Ask a dozen people why they train jiu Jitsu and you’ll hear a list of standard reasons: Self-defense, fitness, self-confidence, etc.
A flip side to that question is why do people quit?
Ask a dozen people and they’ll also run down a standard list: Got busy with work, family commitments, new obligations, got hurt, etc.
I think it’s much more fundamental than that. Why do we train? We train because it’s fun. And we quit when we’re no longer having enough fun.
That’s it. That’s all it boils down to. Any activity we love to do we’ll find time to do. If an activity is not fun enough we’ll soon find reasons to quit.
So what can we do to make sure we’re having fun in BJJ? Probably the single biggest thing—which transcends Jiu Jitsu—is to eliminate expectations. In fact, as a life principle, I believe that the degree of happiness one feels is inversely proportional to the expectations one sets. In other words, when you expect less you tend to be happier.
When I think about all the times I’ve become upset in a relationship or some human interaction, invariably it’s because of an unmet expectation. I expected X and got Y. When I stop having expectations most emotional triggers vanish.
In Jiu Jitsu, eliminating expectations means rolling with a carefree attitude that has no emotional investment in any particular outcome. If you get the tap, great. If you get tapped, fantastic. You want to be unhappy on the mats? Turn every match into measure of your self worth. If you create an expectation that you must perform at a certain level, when you don’t meet it, it will tend to trigger negative emotions.
Here’s Mike Bidwell:
When we grapple from a high or low emotional state we are never serving our higher good. I have a saying, no highs or lows when I roll. What I mean is that when I am grappling I don’t get upset when things don’t go right and I don’t mentally celebrate when things do go right.
Look, the reality is that it takes a long time to get good at Jiu Jitsu because we’re actually testing our skills against each other—against training partners that are also improving daily and finding solutions to the problems we pose. And progress is never linear. There are peaks and valleys, and peaks and valleys within the peaks and valleys. Some days you feel like a world champion, other days you wonder whether you could grapple your way out of a paper bag.
If you base your enjoyment of Jiu Jitsu or your self-worth on how you performed (or how you think you performed) against any given partner, then your emotions are in for a rollercoaster ride. One minute you’re king of the world, the next moment, the biggest loser. That’s a recipe for frustration, and eventually BJJ won’t be fun anymore.
Here’s 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.
The paradox is your performance will actually improve when you don’t care how you do. If you eliminate all expectations it will free your body to explore and take risks, and in doing so, you’ll end up doing better. If you are only paying attention to what is going wrong you’ll tighten up and perform worse.
I’m not suggesting eliminating goals, or competitiveness, or that we stop actively trying to shore up holes in our game and get better, or that we stop measuring our overall progress in terms of our teammates. Without competitiveness, at least with ourselves, we’d never progress.
What I am suggesting is eliminating expectations of performance on any given training session and instead tap into pure joy of the art. If you do that, BJJ becomes incredibly fun and rewarding. And it increases the likelihood that you will turn it into a lifelong pursuit. Everyone who has gone on to become a blackbelt has at some point in their BJJ career learned how to do that.