I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu seven months ago for several reasons.
The first was the realisation I had no hobby (and that I wanted one), and the second was to try something new. The third will be visited later in this article.
BJJ has already given me so much more than I ever imagined. Not only am I fitter, stronger and more flexible than I have ever been, but it has come to play such a fundamental role in my personal and professional development that, barring injury, I cannot see myself ever giving it up.
The first and most immediate benefit of a BJJ class is the chance to let go of a bad day at work. I think of sparring as a ‘mental palette cleanser’. I have arrived at the gym stressed out and anxious, and have left feeling relaxed and reinvigorated. This is because you simply cannot think about anything else during a fight; you must be present and in the moment. It is the perfect distraction from the noise of daily life. Indeed, our Head Trainer talked about this in a recent interview.
But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s most valuable benefit is less obvious and more pervasive. It provides the opportunity and environment to practice key life skills in a tangible and practical way.
There are endless techniques to learn in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As a brand new ‘white belt’ the idea that you will one day understand enough to be proficient seems laughable.
What I have come to discover is that your mental approach to training can help you progress faster than relying solely on mimicking techniques, which I believe to be just as true for life in general.
I talk a lot with my clients about ‘mindset skills’. The courses we work through are all focused on training different mindset skills to help them improve their mental approach to the goals they are working to achieve. For example, one popular mindset skill is discipline, something I talk about here. Another could be the ability to say no, or better prioritisation.
As I move into a new phase of growth with Next Level, the mindset skills I am currently working on are acceptance, my relationship to risk, humility and courage, and BJJ helps me to train those mental muscles.
I am not a patient man. I have a shorter temper that I care to admit, and am the first to judge a situation or event against my expectation of how things should be, and not necessarily how they are.
Acceptance is something I know I must work on. After all, the better able you are at accepting an adverse situation for what it is, the more readily you can react and adapt in a constructive way.
In an earlier article I talked about my initial ‘death or glory’ approach to sparring. Much of this mindset came from my unrealistic expectations of what my abilities should be. With the passing months, I have come to accept an opponent’s dominant position and my lack of skills and so am less frantic about it.
With this acceptance comes a certain clarity and presence. There is less brain-space given over to wishing for a better position or trying through sheer force of will to escape. By accepting the situation I am in, I am becoming better able to manipulate that situation to create opportunities where I would surely miss them in a less mindful state. This skill has helped me in coaching sessions, training seminars, presentations and sales pitches no end.
Relationship to risk
I have never been a risk-tolerant person. There are those who can take on an enviable level of potential danger and sleep like a log at night, but not me.
The third reason for taking up Jiu Jitsu that I alluded to earlier is that it scared me. I had never done a martial art and so it took me way outside my comfort zone. After my first session I was hooked, but for a few months afterwards I was in a perpetual state of anxiety about injuries, injuring someone else, losing a tooth, cauliflower ear, all of it.
But I kept going and the fear subsided. Of course I am still mindful of those things but I have learned to manage the risks in my mind in a far more constructive and liberating manner.
In life, it is fear that stops us from doing nearly everything; starting that business, asking someone to marry you, applying for that promotion, leaving that dead end job. But once we take that leap, we are nearly always glad we did. Some of that fear is well founded, but a lot of it isn’t — it is just mental noise.
Fear serves a purpose and isn’t going away, but if we can learn to manage our relationship to risk then we have an edge. I have found no better way to practice this than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In business and life there is no place for an over-inflated ego. Sooner or later, it will get you into trouble and nowhere is this lesson learned quicker or more painfully than on the Jiu Jitsu mats.
Many newcomers to the sport arrive from different disciplines — judo, karate, MMA etc. Others come from other sports.
All arrive with an ego. Even the more passive beginners aim to be tougher than their opponents, hoping that their strength or speed will prevail.
There is nothing more sobering as a 6'3" male than being tapped out by someone half your size (which will happen). Pride can’t save you from a skilled jiujitsu player, just like it can’t save you from your business competition’s superior product or a colleagues superior work ethic.
Who can argue that we need courage to take on life’s big challenges?
In a recent podcast interview, Dr. Brené Brown talks about how courage is only developed through vulnerability; putting ourselves in positions where we could get hurt.
The words ‘Jiu Jitsu’ may literally mean ‘the gentle art’ but let us be clear — a skilled player can choke you unconscious in seconds. One wrong move has the potential to put your training partner in the hospital. Allowing your classmates to practice these moves on you therefore can put you in a very vulnerable situation.
For this reason, the level of trust that exists between people training BJJ together must be far higher and developed more quickly than in most other daily activities. When you are new to the class and don’t know anyone, your only choice is to trust that the other person will respect the system and your limits and stop immediately if you are in a painful position.
Facing the risks of a sport like BJJ, testing your limits and placing your safety in the hands of others all require vulnerability. Choosing to put yourself in those situations requires the practice of courage. With that practice comes a new confidence that will carry over into your work and life.
Practice makes progress
In my work helping to improve the performance of teams and individuals, I am always looking for ways to practice the concepts we talk about in our coaching conversations. I will be the first to admit that Jiu Jitsu is not for everyone, but I am very excited about the opportunity it provides me to practice these mindset skills that need work in my own life.