We are constantly talking about optimizing our learning. We want to squeeze out every ounce of progress from every moment on the mats. The Inverted Gear blog is full of articles about doing just that, and I have written many of them. What can be lost in that conversation is a realistic, healthy perspective on the detours and setbacks that are unavoidable (and maybe even necessary).
Your progress will not be a smooth, straight line upwards.
We may like to think someone who has trained twice as long is also twice as good, but that’s not how real life works. Different people learn at different speeds. The longer you train, the slower you improve. Some skills come fast, others come slow. You will make breakthroughs, and you will hit plateaus. This was the first point I made in 5 Tips to Keep You on the Long Road to Black Belt and Beyond. Goals are good and keep you moving forward, but accept that they may change before you reach them, and that is okay. Just keep trying to be better than you were yesterday, and even if you fail, there’s always tomorrow.
When you measure your progress against your teammates, realize they are improving too.
Beginners are especially guilty of overestimating how well they can gauge their progress by how well they do against their teammates. This is normal since you test yourself against them every time you spar, and we all do it to some degree. But do not forget that your teammates are getting better all the time too. They are a moving mile-marker and they do not give you a clear measurement.
When you started, everyone smashed you. Six months later, everyone is still smashing you. You do not feel like you have changed much. But one day a new person walks in the door and you get to smash them. That’s when it really hits you how much you were learning all those days where you were getting smeared across the mats.
Much of the learning process happens outside your conscious mind.
Your body and mind take time to process and incorporate new experiences. Most of the work your brain is doing is largely beyond your awareness. Totally unconscious processes like sleep are vitally important to learning new skills. Those days where it feels like you are just showing up to go through the motions still contribute to the sum total of your experiences, and they all matter in the end. I explored this more and talked about the science behind it in You Learn Even on the Bad Days.
A new technique or position may not “click” until you develop another aspect of your game.
Techniques do not exist in isolation. They need to fit into your game. We can lose sight of this fact when we learn a cool new technique but have trouble making it work in sparring. In addition to the learning curve for any new material, there is also the issue of whether or not it complements your existing game. You could learn an amazing technique that a world champion used to win gold, but if it happens in a position you never use, then what good does it do you? Coaches talk about the importance of training transitions or even “micro-transitions,” which is to say, you need to figure out the connections -- not just the endpoints -- of your game plan.
Life will get in the way of training.
Life is full of surprises, both good and bad, and unfortunately many of them can knock you out of training, at least temporarily. Accepting this as inevitable will spare you from unnecessary frustration. Sometimes you need to skip class. Sometimes you need to skip many classes. Maybe you even need to take months off. BJJ is important to us, otherwise I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it, but you need to balance it with all the other aspects of your life.
My purpose for writing this was to help you see that your path through jiu-jitsu will not be as simple and straightforward as you may like, but that by being aware of the hangups we all face, you can feel less frustrated and keep working toward your goals, whatever they might be.
Speaking of goals, I would love to hear what you are working on right now in your training. Please leave a comment below!