Lessons for white belts the importance of grinding, journaling and what it really takes to “relax.” It is funny how satisfying yet humbling something can be.
I got promoted to blue belt last week and it was a reminder of both how hard I’ve worked and how far I still have to go. Hanging up my white belt for the last time I was reminded of a lot of things that helped shape my BJJ journey so far.
Second, I had some valuable lessons reinforced and I gained some perspective on the common but frustratingly vague advice to “relax” that I kept hearing from higher belts. For any of you still in that transition phase from white to blue belt I wanted to share those insights with you in hopes of helping you along the way as well.
Embrace the grind
I wrote an article on how embracing the grind was an important lesson for my little girl when she took her first belt test and I have found it is doubly important for us as adults. The grind of training isn’t “fun” but it is a must.
I can’t tell you how many times I was driving to train and had the thought of “WTF are you doing?”
Training BJJ is hot, tiring, uncomfortable and you spend most of your time as a white belt on your back getting smashed and tapped out. And I’ll admit that there were times when it got pretty old.
But those were also the times I reminded myself that I had to just trust in the process and put in the time. I also knew that most people wouldn’t go in and train when they felt that way and knowing I was doing what most people weren’t willing to gave me the motivation to grind through it.
Most people only succeed up to the point that doing what they want to do gets them but success is ultimately a result of being willing to grind it out and so you have to embrace it.
Again, this is a subject I wrote about for my mountain biking blog but keeping a training journal has been the single best thing I’ve done. Keeping one can be a bit of a grind – imagine that – but the power it has to help you fast forward the learning curve with your techniques is more than worth it.
However, I’ve found that most people look at the purpose of a training journal all wrong. They have been trained by school to think that the point of notes is so that you can study for a test, which means they need to be both legible and make sense when you “study” them later.
And this impossibly high hurdle keeps a lot of people from keeping a training journal. But the problem is that you don’t have to use those notes to study for a test later.
The point of keeping a journal isn’t to study it later as much as forcing your brain to comprehend things on a deeper subconscious level.
In the book The Little Book of Talent Daniel Coyle talks about how jotting some notes about a technique or training session deepens your understanding of what you learned. And it is this deeper, subconscious understanding that you are ultimately after.
So this means that spending just 5 minutes jotting a few things down after each training session will fast forward the learning curve on those techniques. Even if you look back over your notes and can’t understand a thing you wrote just know that you’ve internalized that knowledge and are still benefiting from it.
Take Advice With a Grain of Salt
Take the advice you are getting from higher belts about “relaxing” with a grain of salt. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I can’t tell you how tired I got of hearing that I needed to “relax” while rolling. Don’t get me wrong, they were right and it is the most important thing you can do to let you BJJ start flowing.
But the problem is that no matter how many times you hear that advice it isn’t as easy as just telling yourself to “relax”.
You have to have a certain amount of physical and mental confidence to learn how to relax on the mats and that just comes from 1) the grind of training and 2) understanding enough techniques to have an answer for most situations you find yourself in on the mat.
And once you have this you can start to follow their advice and relax more when you roll.
For me this transition was the one that really signaled that my BJJ game was changing. I realized that I was no longer rolling scared and trying to avoid certain positions because I was more comfortable with dealing with the consequences of things going wrong.
I had heard higher belts tell me that from day 1 but there was no way I could understand what they really meant until I got to a certain level with my own BJJ. And it is achieving that certain level with my own BJJ that had to be my focus, not just “relaxing”.
So remember that all those higher belts that tell you that you need to “relax” are right, they are just confusing the symptom with the cause – you’ll relax when you have the time in on the mats and techniques you need to feel more relaxed. Just focus on the grind and doing whatever you can to speed up your learning curve like drilling and journaling and you’ll learn to relax in the process.
So there you have it, 3 lessons from my first year in BJJ. I know the journey has just begun for me but it still feels good to look back and see that I have made some progress so far. I’ll just keep grinding and journaling and see where the next year takes me.
So how about you? Do you have any insights or lessons from your first year of BJJ that you found helpful in the next phase of your journey? If so please post a comment below, I’d love to hear them.
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Until next time… Roll Strong,
James Wilson, BJJ Strength Training
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