I remember my first few months of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu well. I approached every roll with a simple approach: I was going to try to win. In almost every instance, I didn’t win. It was discouraging and humbling and on many occasions I contemplated quitting.
I’m fortunate that I had several incredibly patient coaches and mentors who gently reminded me that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was a long journey and that I needed to let go of my expectations, my desire to win and my ego. Their suggestions worked. While progress can sometimes feel incremental, I’m still here. I competed in 2015. I rolled more than 500 five-minute rounds last year. I can see potential escapes, passes and attacks in real time, even I can't always capitalize. I have embraced the journey and the quiet grind of BJJ in ways I never anticipated.
Here’s what hasn’t changed: I still want to win. But my understanding of what it means to win, and how it should be achieved, has changed. As I enter my fourth year of BJJ I’ve resolved that I only want to win at the gym if I can achieve it a certain way and without exertion. If I have to strain and contort and grimace to get a good position or to try to win a round I don’t want it. I only want it if I can do it right and relaxed (competition is a different story).
I’d like to view each roll as a means of taking inventory. How am I breathing? Too hard? Slow down. Am I gripping like a madman and trying at all costs to get a choke? It’s not working efficiently so move and try something else. Is this person going extra hard? Protect my arms. Concede a bad position and play from there and see if I can get out. Take a defensive inventory and hang out and try to spot a mistake and then get on top and relax and work.
This process is not perfect. On several occasions during more competitive rolls last year I found myself going too hard or trying to maintain position at all costs. At the end of those rolls I was discouraged. Looking back, I could see how my mental inflexibility led to a roll where there were no moments in the elusive “zone” experienced players and higher belts talk about, just a fixation on maintaining gains with little work to advance or “take inventory” and play with my options.
If I win in the gym going forward, I want to win one way: smart, technical and efficient. This doesn’t mean not using pressure or dialing up the intensity in good positions. What it does mean is that I’ve determined that the way to get good is to be the guy who wins and is able to do it while relaxed, with no grimaces or grunts, breathing easily. Every time I’m rolling, I will take inventory.