Can You Handle Losing?

I got a sales call a little while ago. The lady told me that she didn’t think she could do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because she couldn’t handle losing. Now, keep in mind she’s trying to sell things to me. During the conversation, she made it a point to say that she was afraid that she would bite someone out of frustration. As a Bjj instructor, you’d be amazed how often I hear this. It’s painfully obvious that those who refuse to train aren’t actually that confident in their biting, punching, or guns. If they have developed any skills, they’re usually happy to learn something new because they understand how to learn. The honest ones admit that they can’t handle losing. As an adult, you have the option to bury your head in the sand. But, you also have the option to be honest with yourself. Facing this fear is an important part of the process. There are also a lot of people who trained a very little bit and are having a hard time showing up again because they’re afraid they will lose to the guys who kept training. Unfortunately for them, not showing up makes their problem worse. Jiu Jitsu is not easy, and I don’t want it to be. I will offer you a couple ideas that might help you through the early stages. First, identify what stage you’re at. Not everybody walks in in the same stage. Most people without any prior training start out in what I call stage 1.

1. You’re getting beat all the time by everyone, and there’s no end in sight. There’s nothing wrong with this stage, and it does get better. What to do in this case first is learn how to stay safe. If you can’t stay safe, it’s very hard to get the training time you need to start winning. You want to get to a place where you still feel okay the next day after training. Make sure you are tapping quickly. This will help your time management. You don’t want to spend your training time gutting out a choke, you want to learn how to avoid it! Learn how to establish a guard reliably, and have a plan for how you want to pass the guard. When you do get put in a bad position, learn how to keep calm and problem solve your way out. Create small victories by setting reasonable goals. Learn exactly what is happening to you, and develop early responses and a sense of timing. If you’re stuck in bottom side control all the time, figure out exactly when and how you get there. There is a pattern, don’t be afraid to ask. For a lot of people, this stage can last 6 months or more. Eventually, you will discover Stage 2.

2. You can beat an inexperienced new guy. Some people have wrestling experience or other prior experience and they walk in already here. Don’t worry about that. At this stage, you are probably winning because your partner hasn’t seen what you’re doing before. We really don’t want to beat new guys that don’t know anything, that’s not the actual plan. The goal is for you to know what you’re doing so we can get better at higher levels. It’s very easy in this stage to become a move chaser and constantly try to do new things so that you can keep the element of surprise. There are other silly ways to fixate on this phenomenon. I had a friend who never stayed at the same place, so nobody “caught on” to his game. He obviously hit a ceiling on his progress. Try this instead. Keep beating the inexperienced new guy in the same way. Watch him develop counters to your game, and learn how the timing and grip battles take place. Now you both got better. Another great way to progress is to compete. By now, you’ve probably noticed that physical attributes vary and can make results confusing. Do not get caught in a pattern of complaining about bigger people in training, and don’t mistake your athleticism for skill. There are important lessons to learn about accepting our natural limitations, and fat people have feelings too. I’m not saying you always have to get smashed by big fellas, but there is something to learn from everyone. You want to find an even match to get an accurate read on your studies, and competition is great for that. Ideally, you want someone the same size, the same age, and roughly the same experience level as you. If you’re very big, small, old, or female, the big tournaments like the Pans are best to find your counterpart. Once again, you’re likely to go right back into losing, because with all those things equal your odds are exactly 50%. You’re also adjusting to the added adrenaline factor. Keep your cool, you can figure it out. Another benefit of seeking out even matches is that we prioritize our training and keep it in perspective. Nobody cares too much about winning and losing, we care about improving ourselves. This leads us to stage 3.

3. You are working on improving specific parts of your game. This stage is an extension of the previous two. The better players are good at pulling people into their game, and control the type of puzzle we’re looking at. If I want to work on passing a certain guard, I will put you there over and over again until we both get it. My goal is to get everyone to this stage as quickly as possible. You will have to lose a lot to get there, so don’t freak out!

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