My Six-Month BJJ-versary Reflections

I have hit my six month BJJ-versary.

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Six beautiful months of bruises, getting crushed, and lots and lots of tapping. It’s shaping up to be a pretty solid relationship. I think I’m in love.

Six months ago I walked into class 20 lbs heavier and scared to death. Today I’m no longer scared, but instead eager to learn. I’m even looking at possibly competing in September. My, oh my, how things can change in six months.

Reflecting on the where I started and where I am now I was thinking, what would I share with someone just starting out?

I feel like I need to put a disclaimer here. Like the whole medical disclaimer you see that says, “I am not a doctor. The information I’m sharing should not be used to diagnose or treat…”

BJJ disclaimer: Keep in mind, I am a six month, one-stripe white belt and technically I don’t know shit. I have good intentions though. I just want to put this out there and maybe it can help someone that is struggling or just starting out.

I walked into my first class as an overweight, 35-year-old, mother of two and I spent the first few months just waiting for someone to tell me that I didn’t belong there. I’ll let you in on a little secret: everyone who is willing to put in the effort and show up, belongs there. BJJ is for everyone who is willing to show up and put in the work. If anyone ever makes you feel otherwise, tell them to fuck off. Seriously.

Accept that there are going to be many, many moments where you feel like a complete idiot. It’s considered a requirement of a white belt to be a dumbass. Just do your white belt duty and suck and don’t let it embarrass you. For me, it helps to remember that everyone, even the badass black belt that tapped you in 20 seconds, was at one point a white belt, struggling with the same things you are struggling with. Everyone on that mat has been there and they won’t, unless they are at a Kanye douchiness level, make fun of you.

The pressure. Holy balls, the pressure of getting smashed and laid out flat was the biggest surprise for me. I have been a fan of MMA for a very long time and I’ve watched people battle it out on the ground almost every weekend for a solid 10 years. I felt like I had at least a decent understanding of what to expect when rolling.

That is white belt mistake number one: thinking you know anything.

You know nothing.

You are a BJJ baby who hasn’t learned how to wipe your own ass yet. I had no idea all those years watching them grapple that they were smashing each other in incredibly uncomfortable ways. The pressure can be intense. It not only hurts, but it can feel like you are suffocating too. At one point I had a pretty solid chest bruise going on for about a month and I’ve totally panic-tapped when I felt like I was being smothered.

If it’s available, do the fundamentals class.

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I just three weeks ago started doing the fundamentals class and I feel like I have improved dramatically since. Plus, I’ve been able to take everything I have learned in those classes and apply them in rolling immediately. It has saved my ass over and over. I wish I would have started doing sooner. Those fundamentals are where it’s at.

Focus on surviving, not submitting. I used to measure success by submissions. I felt like if I wasn’t submitting anyone, I was failing. Now, I don’t even worry about submissions. I focus on my present situation and the task in front of me. If I am stuck in side control my focus isn’t ten steps ahead thinking I need to get that submission. I might be thinking I need to bridge and get my knee and elbow in there and try to re-guard. And, when I complete that task I move on to assessing the next step.

Each person’s measure of success if different. This was a hard one for me to grasp. I am a compare-er. I was trying to measure my success against other white belts. Some who are bigger than me, some who are stronger than me, and some who are a lot younger than me. I learned pretty quick that you can’t do that. You are setting yourself up for frustration if you do that. You can not, I repeat loudly so you understand fully, CAN NOT compare your progress to anyone else. Compare it to your past self instead. Trust me.

Find the victories, no matter how small. There are some days that this is hard to do. I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but BJJ is hard. It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. (And, this is coming from a woman that gave birth without drugs.) Those victories can be as small as “I lasted 30 more seconds with that brown belt than I did the last time I rolled with him.”

I repeat: Find. Those. Victories. They are reminders that you are getting better. Even if it’s only by an inch, progress is progress and you should be proud of it.

Eventually those victories will get bigger and bigger and there isn’t another feeling on the planet that can compare to the victories in BJJ. BJJ can be hard and frustrating, but the good, the victories, they are AMAZING. Un-comparable to anything else.

Quit trying to figure out where the bruises and soreness came from. It’s a gift from BJJ and it’s a friendly reminder that you showed up. Embrace it.

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Find someone at your gym who inspires and motivates you. There is one other girl, a blue belt, that trains were I do and a lot of times she is my motivation. I’ve had many moments of feeling like the thought of me, a girl, being successful in BJJ, especially in a room full of men, is impossible. And, then I remember her and how awesome she is and she proves that it IS possible. She doesn’t even know it, (well, she does now), just how much she encourages me without even saying a word. She’s an amazing example for all women wanting to be good at BJJ.

Show up. That’s the big one. No excuses. Show up. Keep moving forward.

I made a promise to myself that if I started BJJ I had to commit to giving it at least a year and to always show up. You are going to have bad classes. You are going to suck. You are going to feel defeated. You are going to be frustrated. You are going to struggle. Those are facts. And, really they don’t matter. It’s just part of it. What matters is that you come to the next class. That you show up, put in the effort, and try again. If you keep showing up, before you know it, the things that used to frustrate you will no longer be a struggle. Of course, I’ve learned, with BJJ you will definitely replace an old struggle with a new struggle, but hey, once you realize that you can conquer those struggles with persistence and hard work, you are golden.

Reflecting back on those six months, I am such a different person. The growth I’ve experience both mentally and physically is nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my life. I have no doubts that BJJ will save my life in more ways than one.

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I’m convinced, as a now 36-year-old, still slightly overweight, mom, that if I can do this, you aren’t allowed any excuses. Go do BJJ. Embrace the hard parts, do not give up under any circumstances, and know that anything is possible if you show up and put in the work.

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