After a tough round of sparring, when nothing goes right and you feel embarrassed and discouraged, it’s tempting to make excuses:
- “They were bigger and just squashed me.”
- “They were stronger and just muscled me around.”
- “They were sweaty and it was no-gi and they just slipped out of everything.”
- “They went berserk and just powered out with zero technique.”
- “They were a higher belt and I was outmatched so of course I lost.”
Don’t think that way! Even when it’s true. What do you gain from it? Those are dead ends. We’re not doing jiu-jitsu so we can beat smaller, weaker, clueless children (at least I hope not…).
You will run into people who are bigger, stronger, crazier, smarter, faster, more skilled, etc. Those all put you at a disadvantage. That’s just how the game works. Accept that. You can have these thoughts if you add this tweak: “So what could I have done better?”
Extract lessons from your frustrating experiences. Cultivate a mindset for finding the potential for improving through these difficult matches. Your ego (and your body) may take a beating, but you can turn it into opportunities for growth. Visualize your tough matches after class. Load a replay into your mental holodeck. If you’re like me, you naturally find yourself doing this when you’re standing in the shower or browsing Reddit at work or trying to fall asleep.
While mentally reliving your experiences, ask yourself questions like these:
- Did I make the right decision at each critical moment?
- What could I have done differently?
- Where could I have used a technique but didn’t try?
- When did things go wrong?
- Why did it go wrong?
- How could I have avoided that?
If your examination exposes a weakness, now you know what to work on next. Find time to remedy it: Ask your teacher or a friendly higher belt for help, research the situation online, put in more drilling, team up with a training partner to do positional sparring to recreate the situation, try to use the technique more in sparring, etc.
Here are a few more questions you can ask to evaluate how you solve your problems. The goal of these questions is to guide you towards greater effectiveness and efficiency:
- Is there a simpler solution?
- Can I minimize the demands for physical attributes like strength, endurance, or flexibility?
- Can I avoid needing to act faster by increasing my awareness of potential problems?
- When I’m physically outmatched, how can I protect myself and “cage the beast”?
- Is the reward for trying a technique worth the risk of it failing? How can I reduce the risk?
The nemesis of all smaller, weaker white belts is the bigger, stronger and crazier sparring partner who thrashes and smashes and hulks out on you. Many a DVD has been sold on the promise of revealing the secrets to defeating these grappling boogie men.
I’ll tell you the real “secret” and I won’t even charge you for it: There is no secret. Jiu-jitsu simply takes time to learn, and so much of that learning is frustrating, messy, and difficult. Skill is built through trial and error, and oh boy, does jiu-jitsu like to rub your errors in your face. Don’t get discouraged and don’t quit. Turn challenges into chances to grow.