Into The Blue: Long Strange Trip

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about that Jits life, so here we are!

I hope that your academy hasn’t shut down permanently, but if it has, I’m sure it wasn’t a choice made easily by your Professor/Coach. I can’t stress enough the importance of sticking by your BJJ school and not cancelling your membership unless absolutely necessary. You don’t need to cancel your membership just because the school shut down for a couple weeks to protect you and the rest of your team. But maybe I’m beating a dead horse, here, so let’s move on.

Mats at Home VS Mats in the Academy

Once my Academy opened back up, there was definitely a difference between the way training happened at home versus being in the Academy. Sure, I rolled a handful of times, but it is just… different. I’m sure you can relate. To protect our team from possible exposure, our Professor has put in certain measures, ensuring he is doing what he can to eliminate exposure. One such recent change as a 14 day “self-quarantine” if you travelled outside the Valley, especially to or through a high risk area. Yours truly was one such person so yesterday was the first time in two weeks that I stepped back on the mat as I had travelled to the Oregon coast with my girlfriend and fellow teammate (she was my girlfriend before she came to the team – that said, it is awesome having a BJJ significant other). We trained together during the self quarantine and Facetimed with the class, which was nice, but it is definitely different.

From both instances of training at home, the self-quaratine and the all out COVID related shut down in our area of all non-essential businesses, the difference to me is the same difference between training in the Academy and competing. It’s just turned up a bit.

If you have to self-quarantine or if your school shuts down again, hopefully temporarily, I hope you can rely on a training partner or two and drill in your living room, or since the weather is getting better, maybe drilling in the park or in your back yard or garage.

Make Me Better!

Inside jokes will always blossom within groups of people, and one such joke within my Academy that has (sort of) taken root is, “Make me better!” or variants like, “he’s/she’s making me/you better!”

Let me explain.

A handful of months ago, at a team open mat, I was explaining a situation I was having at home with my young son and relating it to, as I saw it, the process of getting better at BJJ.

My son, almost eight years old, loves video games (what little kid doesn’t since the advent of the NES?), and the only reason I let him play as often as he does is because he is very interactive with the games. He doesn’t just sit there. He is always standing and always moving and he will move even more depending on the intensity of the game. On average, my little guy usually works up a sweat with any game he is playing, so again, I’m good with the amount he plays, especially on a bad weather day. Up and active, moving around, sweating, burning calories, thats a good thing.

Anyhow, now, there is a fighting game he particularly likes and he really gets into it. However, he has learned that he can hack the system, per se, when it gets too challenging and change the difficulty setting.

This is basically what I’ve told him, a handful of times:

“Son, you won’t get better at the game by turning down the difficulty. You’ll always come back and get frustrated at the level that you are playing, turn it down, and not learn.”

~Tom the Dad.

I further explained to my son how I train at BJJ and how it is the same. If I get frustrated at anyone else tapping me out and then choose to not learn from it and only roll with people I know I can “beat”, then I will never get better. This got his attention. I told him how I want to be beaten because then I use it to learn about the things that went wrong. Why this move didn’t work, why my guard was passed, how I expose myself to a submission, then I try again. I seek out faster, stronger, smarter, more experience, everything.

This seemed to help him.

As a BJJ student, you probably see where this is going. Embrace those who make you better, whether you know it or not. There is always room in every roll to work on your weaknesses. That is one thing I have learned from my Professor, even a black belt with 17yrs of mat time and handfuls of competitions, can find ways to be better and work on weaknesses, even with people who have less skill or time.

There is always something. We have two solid wrestlers on the team, one is a purple belt and one is a green belt (for new readers with questions about an adult wearing a green belt, go here. Now, with the purple belt, he’s been around awhile, but like the green, they have this drive that you see in wrestlers because of their training. There are chokes or positions I’ve attempted or put them in that I know a lower belt or someone without that drive would probably have tapped or freaked out and enabled me to advance my position. AND… they are technical, very technical. So this forces me to learn, see where I’m not doing things right, where I need to be more technical, etc.

From a white belt, or another blue, it might be the opportunity to work escaping side control or having my back taken. For another it will be an opportunity to work my guard passing.

There is always something to learn!

So we say, “Come make me better!”

Chasing Cheap Cotton & Medical Tape

I’ve been training for almost three and a half year now. I’ve loved every minute of it. What I want to touch on here isn’t new, and it is a common theme, from what I’ve seen in the BJJ Community at large: the topic of promotions. Granted, I am in no place to promote, but I have seen things that have tripped up teammates (mostly former) along the way. I’d like to just give a few things for you to consider if you are pining away about your next promotion.

“I’m ready. I deserve it. I hope Coach or Professor promotes me this time. / Coach better promote me!” Right here, you are already losing the battle inside your mind. You are puffing yourself up to think that you are ready. This comes from comparing yourself to others progress, ego and other areas. There is no “deserving” here. Your belt is earned. If you want to “deserve” a belt, go pay an exhorbitant amount of money and get a black belt in a year from the local McDojo down the street. Trust me, if your Coach/Professor is worth his/her salt, then you will get your belt when it is time. Just focus on your growth.

“Well I tapped that <insert color belt here>, so I should be a <insert color belt.” Easy there, Tiger, this isn’t trial by combat. Most BJJ Black Belts have been around just a bit longer than you, they know their expectations for the rank, just trust the process. Besides, let’s take a little medicine called “good old fashioned humility” here, do you really think you got the better of that purple belt with four or five years on the mat? Maybe they wanted to work on somethings and let you work their weakness? Your progress is your progress. A 40yr old blue belt like yours truly wth a corporate job and four kids to raise is probably going to get his ass handed to him by a young white belt stud who is getting after it day in and day out who has more flexible hours and nothing to “tie him down”. My path is my path and his is his, and I’m happy to see him or her progress like that and I’m happy to contribute what I can. But they still have to put in their time and let the Professor rank them accordingly.

“I visited X school and I was tapping out all their belts, their Coach / Professor told me I should be a purple belt!” Cool. Good for you. Maybe the standards are different there. Maybe (although I don’t like to believe this, but I understand human nature) they are trying to bait you/bribe you into being a student over there? Maybe you’ve been doing all the right things and you are close to promotion at your own school and don’t know it? Check your ego, check your heart. Are you chasing cheap cotton or are you trying to become a better version of yourself using Jiu-Jitsu?

“I wonder if Professor is going to promote John or Jane before me?” Well, what if he/she does? Celebrate! Be happy for them! But don’t worry about it. Your journey is your journey. John and Jane’s journey are their own! Everyone in your school is on a similar yet different journey of learning this art and learning more about themselves. Each day you put in your effort to make yourself better and make your teammate better. If everyone is driving hard towards that goal, then all the ships rise in that tide.

What about you Tom, what about your next promotion?! To echo Tom Segura in one of his specials, “WHAT ABOUT THEM?!”. Doesn’t matter. I’m trusting the process. I know I have a ways to go and I know that when the time is right, my Professor will do what he wants to do. I’m just focused on growing and learning. The rest will come in due time.

Trust the process, guys.

Just put in the work, help your teammates, help lower belts, challenge yourself, grow. The cheap cotton will come, and when it does, though the material may be cheap, what you have invested isn’t.

And that’s what you’re after anyways!

Keep pushing, everyone. We chose Jiu-jitsu, and then somewhere along the way, it chose us. If we wanted an easier path, we’d have gone to a McDojo.

Keep striving, keep coming in, keep supporting your academy, keep supporting your teammates, make each other better.

What a long strange trip it’s been…

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