I just wrapped up teaching tonight and looked over in the cage and saw a group of purple belts and a tough brown belt working some rounds. They were going at it hard. It was impressive to see. All young and extremely athletic. Scary good and tough. Over on the mat area was a group of white belts who had just finished class with me. My choice was to stay and roll with the white belts or go over to the cage and take my lumps. I thought for a second or two and then made my way over to the cage. Not that I mind or find myself above rolling with white belts. I do it all the time and it’s a crucial part of my training. I probably learn more from rolling with white belts than with anyone else.
Well, I had a few rounds. I managed to get choked unconscious once and stalemate with everyone else. By the time I was done I felt like I had been mugged. Every minute of every roll was hard. Just one tough grueling roll after another. That’s the nature of BJJ though. The best and worst part of BJJ is that the mat doesn’t lie. When you step on the mat you live and die by what you bring in with you. You are out there naked in a manner of speaking. There are no shortcuts, cheats, or sneaky ways out. It’s brutally honest that way. That’s it’s beauty really. It’s what makes it such a healthy activity and why I love it so much.
The ego is a funny thing though. You’d think that the more experience you get in BJJ the easier it is to supress the ego and not let it get in the way. It doesn’t get easier. At least for me it doesn’t. Especially as you start earning rank. When you tie on a brown belt your ego tells you that you need to be able to destroy everyone purple belt and below. And if you are not very careful that ego idea can paralyze you. The minute you are scared to roll with someone because you don’t know if you can beat them you are dead. You have just effectively put the emergency brakes on your progress.
What then are you to do? You have to throw your hat into the ring and trust that your BJJ will get you through. You may not “win.” You may not tap out the other guy. Your training will take you through and the mat will tell you what you need to know. And, if you are in with the right group of guys you will take your mugging and know that it buys you a millimeter of progress. You’ll sit on the edge of the mat with chests heaving. Sweat pouring down your face. You’ll slap each other on the back and debrief your games with smiles and laughs. And, you’ll feel good knowing that all you could do is what you did. Throw your hat in the ring and see what happens.
It’s the beautiful surrender of Ju jitsu. You can never predetermine outcomes. You can’t guarantee victory. Character is built not by the victories but by all the tough rolls and taps you encounter along the way. That’s the paradox. Eventually you will have tapped 10,000 times or more. The rolls won’t get any easier. You’ll surrender again and again measuring your progress one millimeter at a time trusting the process.