Getting Stuck In The Middle With BJJ
I recently read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. One of the chapters he wrote immediately made me think of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. The idea he lays out is simple but powerful. See if you see the parallel to BJJ.
“The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.
At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat.”
“The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea.”
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories… they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger.”
“they go looking for an easier story.”
“It’s like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.”
Have you’ve ever experienced the “middle” with your BJJ training? The point where you are training hard but feel like you’re just not getting any better. If so, I imagine the chunks of the book I have quoted above probably speak to you.
Getting Out Of the Middle In BJJ
Unfortunately, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu doesn’t follow a linear progression, it’s not a video game where you rack up a reliable number of experience points and skill gain. So while I can’t offer a surefire way to escape the dreaded middle. I can offer some tips that have worked for me personally, for the students I’ve coached in BJJ, and may help you.
Mix Things Up
I think people hit plateaus most often because of complacency. They get stuck in the same patterns using the same moves with the same mindset over and over again. In order to spark new progress in your game and grow in new areas, sometimes you have to mix it up and get out of your comfort zone.
Change the way you roll – I have personally experienced no better way to dig myself out of a rut than focusing on different areas of my game. Assess yourself, be honest, and think of areas you could work on improving. This often involves you getting out of your comfort zone. If you are a sweeper from the bottom, try being more submission oriented. If you are a wrestler with a great passing game, pull guard. Maybe you have a weak guillotine and you’d like to make it better, limit yourself to that one submission when you roll. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Experiment with different areas of your game that aren’t you’re bread and butter.
Go to a seminar and attempt to learn new techniques – I’m not always the biggest fan of BJJ seminars because I feel like I get mentally assaulted with so much information that I cannot retain anything. But I will say that I’ve also been to several seminars that have been game changers. Even if you’re only able to walk away from a seminar with just 1 BJJ technique that you can use well, its worth the money. To better retain the information. Right after the seminar, while the techniques are still fresh in your mind. Record yourself with a partner going over the techniques. This works way better than a note book!
BJJ Videos for motivation – One thing I’ve always done, and continue to do whenever I get stuck in a mental rut is to use videos for motivation. Highlight videos and documentary types are my favorites. I remember the first time I watched the Renzo Gracie documentary Legacy as a brown belt (if you haven’t watched it, it’s a must see). Immediately after it was over, I was so pumped up that I called up a few buddies and we had an impromptu training session.
Compete – Some people don’t like BJJ competitions, I get it. But as a coach I’ve seen so many people make giant leaps in their game either before or after a competition. This is one of the reasons wrestlers are such good grapplers. They’re forced into competition over and over again, there is no choice. The idea of competition looming over someone often leads them to train harder and after a tournament they typically have a better insight into their game with plenty of things to improve.
Drill – If you find yourself being unable to pull the trigger with your techniques or you’re just a second too slow. If you’re not already doing so, start drilling your techniques. I mean really drilling them. Knock out at least a few hundred reps every week. This will get rid of that hesitation. Drilling your techniques is sharpening your weapon before battle. The sharper the weapon, the smoother the cut.
Take time off from BJJ – If you’re starting to get frustrated on the mats. Try taking a week off from BJJ with the intention of coming back the next week. So rest, relax but make sure to keep your diet in check. I personally like hiking and camping when I take time off from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Along with the time away from the mats, being in nature seems to have a restorative effect on me mentally and physically. Sometimes a small break from the mats has a way of renewing your appreciation for being in the gym and allows you to decompress and come back mentally fresh.
Last Piece Of Advice For A Tough Problem
The last tip is simple and something that you’ve probably heard before.
Don’t stop. Even when you don’t feel like you’re making progress in your BJJ training, and a lot of times this will be the case. You are. If you’re stuck in the middle at a current point in your BJJ training. It’s ok, we all get there sometimes. Have the presence of mind to recognize this and, sticking with the snippet from the book, keep paddling. Because I promise sometimes right when you feel like you’re at your worst is when you have the next jump in your game.
Remember, it’s not a race to the finish. You don’t finish Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Have you ever experienced being in the middle with your training? If so, what was it like and how did you deal with it?
As always, thanks for reading.