I’ve been training for quite a while now, and much like I imagine you’d deal with a mid life crisis, I’m starting to worry I have become a jiu jitsu average Joe – tell me I’m not alone?
When I started BJJ nine years ago, I was adamant I was going to be a complete badass on the mats, and quickly. After all, I’d done my research, I watched the UFC and I knew what a triangle choke was, so how could I not be awesome at this s*** quicker than other students?
I vividly remember setting myself the goal of getting my blue belt within three months. Not because I wanted to be recognised with a super-quick promotion, but because I wanted to reach that level of grappling competence quicker than anyone else. My favourite fighter of all time is BJ Penn, so you can see where I was coming from.
Having started my jits journey while at university, I had plenty of free time to train and I threw myself into the sport head first, making sure I was at the academy every session possible and immersing myself fully into this new passion; what a beautiful gift I’d been given. I started to progress quickly, maybe even quicker than others, and, just a little, my ego started to take shape.
In the build up to my first competition, I remember my coach saying, “man, if you fight like you do in the academy at the tournament this weekend, you’re going to win.” Ego now in full flow, I felt like I was set to be a jiu jitsu superstar and I would be bringing home gold medals on the regular. Yeah…
So I didn’t win my first tournament, and I was genuinely surprised. It turned out I wasn’t the jiu jitsu badass I was supposed to be. Unbeknown to me at the time, I’d been dealt one of the greatest life lessons I could have hoped for: ego is the enemy and there is always going to be someone better than you. Roger Gracie aside, of course.
Having your ego curbed is something we have all experienced, and I believe it’s one of the most amazing things jiu jitsu can teach us. After realising I wasn’t set to be the next 10x world champion, it made my training much, much easier. I still trained hard, I still wanted to do well, but I now realised the importance of managing expectations and exercising humility, especially within your own academy.
Fast forward to present day, and I can hold my hands up and admit that I’ve still never won a tournament. Ever. Has the one thing I never wanted to happen finally happened? Am I a jiu jitsu average Joe? The answer to that is, without doubt, a categorical ‘Yes’.
I could never in my wildest dreams hoped to have found something I would become so passionate about as Brazilian jiu jitsu. It’s what I think about 99% of the day, and that’s not just because I’m a journalist actively seeking jiu jitsu stimulus 24/7. Back when I was working in ‘the real world’, I would often have colleagues tell me to shut up talking about ‘that cuddling s***’, or get in trouble for watching too many videos of fights on YouTube. Despite being so hopelessly in love with BJJ, I will never be a world champion and, let’s face it, I may never win a gold medal. I would hazard a guess that I am the epitome of a jiu jitsu average Joe, but guess what? I’m ok with that.
Life can be a tricky balancing act. You could argue that anyone who truly excels at something cannot be a balanced person because of the amount of time required to achieve said excellence. Now I don’t subscribe to that theory myself, but I do believe that life has a sneaky habit of taking over. After finishing my studies and getting a job, guess what? I couldn’t train as intensely as I did before and my commitments meant I couldn’t be at the academy for every session of the week. I saw the guys putting in the extra hours start to progress quicker than me, then surpass me, and once again I had to work hard to keep my ego in check.
For me, a good week of training is if I can get to the academy three times. Now that’s a ‘good’ week, and sadly quite often it’s less than that, but either way it’s not the six, seven or eight sessions the ‘medal chasers’ are putting in. On rare occasions, I can have weeks when I can’t make it to the academy at all, and there’s no denying I miss training terribly when that happens. But, you know what, I don’t think I would want to be the guy that’s at the gym eight times a week anymore – is that ok to say?
As long as I get my weekly jiu jitsu fix, I’m a happy man, and that’s my relationship with the art. It’s still my passion and I’d be lost without it, but I’m comfy calling myself an average Joe. I’m just a guy doing jiu jitsu. I love BJJ and I love martial arts, but I also enjoy the occasional beer, going out for dinner with friends, heading to the cinema with my wife and taking the dog for a walk – life is a rich tapestry.
All that said, hold your horses a minute, as I think I’ve found a loophole! I may be a jiu jitsu average Joe, but what does that mean on a grander scale?
It takes a very special type of person to train BJJ for the long haul. How many people have you seen rock up for one or two classes, possibly people with previous martial arts experience, before quitting for something easier or less challenging? Simply getting your blue belt in jiu jitsu should be considered a massive, massive achievement, and something that only a small percentage of the world’s population have the bottle to pursue.
Many of you reading this will hopefully relate to my plight and would consider yourselves jiu jitsu average Joes – embrace it! If we’re average Joes in the jiu jitsu world, how does that compare to those in the general population who don’t have any competence in jiu jitsu and self defence? We grapplers are gods amongst mere mortals!
Just kidding. Sort of.