We all know the cliche. Those who do not learn from the past…
So in that vein, here are two scenarios I was totally clueless about when I was less experienced, and the lessons I have learned from them.
It was not about me.
Here’s a shocker. The big white belt who used to smash me when I was a blue belt is probably not an asshole. He was also probably not trying to hurt me. He was just new at jiu jitsu.
Of course back then I thought differently; just like I am sure many of you are reading this right now and shaking your head. “No but he really went after me and it was like he was trying to rip my arm out of my socket and look how small I am and couldn’t he tell that it was too much??”
No. He couldn’t. But it isn’t because he is an insensitive clod who hates women.
Don’t believe me? Imagine you are a young, athletic person who doesn’t quite understand or know how to control your body yet, and you are put in front of another person who is trying to choke you. (In other words, all of us in our first year of training.) I cannot even count the number of times I have told new people that they should go a little lighter only to have them stare blankly at me. “Was I going too hard??”
New martial artists are like children. I don’t mean that as an insult; I mean their jiu jitsu is young. They will eventually learn how to adjust their pace for different people, how to slow down enough to execute good technique. We all went though this spazzy, excited phase; and we all got past it.
The main point here is that they are not actually trying to kill you. They just don’t know any better.
I was not a loser.
Once, very early on in my training, I overheard one of the teachers talking to someone who had just competed over the weekend. After the typical rehashing of missed opportunities and failed submissions, the young competitor finally shook his head in frustration and said “l just sucked!”
I don’t actually train at that school anymore, however, the teacher’s reply has stuck with me even years later.
“Did you lose, or are you a loser?”
The answer of course, is the former. He lost. That’s all.
Full disclosure, I have competed 8 times in my BJJ life, and I’ve lost every single match. Did I lose because I am in fact really terrible at BJJ? Probably not. But it sure felt like that at the time!
It is true that on that particular day, in that particular competition, something about those girls was in fact better. Maybe the submissions they attempted were more proficient than my defense. Maybe they had better cardio. Maybe they worked on guard retention that month more than I worked on passing. Maybe I just got caught.
Note these aren’t excuses. I am over 40 and everyone I competed against was in their 20’s. That’s an excuse. But I lost the match because that young whipper snapper had a really sharp arm bar.
No competition, even the ADCC final, can sum up whether or not you are good or bad at jiu jitsu. Your time training will determine that. An argument could be made that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” at this; there is only your training compared to your training six months ago.
But that is a whole other blog post.
The main point here is that these two mistakes are one of a million that we all make when we are less experienced. We think everyone is out to get us. We think every time we tap we have failed. We think our entire worth is wrapped up in the $2 medals hanging on our wall. And so on.
But with experience comes great wisdom. Now when I tap I know it is because I was so focused on getting the sub that I forgot to protect my own foot and left it hanging out there right by her hip. (This same thing happened in competition number five you’d think I would have learned my lesson by now.)
Now when the excited new guy tries to flatten me like a pancake I calmly hip escape, recover my guard, and then smile serenely.
“If you slowed down a bit you could think more.”
“Was I going too fast?”
See? I am just like Yoda in that smelly swamp.
Wisdom I have.
Jennifer Fremon is a sixth degree black belt in Kenshikai Karate and a brown belt in BJJ. She and her husband run UWS Kenshikai Karate & BJJ in Manhattan, where she teaches karate to children ages 3 and up. When she isn’t attempting to heel hook giants, Jennifer enjoys drinking coffee, walking her dog, making doodle art, and watching the sun set over NYC. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her fierce 12 year old daughter, and thinks there is no greater joy than seeing a child accomplish something new.