I’ve heard it said before that “environment trumps will”. For those of us who like to credit our success to our own grit, determination and hard work this is not an easy truth to accept. Sure, some of the greatest people have emerged from some pretty bad environments, but those are the exceptions – not the rule.
How can we, as adult jiu jitsu practitioners, use this information to help us get better at jiu jitsu? Well, the good news is that we do have some control over our environment. It’s something that we can improve. Let’s look at a couple of ways our environment off the mat may be hindering our progress and maybe one or two ways our environment at the gym may not be helping us. Then let’s look at how we can turn that around.
If you have a spouse and kids and you cannot get them on board, your home environment will not be ideal for progress and success. It’s a lot to juggle, but somehow you must get them behind you. Getting them involved is a great way to do this. Keeping things “fair” is important—if you’re spending 4-6 hours a week doing something you’re passionate about try to help your family members find things they are passionate about and make sure they have the time to pursue those passions the same as you are pursuing jiu jitsu. Another way to get them behind you is to ensure that they are also reaping the benefits of your journey—jiu jitsu should be helping you become healthier, happier, more confident, and more relaxed. In other words, it should be helping you become a better spouse and parent.
If you leave home early for work, stop for a fast-food mc-something and coffee for breakfast, sit at your desk all day studying spreadsheets only stopping once to have lunch at the food truck on the corner, then rush home for a heavy carb loaded dinner—this will not help you accomplish your jiu jitsu goals. A busy life and stressful work environment is not always easy to overcome. Somethings that might help are: meal prep on the weekends for breakfasts during the week, pack lunches on work days, taking the stairs at work, standing at your desk,
If your friends that you hangout with on the weekends think that belly flop competitions and beer chugging are athletic events, you might be spending time in an environment that is not conducive for success. You probably don’t need to completely abandon recreational activities that include bratwurst, beer, and belly flops…but you probably need to minimize them. The key here is, like they say, balance and moderation.
What’s the environment like at the gym? How can you affect that?
Is there an “I have to win at all costs” environment at your school? Here’s the problem with that: When you adopt that mentality, you find a way to win i.e. get really good at a few moves that seem to be really well suited to you and then only do those moves. Or you may only train with training partners with less skill or lesser attributes which obviously won’t challenge you to the same degree as training with partners who are better than you. If this attitude is prevalent at your school, here’s how you can make a difference. First of all, roll with everyone and tap when you’re caught without trying to spaz out of the submission and don’t make excuses. Secondly, when rolling with training partners you can easily beat, roll in such a way that puts you in bad positions or get’s you caught once in a while, i.e. start from bad positions, work from your week side, try new techniques, etc. For more ideas along these lines check out Six BJJ Training Games, by Byron Jabara. By approaching jiu jitsu this way you will be setting an example that others will eventually follow.
Is there a “me first” mentality where students seem to only be concerned about their own progression? While this seems to be a mindset that would indeed help you get better faster it is, in the jiu jitsu world, actually counterproductive. There should be a culture of comradery with the mind-set that a rising tide raises all boats. If you are training at a gym where other students, as well as the instructor, are concerned about your progress and are willing to invest in your success then you are training in an environment where you are likely to succeed. The solution here is simple, but not necessarily easy: Model the behavior you hope to see in the rest of your team. Take a round or two every class for a while and make it about your teammate. I’ll often time ask my teammates what they’re working on and then steer the match in that direction.
In conclusion: I’m not a life coach, marriage counselor, nutritionist, or even a jiu jitsu expert so I can’t necessarily tell you the best way to improve your environment. But I can tell you that there’s enough evidence out there to indicate that it would greatly improve your chances of success if this was something you paid some attention to. Maybe pick one area of your life and work each week to make that area just a little better.
Train hard. Train smart. Get better.
When your school is gearing up for a competition and everyone is training at the highest level of intensity prepping for the tournament and you are not, what are you supposed to do? Maybe you think you are not experienced enough to help or get much out of the class, maybe you are rehabbing an injury, or maybe you (like me) are older and not too interested in competition. Is this just a good opportunity to take some time off? Maybe, but probably not, there are many ways you can help your teammates out and still benefit from going to class.
Let’s look first at some things you can do to help your teammates out:
- Positional sparring. If your training partner is a much better grappler than you and they are in competition mode you may not be able to offer them “a good match”. Pushing them physically is probably not in the cards, but you can ask them what they’re working on for the tournament and then volunteer to start from that position.
- Pace yourself. If you can’t keep up at their pace, set a pace you can keep. Most competitors, I think, would rather a good steady round for the regulation time than to have you gassed half way through.
- Don’t spend time in stagnant positions. If you’re stuck, move. If you’re in top position and unable to finish the match, transition to something else and look for the finish from there.
- Offer encouragement and (when appropriate) feedback. If you are newer to the game it may not be the time to be offering advice or coaching, but you can still be there for support and encouragement. If you have been training for some time, but are not in comp mode, you may have valuable insights to offer your teammates.
This is great and will be helpful to your teammates, but we know that you are on the mats so you can get better at jiu jitsu. How will going to class for competition training benefit you when you are not in competition training?
- You WILL get better. You may feel like you’re just getting your ass kicked, but trust me; you are absorbing information and learning more about yourself and your limits. You’ll get a chance to see how your technique works when your training partners are trying a little harder to win.
- You will benefit from the strengthening of the team and the development of a deeper team comradery. These are some of the things that will keep you on the mats and get you through the times you wonder if it’s all worthwhile. These are also some of the things that are, for many of us, at the core of why we do jiu jitsu.
- If you are there for your teammates, they will be there for you. One day you will be prepping for a tournament, or trying to polish up some techniques as a promotion approaches, or maybe even having personal issues off the mats and your teammates will remember that you were there for them. They will be there for you.
In conclusion: It’s easy to think if the class or curriculum is not suited to us, that that is a problem….in the words of one of the greatest mariners of all times, Capt. Jack Sparrow, “the problem is not the problem, your attitude about the problem is the problem”. Go, learn something, have a good time – you’ll be glad you did.
Train hard. Train smart. Get better.