Too self-conscious to roll?

Since the day I first started training jiu-jitsu, I have been in love with rolling. I love drilling too (I have learned to appreciate it more the longer I’ve been training), but to this day I often find myself anxiously looking at the clock during class waiting for the time when we start to roll. This is one of the reasons that my continuing knee saga has been so aggravating. I have to limit my rolling and I really, really miss it.

So it’s been somewhat of a surprise to me that I’ve come across several people recently that have confessed that they are very self-conscious when they roll and thus they are not feeling the love for rolling that I do. When I’ve asked them why, a lot of it centers around feeling like they are doing everything wrong and everyone watching knows it. This also occurs when rolling with upper belts who they are sure are mentally cataloging everything they do wrong during the roll. Another point of particular anxiety seems to be when a higher belt will try to give them something while rolling and they don’t know what it is.

I am by nature a very insecure person so I began to wonder why it was I never felt this way. Could it be because I have always just been so good at jiu-jitsu that there was nothing to feel self-conscious about? Um no, that is clearly not it. I think part of it was just because I found rolling so fun that it didn’t occur to me to be self-conscious about it. Also I had a somewhat unique experience when I first started training in that the jits program was new at my gym so pretty much everyone was a beginner. Thus I had some training under my belt before I regularly got the chance to roll with higher belts. I was actually so eager to get the chance to work with higher belts when I was new (something that has never gone away) that I can’t imagine being anxious about it. Well that’s not entirely true, the first two times I got to roll with my instructor, I was so nervous that I kicked him in the face.

I have felt the embarrassment of being certain that a higher belt was trying to feed me something and not knowing what it was. I have always found that the best thing to do in this situation is just to ask. When I started training at a second gym, I used to roll with one of the instructors a lot and we would inevitably come to a point (usually 2 or 3 times) when he would stop moving and I just knew he was trying to give me something but I had no idea what. At first I felt really embarrassed that I didn’t know and I’d try to just keep going. I realized that was a pretty silly thing to do as he was trying to teach me. So instead of feeling embarrassed or trying to pretend that I didn’t know he was setting me up, I’d stop and say something like “I’m sorry, I know you are trying to give me something but I don’t see it”. Unsurprisingly he did not laugh and tell me I had no future in jiu-jitsu but would instead point out our positions and what was available to me that I had not seen. Not only did I find this was not an embarrassing thing to do but I also discovered this was a great way to learn.

In fact this happened as recent as last night. I got to roll with my instructor and he asked me why I gave up on something when I had him in side control with a gift wrap. I told him I didn’t really know what was available there and we spent the majority of the roll with him showing me options from there. I don’t look at it as I did something wrong or feel embarrassed about it. He is a second degree black belt and I am a blue belt, he obviously has knowledge I don’t and can see things I can’t and I was glad he showed me some more finishes from there (and also can’t wait to try them).

So that would be my advice on how to handle feeling embarrassed when you don’t know what a higher belt is trying to give you. But I find I don’t know what to say to people who are feeling self-conscious about people watching them when they roll. I wish I could think of some sage advice to give my friends because I believe that if you are not enjoying rolling, you are likely not going to keep training and I would hate to see people quit because they are afraid of being judged on the mat.

So I am curious whether or not anyone else out there has felt this kind of anxiety and what they did to overcome it. Does it just take more time training? Does anxiety go away the first time you tap a blue belt in which case I’ve unknowingly helped many people overcome it 🙂  Any and all advice would be appreciated.

 

Note:  for some more insight and advice for dealing with jiu-jitsu guilt as I discussed last week,check out “A Skirt on the Mat” and Jiu Jiu’s blog where they also discussed it.

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3 responses to “Too self-conscious to roll?”

  1. Nicole says :

    First of all, my goal is to keep a consistent schedule because I need to practice moves over and over again. Nothing comes easy to me, so I am very humble. Being self conscious for me happens when the look around the room begins and I already know which upper belts are not “feeling it” for the white belt. One particular “training partner” looked right at me, frowned, and shook his head (nice,right?)
    However, this does not happen often. When there is an upper belt trying to give me something and he understands that I am trying to get it and we are on the same page, this is when I am learning. Judgement and competition are always going on. Having an agenda and asking questions has been my approach for a couple months now. This works because if there is a move that I am learning, I learn the move and then the upper belt makes me fight and adjust to get it.
    Communication is key for maintaining a positive attitude for training. Being self conscious is just being human, its how you deal with it that makes a difference.

  2. Sarah says :

    I get a little self conscious when I see pictures of myself, mostly because that’s the only time I realize what I look like. Haha. And I suppose I was a little self conscious the day my shirt came off (and I got totally tangled and stuck in it). But that’s not what you mean.

    The rest of the time? I’m usually too focused on trying to survive. I go into it knowing I’m going to suck, and people are going to expect me to suck – so I don’t think much about it. If someone’s attitude left me feeling like an idiot (that’s happened to me before), maybe, some? It’d make me question myself and feel rotten about myself. But usually, I just get a nice confidence boost when I manage to figure something out, and don’t get too upset when I can’t.

    Hmmm… would it be helpful to tell them “no one is really watching!”? Because I’m pretty sure most of us are focused on what we’re doing, not what you’re doing [wrong], and if we’re watching you roll, its not to judge, its to enjoy the match.

  3. Jiu Jiu says :

    First is that I would remind them that they’re probably not that interesting to watch in sparring, so the likelihood of them being WATCHED by someone who is not the instructor is low. However, we are all the main characters in our Life Story, so of COURSE they feel like everyone is watching them – after all, they’re the protagonist. So I would gently remind them that in everyone else’s Life Story they are simply a background jiu jitsu person – probably wouldn’t even get a listing on the credits. They’d be “Jiu Jitsu Gal” or “Jiu Jitsu Person #4” or something.

    Second is the awkwardness of not being able to return what someone’s giving you. This is so common. Think about it – if you’re learning to play chess, you might feel embarrassed playing against an experienced player. If you’re playing tennis, you might feel embarrassed that you literally can’t return a serve. If you are learning a foreign language, you feel super embarrassed that you can’t understand words or questions, or even someone’s accent. I would remind them that how they FEEL is valid, but they need to find their own internal motivation to keep doing it – because if they STOP due to Feeling Insecure, then they will quite literally not be able to move past it. Feel insecure, do it anyway – it’s how you improve.

    Third, suggest different goals – have them do small goal setting. Okay – your goal is simply to move. Your goal is to practice what you’ve done. Your goal is to pay attention to HOW you are getting submitted. Your goal is to pay attention to HOW people are passing your guard. Yes, you’re getting smashed, but now you can learn from it.

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