Life Lessons from BJJ

When I was in sixth grade, I remember "play boxing" with a friend in his backyard.

We both had extra-cushiony gloves on and we were laughing, smiling, and having a good time. Then a few minutes into it, I get wacked on the side of my temple and begin to see stars and end up on my back. I completely blacked out and had no idea where I was. My friend was super apologetic yet had this smug satisfaction about knocking me out. Since then, I picked up other martial arts such as wrestling and muay thai kickboxing in high school and college to hopefully prevent that from never happening again.

After years of not doing any martial arts after college, I decided to give Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a try with a buddy without knowing what to expect. He and I both got our butts handed to us and since then, we increased our group and met some new friends along the way.

I've loved watching UFC (George St Pierre is my role model) and I always appreciated fighters with a good ground game. BJJ was nothing new to me and I knew anecdotally that guys who were smaller were defeating guys much bigger and stronger than they were. In other words, the perfect "David and Goliath" sport that allowed the smaller guy to come out on top utilizing the correctly mastered techniques.

When I first stepped on to the mat, I had this pompous (false) sense of confidence that I'd be able to take down and hold my ground as they all looked smaller and weaker than I was. This was where I was terribly wrong.

Both men and women who were shorter, smaller, and weaker than me were choking and submitting me without much of a struggle.

How could this be?!?

Anyone who's trained or tried BJJ know this feeling all too well.

I quickly became hooked onto this crazy sport and wanted to share a few things I've learned from BJJ throughout the past 2 years.

1. Technique Conquers Strength

The first thing I observed in class was how average looking everyone there was. No one looked particularly muscular or the body building type. This gave me some hope that I wouldn't completely get destroyed by people in class, hoping to leverage my strength and height. Once the rolling sessions came around, I realized the "average" looking guys were dominating the bigger people and making them look helpless. Some of the higher belt guys were submitting and choking much bigger guys and were completely fine without hardly breaking a sweat. I was completely puzzled at how quickly one's strength became useless when they didn't know how to properly use it.

I watched the instructor carefully when he was rolling with his students and seemed to be floating while using the other opponent's strength against them.

The harder the opponent tried, the worse off it became for them and ultimately ended in submission.

The biggest tip I learned was to always remember to breathe, and also became one of the biggest challenges about the sport; to learn to stay calm in the midst of a crazy shit storm.

Remembering to breathe became one of my biggest focus and the biggest challenges; to learn to stay calm in the midst of the storm.

This was the first and most important lesson I learned.

2. Obstacle IS the way

BJJ is such a strange sport that in order to get better, you have to get choked, twisted, and pulled in uncomfortable positions so that you prevent it from happening again. And you keep repeating that until you don’t get submitted or until you can do it to the other person first.

The saying "never give up" doesn't apply to BJJ. Rather, give up (aka tap) early and try again is more appropriate.

I remember in my first month when I refused to tap (curse thy man pride), I passed out in front of a small group of people. I was choked by a "bow and arrow" and before I knew it, I was flat on my back staring up at five other guys. I thought I had woken up from a long nap, and was later told that I was out for a solid 30 seconds.

I realized how quickly I had forgotten the very first advice I had learned: breathe and stay calm. In other words, stay calm because you can always tap, bump fists, and do it all over again.

After our session, the professor told us after the class that the "Obstacle is the way", which stuck with me until this day.

It's absolutely terrifying when you are gassed out and out of breathe and you still have three 4-minute rounds remaining. However, that feeling after your intense roll session is unlike any other feeling. It helps you see clearly and keeps you motivated and determined to get better.

3. Learning happens when you're losing

What a nice sounding cliché for comfort. I thought the same too.

I entered my second BJJ competition last month (kimono and without kimono). When I saw guys who were stronger or bigger than I was, I immediately tried to pump myself and remember to focus on my technique. I unconsciously reverted back to my strength instead of the techniques that I had practiced and drilled for months in class. It was also the case that I was nervous and forgot to breathe and remain calm. It was a constant internal battle.

I had many voices of doubt and fear: "Am I strong enough?" "Did I train enough?" "Will my cardio hold up?"

I consider myself a competitive person, yet also realized that I won't sacrifice everything just for a win. I think for me, I had to get in the right mindset to simply perform the techniques to the best of my ability.

I think I learned so much more in those losses than I would have in a month's worth of classes. I've replayed and watched the video of that tournament day over 50 times and think about what I could be doing differently the next time I'm in that position. I think that's the true way to winning. Knowing how not to lose the next time.

Shout out to Professor Alan Teo for being a true martial artist and the great professors at Renzo Gracie Teo BJJ Gym for always providing such a humble and positive approach to the martial arts of BJJ.

I'm still very much a beginner and just scratched the surface of the techniques and depths to this incredible martial arts.

Knowing I can always get better gets me excited to get back on the mat (and try to not get choked).

You should give it a try - you might get hooked too.

Let's roll.