The Jiu-Jiteiros Who Deserve More Celebration than World Champions
Our sport rightly highlights the accomplishments of the latest crop of competitors. The super athletes who are also next-level technicians drive innovation in the art. They elevate the game, and excitement around a high-profile match can be electrifying for every level of jiu-jitsu student.
While our attention naturally gravitates toward elite competitors, we should sometimes pause to admire different kinds of jiu-jiteiros. There may be someone sharing the mats with you each week who can teach you a lot about what it means to be a student and perhaps energize you in a way that a shredded pajama brawler cannot.
Every day, in jiu-jitsu schools around the world, people step on to the mat who are not young athletes. Adults of all ages with careers and families decide to try something new. They might be older. They might be out of shape. They might be scared.
But they try.
And they fail. They fail a lot, actually. Jiu-jitsu is difficult, and the learning curve for beginners can feel like scaling a rain-slicked cliff-face.
But they keep coming back. Class after class, they tie their belts, and they do their best.
I admire these kinds of students because they face and conquer challenges that are very different from that of a professional athlete. The normal person who puts on a gi for the first time at 35, or 45, or 65 faces very human obstacles. They come into a strange place where people fight each other. They accept that they will not be the toughest or the fastest or the strongest person in the room, and perhaps even accept having to drift to the back during a warm-up jog because their cardio isn’t there yet. They accept that they have no idea what they are doing and endure the struggle of being a beginner. They accept that they will make mistakes and likely embarrass themselves several times a class (and they feel that way even if they are assured that no one in the class really cares if they forgot how to tie their belt).
These are immense challenges to overcome. I know that for myself, someone who started training at 19, I’m not sure that I’d have that kind of inner strength or that kind of resolve to push through the awkwardness and the pain of being a new student under those circumstances.
When I get to train alongside grapplers like the ones I’ve described, I’m inspired. I’m motivated. Here are people next to me staring down a difficult path, and they keep showing up.
No matter where we are in our jiu-jitsu journeys or when we started or how athletic we are, we can learn a great deal from these students. There is a lesson in being willing to show up even when you know it’s going to be hard. There is a lesson in being willing to do the work and to make an attempt even if you don’t get it the first or the thirtieth time.
And we should never stop pursuing that lesson, and we should celebrate the people on that pursuit more often.