Make Mistakes

I played three different sports throughout high school – wrestling, track, and football – and I was fortunate to have amazing coaches in all three. Our football games (the kind with egg-shaped ball for our non-US readers) were on Friday night. On Monday, we reviewed footage of the game as a team.

During one of our film study sessions, we analyzed our opponent’s scoring plays from the last game. A new formation had confused one of our defensive players and he “froze up,” unsure where to go, and he stood still for a moment too long, reacting too late, and giving the other team enough space to score. Our coach said, “I’d rather have you make a mistake at full speed than hesitate. If you go the wrong way, we can correct that. If you stand still, we cannot.” This lesson remains true for BJJ.

Being unsure of where to go in BJJ is normal. The amount of positions in BJJ can be overwhelming, and the number of positions only continues to grow. It is normal to see lower belts completely stop when they get to an unfamiliar position.

One of the fastest ways to get better is to go the “wrong way” a few times. BJJ can be self-correcting this way. How many times did you get triangled as white belt before you realized what “both arms in or both arms out” meant? Stopping and refusing to move because you are afraid of making a mistake only slows down your development. If you go the wrong way and end up getting “punished” for trying, you learn an important lesson: don’t do that again.

Another aspect is when upper belts overdeveloped their “spider sense,” like the super power that lets Spider-Man know he's in imminent danger. Many times I’ve rolled with purple and brown belts that would be doing great early in our roll only to slow down and turtle up inside my guard because they knew I was setting them up, or felt it was a trap. Again, the answer here is to keep working through it. Can you reset the grips and start your pass again, can you back out, can you switch to a different pass? You have options, and most times stopping will only make matters worse as your opponent can just keep working whatever got you into trouble in the first place.

A final aspect I wanted to touch on is when you are on offense. Maybe you are in closed guard and are working on your triangles, but are shy about throwing your legs up. Or you are on your feet and hesitating on shooting that double leg. Fear of failing is scary, but you have to be at peace with failing a few times. Eventually you will figure out the timing and things will begin to work. But if you don’t attempt them, they will never improve.

So I invite you to start the year by failing. Whenever you get into situations you are not familiar with, try to work through them. Take some chances on a new technique you are working on. Try to pass that really tricky purple belt’s guard. You will be better for it on the long run.

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