The last few weeks I’d been thinking about how I measure myself in BJJ. I realized that I’ve had a problem throughout my life. It’s not easy to be succinct with what the problem is, but I’ll try.
In various areas of my life, I’ve found myself friends with people that are near the top of whatever it is we’re doing. For example, during my time in seminary, one of my workout partners was an assistant to the president of the seminary. Other friends and study partners had done internships at what I considered “impressive” churches. Now, if you read that and think that’s an oxymoron, it really kind of is. However, in my mind, it wasn’t, because I admired those churches and the men that were leading them.
That is true in other areas of my life as well. I’m a pretty decent software developer. I surround myself with other software developers that are most likely way better than me. I’m a conference speaker. I’m not the best conference speaker, I enjoy it, but when I go to conference, I try to hang out with those speakers that are better than me.
I’m finding that to be the case with BJJ as well. I have some amazing teammates. I have teammates that seem to medal (or do medal) every time they step out on the mat. There are guys I roll with that seem to always be cool, calm and collected. Meanwhile I’m over here trying to not be nervous before my first match at a local tournament.
What I’ve found in each situation is that I’m envious of those people. It’s not an obsessive envy, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy each of those folks. But what I’ve seen as well is that if I try to be someone else, that never works out for me. In seminary, I was not a young, single guy like most of the interns were. I was married with kids, and trying to act like that wasn’t the case would have been disastrous. With development and conference speaking, the same is true. If I try to shift and be someone else, I will not be even as good as I already might be.
So I need to do the same in BJJ. I can be average in BJJ, I might even manage to be good. I could even have a one or two amazing days in BJJ. However, I’m not going to be consistently be at the top.
If that is true, then what do I need to do? Should I pack it up and quit BJJ? Absolutely not! Should I push everything else out of my life and devote solely to BJJ? Maybe, but that’s not something I’m interested in. I’m not willing to sacrifice other areas of my life to pour that energy into BJJ. My career is more important to me than BJJ.
So what do I do then?
The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is to look at where I’ve come from. I walked on the mats at Mid-America Martial Arts just shy of 3 years ago. I was out of shape, and largely uncoordinated. I went 4 months without a submission once I started sparring. Read that again. Four months! I didn’t tap a single soul. Not other white belts, and not even the guys that started around the same time. There were nights that I would have 10-12 rolls and get tapped out more than 20 times. I remember one night in which I was armbarred 8 straight times by different partners and different positions. I somehow managed to keep leaving my arms exposed. I remember showing up to sparring with my goal to have at least ONE session in which I didn’t get submitted. I got so close to that, tapping to an armbar with less than 5s left on the clock.
I spent quite a long period of time where the only people I was able to catch were people that started after me. Let’s be clear, I don’t mean that I tapped all the people who started after me, but rather I didn’t tap anyone that started before me. Reflecting back, I haven’t seen a whitebelt come into our school that was worse than me when I came in.
What I can say, though, is that I’m better this month than I was last month. My transitions from one position to another is far better than they had been. I feel like I understand the importance of your hips when you’re sweeping someone. Even if I don’t always put that knowledge to use.
To put it simply, I’ve grown in BJJ. And that, I think is the only thing I can do. It doesn’t do me any good to measure myself by someone else. Not in my career, and not in BJJ. It’s not always easy, in fact it is really difficult. But my goal has in BJJ has to be “Be better today than I was yesterday.”