you would tell your favorite training partner if they approached you about quitting or feeling like experiencing a plateau. And I don't forget the words of Danaher: "Understand that the path of BJJ is one of hard work overtime where you will often doubt your progress, but where occasional joyful triumphs among a few significant failures and a great many average or forgettable sessions will give you hope and direction for the future".
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