This article originally appeared on BJJstyle.com on 18/12/16
After taking you through some of the ups and downs I’ve had this year with and without my Gi, I thought I’d end 2016 on a high note. That feeling of putting it all together. It’s taken some time, but over the past few weeks, It’s felt like I’m actually making progress. It’s a strange thing being a white belt, it’s pretty cool because you’re a blank canvas, but that’s also the hardest part. Choosing what to stick with and what to abandon. I’ve been told a few times by higher belts that the best guys in the sport are absolute experts at just a few techniques. Now, to begin with, that didn’t quite resonate with me, I didn’t want to limit myself to just a couple of techniques. I was worried that if I didn’t try everything how was I supposed to know what I would be best at? So, I Naively tried to learn everything. What I found was that when it came to rolling, I had so many options to go to from a position, that it took me maybe a second to decide how and where I was going to go, for those of you that train in any combat sport, you’ll know that a second is a long time to hesitate for, and when you hesitate, you die.
What I also found was, that when I rolled with relatively new guys who only knew two or three things, until I figured out what those things were they tended to have some real success with their chosen techniques. Whether you like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves, and when a new guy struts his stuff and does well against you, you can’t help but dwell on it a little bit and wonder if this is really for you. A short while ago I thought I might actually be getting worse at Jiu Jitsu.
What I think was actually happening was I’d dropped some of my go-to techniques in favour of some newer slightly higher percentage stuff that I didn’t know quite so well. So I was (and still am) getting mauled in certain situations. Where my breakthrough has come from, is in the scramble, and the stuff I’ve ben drilling in class is finally starting to land in my muscle memory and it feels great. I took someone’s back effortlessly (someone a similar level to me, I wasn’t just smashing new guys, promise) and when I landed in the position without thinking I was like Whoah, I did that?? I also had to stop from Hi-5ing myself after hitting a sweep a couple of times in a row that I’ve had little or no success with recently, but now I’m starting to pull it off when rolling through slight adjustments and sheer persistence.
What I’m starting to learn is what’s working for me, and my body type and what’s not. I often get home from class and think about what happened during my rolls and the positions I found myself in, what I should have or could have done instead of what I did. This sort of reflection is good as long as it’s practical, don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t go for a D’arce despite maybe having the position if your opponent was a 6ft 8” monster, as you probably wouldn’t have got it anyway. You have to remember what works for you.
What’s also been working well for me is planning my route. So I have one technique to go to from every position, which leads to a better position and then eventually a submission. Which pass am I going to use, where do I end up it, how am I going to progress from side control to mount, am I going to grab an arm. Instead of having a million options, now I’m starting to narrow it down and carve my path. I believe this is also referred to as my ‘A’ Game. I’d heard lots about this “A Game’ malarky but as I have been in such a long skill collection phase, I hadn’t really refined anything. I kind of ignored it in the hope that I’d just form something over time without realising. Which has kind of happened, but I’m now starting to realise and therefore refine. It’s working too! Obviously not against everyone all the time, but I’m sticking to it and putting it all together. Damn, it feels good.
I feel it’s quite a strange path in Jiu Jitsu, as technically, all belt levels and promotions can be construed as subjective. In comparison to grading systems in other martial arts, which may have strict criteria into moves and positions you need to master before you get your next belt, BJJ gives you the freedom to figure out what works for you and what you wish to master, what is effective and what’s not, and develop a style completely unique to you, which is also probably one of the biggest redeeming factors of the sport and why so many people gravitate towards it, us as human beings thrive in environments of trial and error and creative freedom. Which is essentially what we have every single roll, with limited consequences. It’s awesome. I’m also finally getting my head around the whole ‘don’t chase belts’ thing. I’ve got a couple of stripes so I know I’ve at least learnt something, now I just want to get better. If I keep training and paying attention in class I’m sure the belts will come in due time. It can be tough as a white belt, but stick with it, see it through, as the rewards, while they may me few and far between at the minute, are well worth it.
See you in the New Year