About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
Brazilian jiu jitsu, as a sport and a lifestyle, has significant impact on its practitioners. We achieve higher levels of fitness, while also learning to control our bodies and those who come into physical contact with us. These results are expected, but an additional benefit to us is how core BJJ concepts can benefit us in other aspects of our lives. Let us take a look at some of these concepts, how they are cultivated by our participation in BJJ and the value to us beyond the mat!
Be the last person to accept defeat
The 2012 edition of the Mundials is mostly remembered as the event that crowned Buchecha. The Checkmat athlete won both his division and the openweight, starting his reign as the king of BJJ. For me, even more than the fact that Buchecha won, the way he won two of his toughest matches that day stand out. Against Rodolfo Vieira and Leo Nogueira, Buchecha was down by points with under one minute left and secured the win by exploding for takedowns. Buchecha won those fights, when most watching had concluded he was surely going to lose. He did not quit. This “never say die” attitude allowed him to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat because he was the last person to know he had “lost”.
When we adopt this attitude, we are not only mimicking Buchecha, but also applying a core concept of BJJ. The very nature of the guard is taking a position that common knowledge says is weak, being on bottom in an altercation, and turning it into a place where we can protect ourselves and even attack. Like many, I was first attracted to BJJ by Royce Gracie’s exploits in winning three out of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championships. What cemented my interest in BJJ was his fight against Dan Severn in the final of UFC 4. I, along with the announcers, thought Severn on his way to victory when Royce won via triangle choke. Royce Gracie was being smothered and pounded by a wrestler one hundred pounds heavier, and when everyone (besides presumably Royce and his family) thought he was on his way to defeat, he won in convincing fashion. That commitment to moving forward, even in bad situations, is part of the BJJ mentality that we cultivate in ourselves as we train and grow in the sport.
Be calm in the eye of the storm
Roger Gracie is known as one of the greatest BJJ athletes of all time. The multiple-time Mundial champion has a reputation as a finisher, even at the black belt level. What often gets overlooked is his mastery of defense. The fact that Roger has never been submitted as a black belt is no accident and his defense is something that interviews reveal he takes well-earned pride in. Roger put himself in the “storm” by training with the toughest partners he could find in the academy as he progressed through the ranks. That experience and the technical points learned enabled Roger to develop confidence in his ability to escape tough positions against the best fighters in the world. When watching matches like his 2004 Mundial encounter with Fernando Terere or his 2007 showdown with Fernando “Margarida” Pontes, we see Roger stay calm when put in tough spots and then go on to win decisively!
The degree of our ability to stay cool under fire is often a huge factor in determining our success in a situation. When we master the ability to stay calm, we allow ourselves the opportunity to put our full mind to solving the problem in front of us. BJJ is a great tool to teach us and help hone this skill.
Weaknesses are opportunities
Like many, when I started BJJ, I was most comfortable on top. As a new blue belt who wanted to compete, I was faced with the reality that my guard game was limited and needed improvement. I was unsure how to get better until I got some advice from long-time training partners Paul Creighton and Brad Adams – who were also blue belts but had about a year of mat experience on me (both are currently BJJ black belts). They told me to look at my “weakness” as an opportunity for improvement and to put together a daily plan to work on that specific area. Upon hearing this, I started staying after class with them to do guard retention and sweep drills that I still do to this day. I went from a new blue belt who was scared of being on bottom to one comfortable wherever the match took me. This gave me much more rounded BJJ and has been a key part of my success since. My “weakness” was in truth a real opportunity to make massive improvement based on the actions I took. The upside of applying this in other parts of our lives is obvious. Turning weaknesses into strengths in any situation will allow us to reap rewards otherwise out of reach in those areas.
Improvement often comes in small steps
As a purple belt, I remember a particularly humbling training session at the Yamasaki Academy with Murilo Santana. Mario Yamasaki, who watched as Murilo completely shut down my game and tapped me, came over to where I was licking my wounds and said something I often repeat to my students today. “Little details”, Mario said. “You’re jiu jitsu is very good and you are just missing the little details to connect it”. At the time, while I appreciated the kind words, I thought Mario was crazy, as the only thing Murilo left me feeling “very good” at was getting my guard passed and tapping! I respected Mario so I held on to what he said and, over time, I came to understand the truth in his coaching. I was missing technical details that Murilo took advantage of and the key to my improvement lay in my understanding those details and making those corrections.
Mario’s coaching was the seed of a mantra that I often quote, “Little details lead to huge improvements”. When we approach the mat with this mindset, we are hyper-aware of the details. These details stack, compound and lead to real improvement in our BJJ games. BJJ gives us an appreciation for the incremental improvement that often marks real progress. Applying that concept in other places in our lives supports continued improvement, as it prevents the stagnation that can be a result of a perceived lack of progress.
The concepts expressed in this piece are not exclusive to Brazilian jiu jitsu. BJJ does reinforce how the application of these concepts can reap rewards. That type of compounded learning allows these concepts to take real root, making it easier to apply these lessons in other areas of our lives. When we do this, we are truly enjoying the benefits of the BJJ lifestyle we have chosen.
See you on the mat!