Last weekend caused me to reflect on the current state of my jiujitsu. This can be a hard thing to do. Jiujitsu is a source of great pride and identity for me in my life, but like any other thing that makes me feel good, it can be abused.
From a sportive perspective, BJJ is unlike most sports in that competitors are relegated to fight within their rank, which is given to them based on varying standards. Unlike other combat sports where ranks are quickly accomplished and the black belt achieved, BJJ competitors spend various and often prolonged periods of time at each belt level. The effect is that there are often wide ranges of skill at each rank. In BJJ in North America we try to account for these ranges in skill with stripes. It is not uncommon to hear a blue belt who loses to another blue belt chant that the other blue belt had more stripes. This type of conversation is not without merit as a four stripe blue belt, basically a purple belt, should be expected to defeat a no stripe blue belt, being just more than a white belt. But that’s not why we do it. We do it because it diminishes the gravity of the loss.
Ego stems from the thought that I am superior. It’s a little inner voice that tells you that you’re accomplished. Being accomplished makes you feel good. Any evidence contrary to this inner voice hurts the ego and dismantles your view of yourself. As a result, it’s easy to want to avoid discovering evidence that your ego is wrong. Simultaneously, progression in BJJ stems from first discovering ineptitude, then carefully considering the causes, and then deciding upon a suitable action to correct those causes.
As a result, we all have a propensity to avoid discovering our own ineptitude because discovering ineptitude is painful for the ego. This means that to maintain our ego, we avoid progression.
Watching my brother fight is daunting because his opponents are ferocious. I considered my loss at my own rank of blue and thought that if I can’t dominate the opposition at my own rank, what chance have I against these killers? At first I attempt to sate my ego, thinking well I have fought my opponent twice before, having beaten him once, and that likely he is to be a purple belt soon. Not to mention he outweighed me by twenty pounds. But my ego is crushed. I have to face the facts. I didn’t beat him, which means he played his game. This means that I have to find out what went wrong and fix it. I am struck with the enormous weight of being a purple belt. I comprehend the responsibility. There is a heaviness that flies in the face of my ego and in the face of my own desire to wear a purple belt. Stepping back, I think this is a healthy respect for the next step in my jiujitsu career.
At the gym I can pick and choose my fights. I can avoid the punishers and play the game I know that works against the opponents I fight on a regular basis. I can easily point out my sweeps, passes and submissions and use them to justify my rank. I can look at my regular training partners and say, “well he’s pretty good and I beat him…” I can maintain my ego. I need only to be slightly better than those I choose to fight. In this environment, I might as well wear a black belt. But does that mean I am a black belt? Of course not. When I end up meeting a black belt that has not avoided competing and going to open mats on a regular basis, I will discover my ineptitude and it will be very painful for my ego.
Although I know my loss at blue belt hurts now, the lesson that I can take from it will prepare me for future fights. I can examine the tape and develop strategies for the type of game my opponent plays. More importantly I can learn to recognize the indicators for techniques that he gives me. This is why competitions provide so much experience. They are honest. They don’t allow you to fool yourself into believing you are something you aren’t. It’s a correction of the ego. What makes the black belt a bad ass, is that he has found his ineptitude and has diligently, over time and much pain to his ego, corrected the causes of that ineptitude.
On the other hand, losses can have a profoundly negative consequence, and can inhibit progression. I’ve seen competitors lose and then give up. They stop competing and maybe even stop training. They blame their coaches for not preparing them, or they take it out on themselves too harshly. In my opinion, this behavior is the result of the inappropriate handling of expectations. One should always want to win and strive to win, but never expect to win. Expectation is a symptom of ego and almost always precedes a negative emotion to a loss. This emotion fogs out the ability to honestly analyze technical deficiencies.
I believe that every jiujitsu player should compete from the inception of their white belt, the goal being to discover ineptitude, and to analyze and correct the causes. If I choose not to seek out open mats and go to competitions on a regular basis how can I kill my ego? It’s virtually impossible.
Although it’s never too late to start competing, the longer you wait, the more hurt your ego will be when you finally do start. It is unreasonable for a brown belt that has never competed to expect to beat a brown belt that competes on a regular basis. Over time, the win-loss spread will become narrower, but the years of experience from competing from white belt to brown belt cannot be made up over four or five fights.
In conclusion I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t be afraid of losing and don’t put too much weight on winning. Rather, put weight on finding the holes and filling them in. Then go compete while you still can!