Nobody is perfect
“Leave your ego at the door”. Anybody who trains has seen this slogan. I always used to think that it meant that you should train humbly without thinking you are better than those you train with so that you are open to learning. I still think it means this in part but lately I have been thinking about another interpretation of the phrase.
I’ve been discussing with a training partner of mine her growing frustration with jiu-jitsu. She is somewhat of a perfectionist and has admitted that she gets very aggravated because she can’t get moves exactly right the first time we drill them. I long ago realized that perfection is rare and elusive in jiu-jitsu. My goal when I am training is to pick up something new each time I drill something. Tricks to tighten up a triangle, where to put pressure when doing a pass, etc. I do this and I know my game gets better but that there are still many holes in it.
I also often feel frustrated when I am doing something new and I don’t know where to start or when I feel like I am not good at something so it is curious to me that I don’t also feel this level of frustration. I think some of it comes from the fact that I was not involved in competitive athletics at all before I started training. I was overweight until I was in my early 20s and then I did various exercisey things (biking, some running, weight training) but nothing that involved competition so I didn’t have a background of being a successful athlete to compare my jiu-jitsu training to.
I also had a somewhat unique training experience when I started jiu-jitsu. The jiu-jitsu program was new at the school when I started (we were previously a Muay Thai and kickboxing school) so most of us in the class were new. I wasn’t regularly getting my ass handed to me by people who had been training years longer than me so I probably didn’t feel my newness as much as some other people do.
But now it’s a couple of years later. I do get my ass regularly handed to me both by people with more experience than me and, sadly, people with less experience. The more I’ve learned about jiu-jitsu the more I’ve realized that I don’t know anything about jiu-jitsu. I am probably years away from “good”. So why do I still love jiu-jitsu? Why don’t I feel frustrated?
Probably a lot of it is because I came in with low expectations for myself. I didn’t have a history of being successful at athletics so I didn’t have anything to compare my training to. I also probably have lower than average self-esteem so didn’t really expect much from myself when I started to train. I am not saying low expectations and bad self-esteem are assets here but if you don’t go into jiu-jitsu expecting to excel it is not very disappointing when you do not.
I can only imagine how frustrated I would be now if I decided to take up something besides jiu-jitsu, say skiing, and had to start at the bottom. Actually I don’t have to imagine that. I took my first and only ski lesson last year and got so upset with my inability to do it that I ended up taking off the skis and walking down the last part of the trail while the instructor was screaming at me to put my skis back on (hey, there was no way I was going to get a broken leg and miss training). So I can imagine that those who come in with a history of past success would be completely frustrated by starting jiu-jitsu.
So am I saying that I never feel frustrated when training? Um, no. There are days when I am being held down and muscled around or just plain out jiu-jitsued that I leave feeling like I want to burn my gi, pick up a pizza on the way home and never return to the gym again. When I am feeling this way I console myself by remembering that I am just paying my dues. That I have to experience getting beaten so that I can learn how to win. That I have to be out-muscled so I can learn how to deal with strength. And I know that the only way I will learn how to deal with these things is to keep training. So that’s what I do.
It seems obvious to tell someone who is feeling frustrated or depressed by their perceived lack of ability that they just need to train more. One of my favorite things to say to people when they are upset about something jiu-jitsu related is “the only solution to a jiu-jitsu problem is more jiu-jitsu” (unless the jiu-jitsu problem is a broken limb or something, then more jiu-jitsu might not be the answer). But telling someone to train more is not going to make them feel less frustrated.
I think that to lose the frustration associated with jiu-jitsu a person has to be willing to let go of their past success and ideas of perfection. They have to accept that they are going to be awful for a while. They have to be willing to get their asses handed to them in the name of learning. It’s a very difficult and humbling journey and not everyone is ready to take it. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll never be ready. So if you are someone who is feeling frustrated by jiu-jitsu my advice to you is to keep training because you’ll get better and it will become less frustrating. You might have to check your ego at the door but that door is always open.