This week has been a rough one for me. I did my normal conditioning, technique and sparring classes, however, it really felt like not much clicked. One night we learned some half-guard sweeps that just didn’t seem to gel to me. Another night we worked some escapes from half-guard bottom, and while I could perform them in technique class, I seemed unable to pull one off in sparring. In fact, it was one of those weeks where I felt like I could not pull anything off in sparring. These weeks happen to me from time to time.
I’m not talking about getting tapped a lot in sparring, that does not necessarily bother me a lot. There are a lot of reasons to get tapped a lot in sparring. For one, if I’m the only white belt in the room, I don’t have a lot of expectations that I’m going to tear it up. Also, depending on how we start or what it is I’m working on, or what the other guy is working on, I could get tapped quite frequently. I know that if I’m going to stay in BJJ I’m going to have more taps than I can count (in fact I’ve already lost count.)
What I’m talking about, though, is not being able to do things that I want to do. Could be passing a guard, maintaining top pressure or working a specific submission. It could also be more basic things such as being aggressive, or keeping my base. This week I felt like a rag doll, tossed about on the map and moved wherever my opponent wanted me.
As I thought about it a few things came to mind. First of all, while I love doing BJJ and I enjoy competing, I realize that it is just a hobby for me. I will not be doing this professionally nor full time. So in that sense, I don’t have to be the best 3-stripe white belt ever, I just need to be better than I was last night, last week, or last month. As I thought about that I realized that roughly 1 year ago I was preparing for my first ever tournament. The week after the tournament I realized how easily people passed my guard and how much I essentially laid there after they passed the guard. But this week, even in my bad moments, I was moving better than I did a year ago. I do a better job of keeping people in my guard (they still escape, but I’m better.) I can see submissions and set them up, something else I couldn’t or didn’t do last year.
Secondly, I have to remember that what I’m doing is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m not “street fighting” or anything like that. I’m training and competing under a certain set of rules. I need to focus on learning BJJ. In Nebraska we have no shortage of guys that have wrestled. Sometimes recently sometimes 10+ years ago, but it seems as if you can always tell a former wrestler. They know how to distribute their weight, they are strong regardless of size, that is, they don’t have to look like Mr. Universe. One reason this is sometimes tough is that in BJJ we’re taught “technique over strength.” The mindset that a smaller opponent can defeat a larger opponent with technique. Sometimes this is taken to extremes in the BJJ community and people will say things like “A blue belt should never tap to a white belt.” I don’t think this is true at all. While some people may be new to BJJ, that doesn’t mean they’re new to grappling. I’ve spent a grand total of about 18 months grappling, and I’m 36. Some people have years and years of grappling, either in an organized wrestling or judo environment, or just in the house with their brothers. Someone can be less skilled at a certain set of movements and techniques, but still be a more skilled grappler.
Neither of these things should be revolutionary to anyone reading this. They weren’t necessarily surprising to me. But sometimes I need to take a step back and think about where I’m at. I realize that from 12 months ago (or even 6 months ago) I’ve progressed and gotten better. I’m a better version of myself from a few months back. Despite having an off week, a week where I got beat up, and thwarted at every turn, I’m still at the point where I can recognize where I’m at, and that is growth.