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Progress isn’t linear

A universal phenomenon in BJJ is that progress never feels linear. It doesn’t feel linear because it isn’t.

Imagine that you focus much of your energy on becoming good at a particular technique, let’s say the armbar. In time you’ll develop success with it, a certain effectiveness with it. But eventually you’ll realize that there are other techniques to master, so you’ll stop looking for the armbar and focus on new stuff. It’s at that moment that your game will regress slightly. You won’t be as effective as you were.

The same thing can happen when your training partners find solutions to the problems you pose. Maybe you’re good at the kimura. But soon your partners will get skilled at denying your use of the kimura. Did you get worse? No. Does it feel like you’ve gotten worse? Yes. Has your effectiveness against your training partners declined? Yes. Will you have to find new ways to set up the Kimura to make it work again? Yes.

It’s critically important to recognize this pattern otherwise you’ll be prone to surfing a sine wave of emotion. One day you’re king of the world, another day you suck. That’s a recipe for frustration. But if you recognize what’s happening you’ll see that in the macro you’re still progressing—the overall trend line is going up, even though there are peaks and valleys along the way.

It’s also important to remember that it’s very difficult to gauge your own progress when your training partners are also progressing along with you. When the tide lifts all boats, you can’t look at the other boats to gauge your own level. You have to look at the shore. Or in the case of BJJ, you look at the door. Because someone new will walk in one day and you’ll eat them for lunch. Then you’ll know how much you’ve progressed.

Heed the advice of Rener Gracie:

Regardless of who I am training with, I try to remain impartial. Whether a move works for me or against me, I am equally enthralled by the beauty of the technique, and humbled by the thought that I have so much left to learn.

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