Insights I’ve Gained After 3 Years of Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Under a Living Legend

What in the world made a nerd like me even think or consider doing something as intense and difficult as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? I was never really into sports, I don’t care about watching basketball games on TV, and I once fell asleep while watching the Superbowl at my cousin’s Superbowl party.

But around the age of 25, I felt curious and I couldn’t really explain why. In fact, I’m curious about a lot of different things, but I’ll save that story for another time. As a quick side note, curiosity is a blessing to me, because it leads me deep down the rabbit hole and as a result of my curiosity, I’m rarely (if ever) bored because there always something to learn, do, understand, experiment, attempt, or get better at.

One thing I have realized about myself is that I am willing to do things that don’t always reflect what the “normal” version of myself would do just to see what happens. Interestingly, what I’ve begun to realize as a BJJ Blue Belt is that performing moves that don’t reflect the “normal” me can also lead to new insights and by new insights I mean new possibilities and by new possibilities I mean new positions and new submissions.

Insight #1
You must be willing to do things that your “normal” self probably wouldn’t do in order to see new possibilities.

This wasn’t always the case though. Growing up as a child, I wasn’t simply “willing” to do things. I was afraid to speak up. I was afraid to raise my hand in class. I was afraid to answer a question even though I knew I had the right answer. During the beginning of the school year, instructors would often go around the room and have all of the new students introduce themselves. I hated this. The anxiety inside of me would get worse and worse as the teacher got closer and closer to calling my name to introduce myself. What was I going to say? At the dinner table with my family, I would have an internal monologue with myself debating over whether I should “burden” one of my family members with asking them to pass me the salad dressing. I would get anxiety attacks when people asked me questions about myself. I look back at this and I’m not even sure what to think. How could I allow this? What was I afraid of?

About a year-and-a-half after starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I soon realized that everything you are gets exposed during the live training. You cannot lie and you cannot pretend. In a matter of 5 minutes, people can see what you’re capable of. Soon enough, I felt like I had to grapple with the same “issues” that have impacted other aspects of my life:

  • Overthinking
  • Overanalyzing
  • Passivity
  • Stiffness
  • Not letting go
  • Ignoring problems
  • Not being vulnerable

I would get into certain positions and get stuck there because I was overthinking and overanalyzing all of the different things that could happen or go wrong. I lost count of the number of times higher belts would tell me that “I’m thinking too much.” I’ve been hearing that my whole life! I would allow my training partners to do all sorts of moves on me with me barely moving (i.e. being passive and stiff). I would end up in dominant or subservient positions and hold on so tight that the sparring session would lose its natural flow (i.e. not letting go). I would get tapped out again and again and again without trying to understand what I was doing wrong (i.e. ignoring problems). I would avoid placing myself in positions where I knew I was weak and needed to improve (i.e. not being vulnerable). When I come to think of it, all of these issues culminate into one main problem: fear.

Insight #2
The problems you deal with during BJJ training are analogous to the problems you deal with in other aspects of your life.

This diagram displays the underlying root of many of my interrelated issues.

All of that being said, there are also a few things that I’ve learned from training BJJ itself that have impacted other aspects of my life. The most important of these lessons is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is largely a game of maximizing the use of technique while minimizing the extent to which I use strength or force. Ideally, the more and more techniques I learn, the less and less I use strength. In other words, I become more and more efficient. BJJ and life itself are largely games of maximizing efficiency.

When I first started BJJ, I would spar 2 or 3 five-minute rounds, gas out, and then sit against the wall due to being exhausted. Now, because I’ve worked on my ability to breathe and my ability to understand when it makes sense to move and when it’s pointless to move, I can do way more rounds without gassing out.

Insight #3
Both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and life itself are largely games of maximizing efficiency. The most efficient way is most likely the most “ideal” way.

Something makes me feel like I’ve been rambling for quite some time now so I will end this piece by listing all of the things that I’ve personally gained by training Jiu Jitsu thus far:

  • I’ve become much more self-aware. That is, I have a better understanding of what matters and what does not matter to me.
  • I am way more concerned with my health and the implications of what foods I put into my body. I mostly concern myself with what foods will minimize sickness and maximize my energy throughout the day.
  • My body has become way more flexible.
  • I’ve become much calmer.
  • I’ve become less cynical.
  • I’m better able to read people.
  • I’m better able to deal with problems in life.
  • I’ve become happier.
  • I’ve developed a mindset where I believe I’m a work in progress and that I can keep getting better.
  • I’ve met and befriended outstanding people that I probably would have never met: BJJ world champions, highly successful businessmen, incredible artists, and people that have overcome major problems such as obesity, heart attacks, living in their cars, and debilitating illnesses.
  • I’ve finally found a great sport that is both mentally stimulating and physically demanding.

Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment!


10 comments On Insights I’ve Gained After 3 Years of Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Under a Living Legend

  • I’d love to hear about increase of the curiosity while getting older. Have experienced similar transformation from an ignorant guy to a curious one (well, I’d say less ignorant :)).

  • Nice read though I’d say that the “rules” that apply in BJJ (eg be efficient) apply throughout all physical activities.

  • I took BJJ for a little while, and learned a few techniques. I ended up not going anymore because it was a little to expensive for me. But now I can probably manage it, and I think I’m going to start going back. This post definitely pushed me a little more 🙂

  • Not just randomly insightful – VERY insightful. I’ve been trying to encourage someone I know to explore BJJ. (In Chicago, we have Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which is amazing.) Just sent them a link to your article and added it as a note to self. These are exactly the ideas we’ve been discussing. Thanks for posting.

  • vrery insightful. thanks for posting

  • Nice write up. It’s awesome how much sports/physical things can teach us and help our mental game.

  • Sounds great! I was researching martial arts last year and thought (Brazilian) Jiu Jitsu sounded the most interesting. I’m hesitant to start at 49, but I’d like to convince my 10 year old niece to get involved. She’s more interested in dance.

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  • Nice article, insightful

  • Thanks for the nice article! As others say, I also believe most of these benefits accrue to anyone dedicated to a sport / physical regimen. That’s been my experience (I’m 51).

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