About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
As a Brazilian jiu jitsu instructor, one of the things I get asked for the most is advice on reaching long-term goals. The labour of love that is the BJJ journey tends to attract people who think in terms of achievement, so it is natural for us to look for guidance from our teachers and mentors. While the achievements in question may vary (tournament medals, belt progression, another specific form of recognition) the simple existence of goals gives us some basic things in common when it comes to the impact on us as students and athletes.
As motivating as long-term goals can be, at times they can also be a weight that slows or even halts our momentum if we see our goals as completely out of reach. Here are a few simple things we can do to help keep ourselves on track to reach our long-term BJJ goals!
Stop comparing ourselves to others!
In BJJ, there is a fine line between “drawing inspiration from” and “comparing oneself to” others, and that line can be the difference between success and failure. When I was a blue/purple belt at the Yamasaki Academy, Murilo Santana (now of Barbosa/Unity) was starting to make international waves as a purple/brown belt. I witnessed first-hand how hard Murilo trained daily and how he imposed his will in competition. Murilo’s swift and steady improvement had an impact on all of us who trained with him in that we wanted to follow in his footsteps and achieve great things in our own right.
I remember being a little discouraged when I started to see more and more separation between Murilo’s results and my own. His rise was meteoric while mine, although steady, was more gradual. I found myself less enthusiastic about training and competing until I realised the mistake I was making and the opportunity I was missing.
By comparing myself to Murilo I was blinding myself to the progress I was making. To make matters worse, I was also missing out on the encouragement I could have been getting from seeing a teammate/training partner do such fantastic things. Once I saw this, I changed my perspective and, to this day, I draw great joy and energy from watching and hearing about Murilo’s success! When we learn to avoid comparison and instead draw inspiration from the things that others do, we make ourselves more likely to keep moving towards positive outcomes.
Minimise breaks in training!
Anyone who trains BJJ for an extended period of time will have to “take a break” from time to time. Injuries, family obligations, work conflicts and simple mental fatigue can and will all conspire to take us away from the mat. We must accept this reality as part of the truth that BJJ is part of life and not vice-versa. We can, however, minimise the impact these breaks have on us by focusing on “training when we can”, “doing what we can do” and “staying away from the mat for as short a time as possible”.
On the face of it these seem like simple ideas but they are actually very powerful when applied. When I was a blue belt, one of my training partners cut his forehead and got several stitches. His doctor said that he probably would not be able to train as it was important that the injury be allowed to heal. It would have been easy to sit out for a few weeks as he had the excuse of “doctor’s orders”, but he was not looking for an excuse; he wanted to improve.
He put his mind to work and two days after he got the stitches, he went to a sports store and bought a mask that covered/protected his face. The doctor gave him the “ok” and he was back on the mat training and improving. While I am not suggesting we should disregard doctors’ advice and can ALWAYS train through injury, I am highlighting this athlete’s willingness to ask what he COULD do and how he could MINIMISE the time he would have to be away from training. When we are willing to put our minds to work on finding ways to get mat time, we often find the solutions that keep us making progress towards our goals.
Make sustainable improvements in diet!
One of the areas often we often neglect when thinking about BJJ is our diet. When we do give it some thought, we often make one of two mistakes: we either ignore it or we make drastic changes that are difficult to maintain long-term.
What and how we eat has a major impact on how we feel and our ability to perform. Taking the time to improve our diet so that it provides us with the energy to train effectively can have a significant impact on our BJJ. We have tools in food sensitivity tests and supplement counselling that can take all the guessing out of what to put in our bodies.
The keys to long-term success in this area are getting solid advice and making changes that are sustainable. Bad advice will yield poor results, and when we make drastic changes the result is often a “rubber-band” effect that sees us eventually regress to a worse diet than the previous one and that impacts on us physically and can be discouraging mentally. Making sound changes that we can live with over time allows us to progress steadily and enjoy positive impacts on our health and mental state. Seeking out a qualified doctor, nurse practitioner, nutritionist or personal trainer for guidance in this area is an investment that will pay huge dividends.
Diversify our training!
BJJ can be a GRIND! There are times when we open our eyes in the morning and yearn to be on the mat. There are other times when we find ourselves struggling for the motivation to pack our gis for training. This is the reality as the sport, like any combat sport, is challenging. One of the keys to minimising the days we have to labour to find the motivation is adding some diversity to our training.
Diversity in training can come in many forms. While sparring, we can work on different techniques or vary the level of intensity. We can focus on positional training for a time or change the length of our rolls. We can seek out different drilling partners or increase/decrease the amount of time we put into drilling. The point is that we have many ways to spice up our daily training grind by changing it.
Alliance black belt and 4x Pan division winner, Derek Kaivani is one of my favourite training partners. I outweigh him by a good 25lb so instead of sparring, we decided long ago to try out spending the majority of our time drilling. Before that experience I had spent most of my mat time sparring, but I found that I not only enjoyed drilling but it allowed me to add new techniques to my arsenal at a much faster rate. By embracing this change, I enhanced both my enjoyment of training and I found a new way to speed up my development. Experimenting can be fun and we often find a few new things we enjoy that we can add to our game- whether they be techniques and/or training methods!
Find balance between FUN and our GOALS!
While being serious-minded and focused on our goals is a good thing, we should not underestimate the positive impact of simply having fun. Fun can often be the fuel that gets us to BJJ class when other motivations fail us. Those days when we are tired or discouraged can make it easy to skip training. The problem here is that missed days easily turn into weeks and months. When BJJ is fun for us, it gives us additional reason to train and it allows us to get more of the top thing we need to reach our BJJ goals: mat time.
Living the BJJ lifestyle offers various benefits. It can provide us with great friendships, interesting adventures, a variety of experiences and personal growth. That said, these benefits often come in proportion to the time we spend in the humbling and challenging fire of training.
Roger Gracie, for many the best BJJ competitor of all-time, alluded to the crucible that training can be, both on the ego and physically, when he was asked how he developed such a great defence. He responded that he “tapped a lot in the academy”. Considering that perspective from an all-time great, it makes clear sense to put the aforementioned simple things in place so that when the tough times come we will stay the course and put ourselves in a position to ultimately achieve our long-term goals.
See you on the mat!!