BJJ May 9, and a minor crisis.

Went to BJJ last night, the first class after the competition.

Usually I feel good after a comp, win or lose. I have always felt that competing is like firing clay… you’ve been moulding and pushing and prodding, then when you compete, it hardens, and you reach a new level, then you start moulding again.

Skill-wise I felt good still, but I was feeling good before the competition and I lost, when I probably should have won.

Here the crisis starts. This may be somewhat of a disorganised rant, but try to bear with me.

Up until the competition, I felt things had been going well. Very well, in fact. I had chosen a mode of training and thinking, and it was working for me, I was improving. I was not bothered by small questions or self-doubt. Now, I have reached one of those times in training where you feel like you know nothing and you don’t know how to proceed.

The Brazilians, the world champions, all say that you should be tapping all the time in training. You should have no ego. Training is not a competition.

But if I spend all my training sessions tapping and never fighting with my partners, how will I ever develop the fighting skill, the mental toughness, the grit, that you need to succeed in BJJ? And the next question, is winning medals all that’s important to me?

I’d like to say no but there is no denying that winning is much more satisfying and confidence-boosting than losing. I can’t lie… I want to win. I want to have shiny medals hanging on my wall that my future son can point at and say “Tell me how you won those, Dad.”

I’d like to teach jiu jitsu one day. Having a few gold medals to your name helps that.

For example, last night, my coach was pwnz0r11ings me on the mat. He had a kind of uncomfortable smile on his face and after the roll told me that I needed more “mental training.” I didn’t really know what he meant, and sometimes having a coach that you can’t converse with freely can be really frustrating.

Did he mean I was mentally weak? I don’t think so. I have a reputation at training for always being ready to go for every spar when a lot of people fall back to the side.

Perhaps he meant I was not aggressive enough? That could very much be it. I am not an aggressive person at all. But according to the Brazilians, you don’t need to be aggressive, especially in training… should I be launching myself at every sparring partner with teeth bared and eyeballs bulging?

That comment really stuck with me. So for the next spar I hunted down the biggest, strongest blue belt in the room and we started sparring pretty hard. He got my back and sunk in a body triangle, then started working for a collar choke. It was hell. My body was twisted, my stomach and ribs compressed, and my gi shearing across my neck as he worked for the choke. I could only think of my coach saying that I needed mental training, so I steeled myself not to give up. I lasted for four minutes and then he managed to sink in the choke, I felt myself going all tingly and had to tap. I came out feeling battered and bruised but satisfied that I had done my best. Nobody can ask any more of me.

I’ve been racking my brains and this is what I can come up with. I should tap whenever I am in danger in training. The training part comes with recognising much earlier when danger is coming, and avoiding it. If I manage to do that, I won’t be tapping all the time. When I’m rolling with my coach, he always pauses before he submits me, as if to say “look, you left your arm/neck sticking out again”. I realise, but a second too late.

So here’s how I will be going forward. Here are the things I am sure about.

1) I need to be more “aggressive” (in quotation marks because I’m not going to be out to hurt everybody, but I am going to be the one who makes the first move; doesn’t settle for bottom; breaks grips immediately; etc etc.)

2) I can tap whenever I want, but learn afterwards what mistake I made to get tapped and try to recognise it earlier next time.

3) Feel danger coming and do something about it early.

The more I write the more I think it is about my mindset. My coach said last night, I should always be thinking of attack, and if I make a mistake or my opponent does a good move, then I should think about defense but only long enough to get back on the attack. Quite often when I am rolling I do go into defensive mode to “see what the other guy gives me”. This is my undoing, I think. Even my missus says to me “why do you always flop on your back… why do you never go on top?” And no, that is not prison lingo you perverts. Stop giggling.

I am going to have to remind myself before every roll… maybe I should come up with some funky ryhme to remember.

Be first, be fast, be… um… win.

And I suppose the important thing to do at this stage is not to stress about it too much and just keep training.

It’s true though, you learn so much more from the fights you lose. If I had won that last comp, I would have kept on going without thinking. Now, I hope I can get through this period and grow.

My coach is going to America for the Mundials, and asked me to teach quite a few classes, which was a nice confidence booster. I will be teaching on Friday nights from 8p.m. to 11:30p.m. … that’s two classes each time. Quite a long night, but it will be good training for me and a good opportunity to solidify my understanding of some basics.

Any advice you guys have on the mental game and how to approach training would be much appreciated.

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