Last night before class, a brown belt colleague sauntered towards me, and we went through our little ritual of pretending to attack each other. You know the one? It can include some Kungfu, maybe a bit of Aikido, because there’s always the implication that if only you were free to employ some earlier studied art, you’d easily be able to kick your friend’s ass (Don’t think jiu-jitsu is the only tool in my box). After this frantic 10 second “hello”, you make your way to the pre-lesson line up, arms around each other’s shoulders, exchanging pleasantries and “bow in” ready to receive that day’s wisdom; except on this occasion, my partner was on a BJJ-bummer, “You should roll with me tonight, you’ll destroy me”, he whispered. “Everybody I’ve sparred with this week has tapped me. Man, I’m seriously thinking about quitting”
I know my associate is a fine competitor, a veteran of many rolls. I’d be surprised if his performance had deteriorated to the degree, he described, and amazed if, he quit. More likely, he was simply enduring the kind of periodic downturn we all experience; however he was voicing an inherent truth, “Winning matters and losing sucks” I’ll go further and say that winning is everything and if you disagree, I suspect that what we are arguing, is mere semantics.
As individual athletes, our goals vary. For some, getting fit or losing weight is enough. Others have loftier aims, perhaps a black belt or taking gold in The European Championships. Whatever the ultimate prize, there are lesser battles to address along the way, and the key to success lies in the cliché, “A black belt, is just a white belt who never quit”. As an untalented old boy, I have watched gifted colleagues depart the scene while others with less talent or athleticism inch relentlessly onwards. I believe the difference lies is the little-discussed attribute of positivity.
Positivity is not arrogance or massive self-belief, nor the notion of invincibility, sometimes referred to as “The champion’s mindset”. That’s a tool for priming the psyche prior to an individual event. I am alluding to the ability to rejoice in small victories and thereby sustain enthusiasm over an extended period whilst, at the same time, failing to become down heartened by the bumps on the BJJ highway.
Those who follow my grumpy meanderings may recall that I wrote recently about incentive derived from belt promotions or receiving a stripe, and that I don’t fully subscribe to the: “It’s all about the journey” school of thought. Yes, it is desirable to seek contentment on our pathway, but contentment should not be allowed to become indifference. The spark must remain alight and the catalyst for that is winning. Success in this sense comprises meeting short, middle and long-term targets, each minor goal ticked before moving on. In the absence of prior planning, destinations risk become arbitrary and not as we intended. Without motivation how can we improve on or off the mat? Both major and minor victories are important to the human condition, and the ego we are told to “leave at the door” needs endless feeding. I know where I want to be in six, months’ time, 1 year from now and five years on. I’m ready to adjust if need-be, but without goals we lose focus and drift; sometimes too far to regain shore!
None of this means we need to score every point in our favour, or never taste defeat, but we must seek and recognise positive indicators. The greater the number of successes we find, in any area of life, the more likely we will commit to the long haul. At class level, we can learn, improve and integrate new techniques. Small improvements are little plusses. Scoring in a “roll”, or even damage limitation can be victories. Praise from our peers or coaches should be taken onboard and banked. Stepping up to compete and the positives associated with that stressful process are all triumphs. Try to finish every class by recalling little conquests and don’t allow dissatisfaction to take hold.
We learn from our mistakes by analysing and correcting, but excess focus on the negative is counterproductive. It’s a grand ideal to imagine that we’ll suffer through every disappointment undaunted to emerge victorious, but while some challenge is needed to maintain interest, generally, when we say we don’t need it to be easy, we really mean, “for everyone else”. It is victories that propel us.
Properly appreciated, Jiu-jitsu lessons can be lessons in life: We make progress in millimetres, small refinements define improvement, and consistency is vital. Whether we adequately prepare for victory is one thing, but what is for sure is it is the win that drives us and those who remain when the dust settles will be those who have focussed on and been carried by their successes.
The Grumpy old Grappler is a native Scot living the dream on the Island of Cyprus. He is the oldest and grumpiest member of Palestra Jiu-jitsu Nicosia.