Jiu jitsu gives you the challenge you need, not the challenge you want. One reason it provides so much personal growth is because we cannot hide from ourselves, jiu jitsu’s demands, and the truth BJJ mirrors. For true change and true growth, we must clearly see who we are in our relationship to jiu jitsu. If you think the growth is to just try hard and train a lot then I guarantee, you are missing deep and powerful opportunities to grow as a person and to get better at jiu-jitsu.
On the surface, it looks like jiu-jitsu creates growth because it is physically demanding, difficult, and complex. That’s just the beginning. Identifying the personality traits, the personal peccadillos, the self-narratives we bring to jiu-jitsu and everywhere else offers the true challenge that we need but often not the challenges we want. Personal growth is letting go of old stories about who we are, what we are entitled to, how things are supposed to be. Personal growth always includes flexibility.
There are myriad memes and posts pontificating about being a lion or a shark, of pushing oneself physically to train hard and more and push through pain. After nearly 9 years of training and change, myriad injuries I’m here to say: That is the most reductionist, self-limiting, and shallow way of seeing jiu-jitsu’s invitation to change and growth.
“Train hard. No days off!” What if the hustle grind story you’re telling yourself could actually be getting in the way of jiu-jitsu changing you? What would happen if you took a full week off training? What are you afraid will happen? Are you afraid it will all fall apart, you will not actually be any good at the sport, and other people will get better? Maybe people will notice you’re gone and judge you. Maybe they won’t even notice you were gone and that would hurt. Is this actually a dangerous outcome? Is it even true? Maybe the challenge you need is to integrate two lighter training sessions a week in which you never turn that dial about 50%. What other details or intricacies might you see and appreciate in jiu-jitsu if you lighten up? And by extension, what other details are you missing in your life when you push the hustle-grind mentality overall?
Sustaining an injury can be seen as a true jiu-jitsu challenge and not just a roadblock to your jiu-jitsu and self-growth. Focusing on how you aren’t supposed to be injured could lead to missed opportunities in seeing the challenge that you might need: For instance, how to learn and train jiu-jitsu in other ways like studying videos, taking notes in class, physical therapy if possible, cross training, being patient, being happy for teammates who get promoted while you recover. And that shit is HARD. REALLY HARD. It’s a lot easier to stay with how unfair it is that you’re injured, ignore it and try to power through and be “tough.” I’m speaking from personal experience on this one. Maybe tough in this case actually means accepting the injury and being flexible in your learning. If that’s really challenging, then maybe that’s the ask from jiu-jitsu. This flexibility and growth will translate to other parts of life as well.
If you want to do jiu-jitsu for the long-haul, through life, you will need to be able to be flexible as you deal with family changes, injuries, job changes, moves, and aging. Keeping a rigid idea of what good or hardcore training is will limit your growth as a practitioner and a person. Ask yourself, what challenge is there here other than just hustle and grind more? Your jiu-jitsu will grow and so will you.
Jess Buckland is a purple belt training at Raptor Academy of Martial Arts in Central PA. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice and mom to a 13-year old. When she’s not training you can find her riding her bike, walking her dog, writing about jiu-jitsu or doing NYT crossword puzzles.