How To Not Quit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (part 1)

The Challenge

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the hardest martial arts to learn.  But it is also one of the most rewarding.  There is something really honest about having to tap, and if you don’t,  something will break, or you’ll go to sleep.  But it can be hard to take.

Besides tapping, there are several other challenges in Jiu-Jitsu that trip up many students.  One is the sheer volume of techniques.  In boxing you basically have 4 punches, head movement, footwork, and other things to learn, but in Jiu-Jitsu there are thousands of techniques.  And new techniques are being created all the time.

And then there is rank.  In many McDojos (overcommercialized martial arts schools), you can earn a black belt in 2-4 years.  In BJJ, you are looking at more like 10.  It took me 11.

I have been thinking about this topic, and I guess anyone who may be thinking about quitting may have one specific reason- like bad training partners, a bad instructor, poor self-discipline, laziness, etc…  but I will address this question generally.

Cyclical Nature of Learning

I am a student of the game of money.  One concept I think is really important is R.O.I.- return on investment.  If you have an investment that you want to get more out of, you have to put more into it.  If a mutual fund is giving you a 10% annual return, and you want to make more money, you can either search for a higher yielding investment, or you can invest more money into the fund.

It is the same with Jiu-Jitsu.  I don’t have an easier answer, like take ginseng, pray to the Jiu-Jitsu gods, or burn some incense in front of Rickson Gracie’s picture, but the truth is if you want to get more out of Jiu-Jitsu, you have to put more into it.  There are going to be many times that you will feel like you are not progressing, but that is a test.  If you quit, you fail.  If you keep training, you pass.  You do not have to keep improving at a fast rate all the time  to get good at Jiu-Jitsu.  The only thing you have to do is not quit!

The secret of success in any endeavor is persistence.  You will get better if you continue to train, guaranteed.  And if you quit, you will get worse.

Everything in nature cycles.  And it is true in training.  You cannot always feel like you are growing by leaps and bounds.  You feel that in the beginning, then at some point it slows down.  You may even feel like you are going backwards.  But this is where you have to keep going.  You are strengthening your foundation.

If you give into your weakness of laziness, frustration, or boredom, you are letting yourself off the hook.  It is like telling a child, “You can quit if it’s no longer fun.”  That is the worst thing to tell a child!  You are your own parent.  If you give in now, you’ll do it again in the future.  Continue in this habit and you will never excel in anything.

This expansion and contraction cycle is partly your responsibility.  When your training is focused, you progress quickly.  After a while, you start thinking it is easy, so you don’t focus as much.  Then you may start sucking (I’m using the technical term).  After a while, you get tired of under performing, so you start to focus again.  The cycle starts over.

So what does it mean to put more into Jiu-Jitsu?  It can take many forms, or a combination.  It could be:

  1. taking and reviewing notes
  2. being more focused in class
  3. visualizing techniques outside of class
  4. setting goals
  5. doing a seminar or taking a trip dedicated to training
  6. watching dvds
  7. doing private lessons

Your victory during the trial times may even be to just keep going to class!

Having owned a school since 1997, I have seen how people quit.  It doesn’t happen overnight (unless something really negative happens).  A student will train 3 days a week for a while, then 2 days, then 1 day, then decide to take a break, and they’re done.  They will usually have an excuse, like “work is getting busy,” “money is tight,” etc., but the truth is usually something different.  The truth may be something harder to deal with, so they use a superficial excuse.

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.”            -Nelson Madela

In Yoga it is said that your outer reality reflects your inner reality.  If you have never seen yourself as extraordinary, you won’t be comfortable with even taking steps towards greatness.  The real issue that any student contemplating quitting anything may be that they don’t believe they can be good at anything, and anytime they make progress, they self sabotage.  It may be that no one believed in them when they were growing up. But now the ball is in their court, and they have decided to continue the self defeating behavior.

to be continued in part 2…

9 Responses to “How To Not Quit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (part 1)”

  1. Shawn says:

    When I was training in TaeKwonDo in high school I joined with several of my friends and family members.

    I immediately made it a goal to be the best BlackBelt in the school. Deep down… I knew that if I kept at it… I could do it…

    On the journey I was the only one of all my friends and family that kept going to class… 1 by 1 they all slowed down, stopped coming and started making excuses.

    All that did was make me go even more… I started attending classes 5 – 6 days a week, doing 2 classes a day, practicing after class, visualizing, watching dvds and everything I could think of to get better faster…

    As of now… I still have the record of fastest BlackBelt in that TaeKwonDo School and was hailed at one point as being the best student/blackbelt there.

    Be clear about what you want to accomplish, write it down, hold that image in your head, become obsessed about it…

    It Will Materialize For You!

    As far as my BJJ training…(lol)

  2. Ben Clark says:

    That’s extremely well put, Ryan. I haven’t considered quitting, but I did hit a low point a few weeks ago; I was getting tapped a lot, and began to question myself a LOT…well, I *was* pretty “sucky” that week in retrospect. But I just kept my head up, and after a few weeks of sticking with it I had a great week last week, and I feel a lot more positive about my training now. The whole cycle put things in perspective for me, and hopefully the next time I hit a “low point” I won’t let it get me down. I am a lover of cheesy sayings come up with a few of them of my own from time to time…and the thing I came up with during this stretch is “I need to be patient, this will take me years to become truly skilled, I just can’t become complacent”.

    I’ll close with a meaningful quote I recently read:
    — “The years teach us much the days never knew” Ralph Waldo Emerson


    Ben Clark
    East West BJJ Student

  3. Eric P says:

    Very Very Very nice article. As soon as everyone catches word of this blog, it’s over.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks Eric. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. I’ve been looking around for other blogs that talk about philosophy realated to BJJ, and I’ve found very little. I will keep looking, but I hope these posts can help people.

  5. […] How To Not Quit Jiu-Jitsu (part 2) Easy AdSense by Unrealcontinued from part 1… […]

  6. Dave Rybski says:

    Another great article, Ryan!

    I believe I’ve been through the cycle you’ve described at least a dozen times in the years since I’ve started training. Let’s be honest, it’s difficult to stay with something like martial arts for so long. Life happens, people’s lives change constantly. A job changes or is lost, some marry or have kids, or interests simply change with age. It is a testament to the committment and desire of those that find a way to stick with it through it all.

    The thing that pushes me when I’m at a low point in the cycle is my time invested. Whenever I feel like I’m plateau-ing, I remember my first day of training at East West nearly 8 years ago, and then think of how glad I am that I have continued to train for 8 years! How much better would I feel to be able to say I’ve been training for 10 years? 20 years? and suddenly my concerns about plateau-ing become temporary.

  7. Raf says:

    This article definitely helped me put my current plateau in perspective, but I wonder how you get over frustration when:

    1) You spar and can’t remember how you got tapped. And you get tapped the same way twice in one day.
    2) You fail at a few basic escapes on others of the same rank or lower
    3) Others are picking it up faster than you

    I think you are over-simplifying it by saying you just have to train and you’ll get better. I think need to train better to get better. Attendance is not enough. Perfect reps, reviewing notes right before I spar, incorporating new lessons in sparring the same night and consciously trying stuff out, visualizing…I’m shocked I’ve only done 1 &2.

  8. Ryan says:

    Hi Raf,
    You’re right, it is an over simplification to say “you will get better if you continue to train.” There is a lot more to it. What you’re asking is a great topic for a future post, because including it in this post would have made it over twice as long! Most of my posts are way longer than most bloggers ever do, because they believe that the audience has A.D.D. It’s something I’ve taught many times and I will write about it.
    However, some of the greatest truths in life are very simple. When I started Jiu-Jitsu, most people were learning faster than me, and most people were beating me for the first 2 years. I didn’t give up, they did. One of the guys from the original training group that actually started me in Jiu-Jitsu now trains under me!
    I’m glad you brought up those points. I will address them in a new post soon, but I will give you one piece of advice. Whatever your weak area is, focus on it. Work the escapes or attacks individually, then in combination, then against some resistance, then with more resistance, then in rolling. If you continue to do that, you will make your weak area one of your strongest.
    Thanks for you input! Take care-

  9. Jay says:

    Good Afternoon Sir,

    I often refer back to your knowledge and wisdom, after a rough day of training. Your positive insights, gives me some motivation to continue, even when I feel that I am not improving. BJJ is one of the finest arts and it is the blood, sweat, and tears, that makes it rewarding. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights about this beautiful art.



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