Over the weekend, I went with some friends to a karaoke bar. Not the kind where you get your own private room. The kind where you go on stage in front of God and everybody, where it’s just the backbeat, the microphone, and you. Because I view everything in terms of what life has to teach me about BJJ and vice versa, of course I found some parallels between the fun I had that night and the lessons I try to learn as a grappler.
Read on for some observations I made about karaoke that are also relevant for training and competing in BJJ. See if they resonate with you and your own athletic practice.
The best laid plans can and usually do go at least partially to sh*t.
Commonly, participants in grappling competitions will come into the situation with a game plan. Just as commonly, these same participants will have to modify as they respond to unforeseen consequences (keep in mind that one grappler’s game plan is likely to interfere with his or her opponent’s game plan, because opponents want opposing results. Then some negotiations must occur). This happens even in practice. Perhaps I come to class planning to drill a certain sequence but am paired up with someone who is injured or not the right size for optimal drilling of that specific sequence. In that case, I may have to make adjustments on the fly.
At the karaoke bar, something similar happened. I chose a song (Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three) that I was pretty confident I could sing generally on key. I was right about that, but then along came another bar patron who, shall we say, had apparently been very thirsty earlier in the evening. He started dancing in front of me while I was on stage, a dance that included some vaguely robotic moves, some mean mugging, some air guitar, and even some pushups. (Decent ones, even. Full range of motion and everything. Maybe I should do a story on his training regimen.) But needless to say, I was not expecting this, and after about a minute of staying strong, I started to laugh. I pulled it together pretty quickly, but the point is, I had to adjust my plans in the face of stimuli over which I, and, I suspect, my dancing friend, had little control.
There’s always somebody better.
This is a mantra I am used to repeating, and one that finds its way into many of my articles. I don’t remind myself and others that there are always people who can outdo us to make anyone feel discouraged. Rather, when I consider this, I actually feel liberated, because I remember that even the best in the world are constantly striving for better, always trying to live up to their own expectations and the ones they perceive others have for them. So that frees me up to work on the best version of myself I can be, in which case the only competition I have is yesterday’s me. (Of course I have a competitive streak, but that’s a topic for another time.)
I re-learned the same thing over the weekend in the karaoke fray. I’ve always liked to sing – in the shower, along with the radio, while puttering around the house. In high school and college I had some opportunities to sing more formally. I never sang solo, but I dabbled in chorus and a capella groups. So I was feeling kind of okay about how I was going to sound. Little did I know that of the people in my group, three of them are actually pretty damn good singers, including one who performs regularly with a band. So once again, in a different context, I was faced with owning my own spin on things rather than trying to be better than someone else. And hey, my private dancer seemed to like it.
Familiarity breeds comfort breeds performance.
While I haven’t competed much recently, there was a stretch of better than a year when I was doing tournaments as often as possible. My goal was to improve at BJJ, but the sub-goal was to get to the point where competing felt comfortable. Don’t get me wrong: I still get nervous, and I’m obviously never guaranteed a win. But now I have a much better sense of what to expect and how I’m likely to respond, which means I don’t have to monitor my nerves as closely, leaving me free to concentrate and focus on the task at hand.
Before I took the stage for the first time this weekend, I was nervous, particularly since I was going on after some of the ringer singers I mentioned above. I actually had a small bit of the anticipation I get while waiting to compete. And then while I was singing Cumbersome, I could feel how tight my throat was, due to that residual nervousness. But then when I moved on to Jamie’s Cryin’ (Van Halen – NOT Van Hagar), I was able to do a few theatrics here and there, and by the time I finished withTake It on the Run (REO Speedwagon), I was really belting it out. Tight throat syndrome was gone, and I was thisclose to yelling, “Hello karaoke fans! Are you ready to ROCK??” The point is, while I may not have secured my place in the upper echelons of karaoke royalty, my repeat performances helped me become less and less nervous each time, and that has implications for performance in any context.
This segues nicely into the fourth reminder karaoke can provide for us about athletic performance:
Go hard or go home.
As I mentioned, by the time I was on my third song, I was going for broke. Similarly, some of the most fun people to watch were not the ones with the best voices. Sometimes, the people who had absolutely no singing ability were almost mesmerizing, because they just owned that sh*t. They didn’t worry about what other people thought, they acknowledged that they were kind of lousy, and they just went with it anyway. As with competition or training, there is definitely something to be respected and learned from that kind of attitude. Just do your thing. And if you’re going to bother at all, go out in a blaze of glory, especially if you are singing the song of the same name (Bon Jovi). This lesson is particularly important for me to work on.
Doing karaoke can sharpen our perception on multiple levels.
Finally, one of the most important things I’ve accomplished through grappling and competing in grappling is learning to be aware, meta-aware, and kind of multi-aware. While competing, I need to focus on trying to beat my opponent, of course. But I also need to register whether we are about to go out of bounds, how much time is left, what the referee is saying, what my coaches are saying, whether I am winning or losing. Even in training, I have to juggle awareness of the movements I’m trying to execute, whether my partner’s head is dangerously close to someone else’s foot, how much time is left, my own energy and intentions. There is a lot going on, more than meets the eye, and every grappler must learn to process these multilayered stimuli.
Similarly, while I was singing, I was trying to do justice to the song and display a bit of showmanship. But I was also processing Mr. Cirrhosis of the Liverdance, the cheers and encouragement of my friends, and my own assessment of my performance. I was practicing awareness on multiple levels.
As I mentioned, I can find a lesson about BJJ in most any life situation, and vice versa. This time, the things I learned came with a partly self-generated soundtrack, and I’m already thinking about what I’ll sing next time.
Do you like karaoke – and the lessons you can learn from it about your fitness goals? Post your jam, as the kids would say, to comments.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.