Grape by Grape

My family is from a small farming community in the south of Chile, Quinchamali. My mom’s side of the family still owns land there. My grandfather was a farmer and lived almost his whole life on that land. He even came to the United States in the 50s in an exchange program. He spent six months on a container ship as it took the long way around South America to get to the east coast. This was before the Panama Canal was widened to allow ships that size to pass through.

Ramon, or Moncho as his friends called him, had a lot of adages, as any good farmer would. One of my favorite ones he would use was “de uva en uva un zorzal se comio una viña” or “grape by grape a sparrow ate a vineyard.” He would say this to impatient little Nelson, Nechito as he called me, whenever anything I was trying to accomplish took more than five minutes. He wanted to instill in me that no matter how big the task, it can be accomplished if you go step by step.

Years later I found myself doing BJJ, immersed in a sea of techniques, takedowns, sweeps, passes, escapes, submissions. So much to learn. And the crazy thing is that every day new positions are developed, or we change the way we do old ones. With this sheer amount of techniques, it is easy to become impatient. How are you supposed to master all of these?

Even when it comes to fundamentals, we see vastly different approaches to what these entail. Depending on your instructors lineage, you may see some self-defense in here or an emphasis on basic takedowns, while more modern schools will even start sprinkling open guard in there.

One of the most important things to understand as a beginner is that learning BJJ takes time. Even if you are taught a move multiple times, it may take years before you internalize it and are able to use it. Moves like the arm triangle and north south choke are notorious for being tough to learn. It honestly took me five years before I was able to start hitting them. I did not get the north south choke until Hillary showed me the details she uses to make it work. The day it finally clicked was glorious. I had similar experience with foot sweeps. It took years to figure out the timing and to start hitting them instead of my partners feeling like I was kicking them in the shins.

Some practitioners decide to limit what they work on—half guard players, spider guard, berinbolo, or the old guy in the room rolling like its 1996. I’ve joked around I’ve had BJJ ADHD for years. I can’t do the same thing for too long before it starts to feel stale and I need to move on to something else. The way I look at it, I will be training the rest of my life. There is plenty of time to work on everything. All the guards, different styles of passing, foot locks, takedowns, you name it.

No matter where you are in your BJJ journey, remember that bird tackling the vineyard grape by grape. You can do it too. Pick a move and put the work in. Eventually, it will find its way into your game. And then you get to do it again. This is my favorite part of BJJ.