Reasons Why I Haven't Quit Jiu Jitsu
and reasons why I almost did
Jiu jitsu has become an embedded part of my life, and I couldn’t imagine not practicing it. But, it wasn’t always this way. I’ve thought about quitting more than once before, and I had to find really good reasons not to do so.
For anyone on the fence about quitting, this is not an essay meant to sway you either way. However, it can be useful to see if my experiences are similar to the emotions that you’re feeling now. Maybe, you’re just in a rough patch, and this essay can help you get through that experience. Or, even if you’re doing just fine, this may serve as a way to be on the lookout for any signs of trouble brewing in the future.
Reason #1: I learned how to ask for help and to offer help.
It turns out one of the best ways to experience jiu jitsu is to feel embedded in a community, where you freely share and collaborate on ideas. That wasn’t the case for me for a long time, but I’m learning how it’s a natural, positive experience when you offer to help someone, and they reciprocate in kind.
Far from being a transactional exchange, sharing jiu jitsu knowledge with people and also being open to their advice has given me the opportunity to connect with someone. There’s something special about taking 20 minutes out of your Saturday afternoon to geek out over the finer details of pressure passing in half guard, including but not limited to variations in obtaining the underhook, the difference between external and internal rotation of the knee in setting up a wedge to free your trapped leg, and the strategic choices you can make to finish the pass. Experiencing jiu jitsu in this way has made me feel special, in a quiet, nerdy way, that someone can speak the same language as me and is just as excited about the subject matter.
Similarly, offering my knowledge has given me a better experience in jiu jitsu than if I remained tight-lipped about what I observed in my training partners. The most important thing I learned here was how to offer help without being condescending towards my training partner. What I learned is that I’m more comfortable offering help when the other person is open to receiving it.
As it turns out, it’s really easy to offer help if you ask in the right way at the right time. Asking simple questions like, “Do you mind if I give you a note on something I observed during this round” and “I noticed you did something differently in this movement, do you want to know what it is” allows them to think about whether they are curious or open to feedback. Making the feedback positive, or an anecdote about my personal experience (for instance, how tight the choke or position feels) offers valuable information to my training partner without a tone of judgment.
Reason #2: I started keeping better boundaries.
No one will readily admit to this, but I don’t think my experience is isolated when I say that you can create too much pressure for yourself when you overshare your experiences in jiu jitsu, or when you feel like there’s an obligation to show up more than you can without wrecking other parts of your life.
I’ve made these mistakes repeatedly, both with social media and overtraining.
As I’ve mentioned before, the first few months of training jiu jitsu, I had no idea that I was in a celebrity school with celebrity/soon-to-be/now famous athletes. All I knew was that this was pretty hard but I wanted to get good at it. As the social media scene exploded on Instagram with jiu jitsu, I quickly began being sucked into the world of “look at me” culture, of trying to be pretty or popular, or pretending that my experience in jiu jitsu was deserving of other people’s attention.
Some people will aruge and scoff at my experience, saying that it is a result of not understanding how to keep things in moderation, or a failure to see social media as a tool, or just plain old insecurity. Personal flaws that don’t affect me, they would say. And I would not deny any of these flaws, actually. In doing jiu jitsu, and in looking at people on Instagram, I have always and continue to feel a twinge of jealousy and envy whenever someone succeeds in somethign that I have yet to accomplish, or probably will not accomplish. That is why I stay off social media, because I know myself well enough to not be constantly stabbing myself in the eye with triggering images.
The boundaries that I choose to keep with regards to Instagram, and even group chats at my school, does not mean that I’m morally superior in some way. It is, at its essence, instead a robust and sustainable attempt to preserve my inner peace when I’m training in an intense sport. It allows me to quietly think through what I need to work and focus on, instead of being distracted as to what everyone else is doing.
As for overtraining, that is still a work in progress. I think that the inherently competitive side of me wants to always train more and more, because for some reason, I think that being better is the key to enjoying jiu jitsu. However, overtraining has its risks too, as I’ve learned the hard way, through some pretty painful injuries and infections. Where I am now with overtraining is to understand that no matter how much I want to train more, it’s more important to take of myself as a whole person, so that in the times in which I do train, I can be happy and relaxed.
Keeping better boundaries in jiu jitsu has resulted in some positive externalities elsewhere. Just as I don’t overshare online, or try to curate my image in a certain way, so that can translate to an increasing sense of confidence to be myself in other scenarios. And, knowing that I can’t do everything all the time means that I am constantly practicing how to say “no,” even if it feels uncomfortable to do so right that second.
Reason #3: I became more gentle with myself and others.
This is a big one and likely still a lifelong practice. I can be very harsh on myself, because I was conditioned to spot flaws in parts of my practice, in other to push myself to be better. However, the harder I was on myself, the worse I felt, and over time, my learning suffered, because my attention was so fixated on what I was doing wrong, isntead of what I could be doing right.
At the advice of my jiu jitsu mentor, I’m currently reading a book called Start Where You Are. The book has many concepts similar to what my Headspace app taught me about the technique of meditation, but what it particularly emphasizes is how to show compassion to yourself, and as sa result, to others. Compassion is not about making excuses or condoning harmful behavior or actions, but more of an awareness as to what is happening.
These days, I try to motivate myself without beating myself down. As hard as this may have seemed to me at the beginning, it’s gotten easier. Instead of thinking that I need to study an instructional becuase, if I don’t, I’ll somehow fall behind, I think about how lovely it would be to fill up my jiu jitsu notebooks with techniques, and to use stickers to decorate the pages. Instead of lamenting that I was stuck in a bad position or got my guard passed in training, I look upon it as an opportunity to do some troubleshooting of my own. Instead of counting backwards from 10,000 to fall asleep, I’ll play a new move in my head and have the confidence that my subconscious will pick up something cool about it. And, everything is done with a gentle approach — an option, not an obligation, to succeed or enjoy the fullest experience.
Part of compassion for myself and others is to recognize the imperfectness of the situations that we are in. This means that when I’m expressing compassion to myself, there could very still well be the feelings of frustration, annoyance, anger, envy, and sadness that are existing inside of me at the same time. But that’s the beautfy of compassion, because it accepts things where you are — it allows you to start where you are. Instead of jiu jitsu being a collection of days where I say to myself, “I have to show up to train” or “I need more discipline” or “I wish I could get purple belt already,” it is instead a more cohesive experience that enriches me as a martial artist.
Writing this today, I hope that my love for jiu jitsu and practicing martial arts will continue to thrive. But I also understand that part of what makes staying so great is the renewed commitment that I need to make to myself in every moment, to become the best person that I can be, and to enjoy life to the fullest, even when times are hard.
Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.
On the other hand, wretchedness--life's painful aspect--softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple.
Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.
― Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living