A Hotter Mess Than I Thought: 5 More Things I Wish I Had Known When I First Started Training BJJ

I had so much fun writing my last piece about things I wish I had known when I started BJJ, that I decided to write about five more things I wish I had known. Sadly, that turned out to be quite easy.

I had so much fun writing my last piece about things I wish I had known when I started BJJ, and I got a positive enough response to it, that I decided to write about five more things I wish I had known back in the day. Sadly, this turned out to be quite easy as I recalled more and more of my complete cluelessness. What a figure I must have cut back then: a floppy, overdressed bundle of nerves prone to hulking out, boycotting board shorts, and insisting on calling it “girlcotting.” Ah, youth. Without further ado – but with further embarrassment – here are five more things I wish I had known when I first started training:

1. How to tie my belt.

Remember that enormously long belt I mentioned in the first article, the one I kept almost tripping over because it was so long? Well, the length coupled with my ignorance about how to tie it meant I frequently looked like I was wearing a giant twist tie, and sometimes one of those zip ties. This video from jiujitsusweep.com provides clear explanations of two methods for neatly cinching that gi:

2. How to compartmentalize my relationships.

As I spent more time training, I eventually started to make friends, or at least acquaintances – people I gravitated toward as drilling partners and to shoot the breeze. (Of course, this was after the period of benign neglect I experienced at first and chronicled in an earlier article.) When these few, both male and female, were in class, I felt more at ease and like I belonged.

So imagine my surprise when these comrades in arms came at me with a vengeance during rolling, that they were actually fighting back when I came at them with a vengeance during rolling. I remember getting exasperated at their behavior, thinking to myself, “I thought we were friends.” Of course, I conveniently forgot I was engaging them with the same level of intensity and intention.

But more importantly, I forgot that in different contexts, what it means to be a friend takes on different guises. When we were training, we weren’t being anti-friends to each other. We were training. And that was appropriate, and actually helpful. But it turns out I had not yet learned how to compartmentalize the multiple facets of my grappling relationships, though this would become ever more complex as I became friends with some instructors, instructor to some students who would eventually become friends, and on and on. As we spend more time in close contact with our teammates, we must always keep track of the situation we are currently in and what constitutes appropriate behavior in that situation vis-à-vis our relationships.

3. What it takes to run a successful academy.

If I had a nickel for every time I told an instructor or academy owner how lucky he or she was to teach BJJ or run an academy because he or she “could train all day,” I’d have enough nickels to fill a pillowcase, and I could use that pillowcase full of nickels to beat myself senseless. I don’t run an academy, but I do run a BJJ-related business with my partners, so I sometimes get the same kinds of comments. The fact is, people who run grappling academies or teach BJJ for a living do a lot of things that are unrelated to their own training. They care about our training. They pay rent, clean mats, deal with marketing, pay taxes, work with attorneys on the legalities of running a business, and on and on and on. When you’re just starting out and so in love with BJJ, it’s easy to look at how people live who have made BJJ their livelihood and think it’s perfect. And of course the lifestyle has many things to recommend it; otherwise people wouldn’t choose it. But it’s WORK. And planning. And lots of things that most definitely do not facilitate training all day.

beginner bjj, beginning bjj, starting bjj, brazilian jiu jitsu, bjj community4. How smart Gary Larson is.

Remember The Far Side? Genius. I’m hard pressed to identify a favorite Far Side, but this one is illustrative for this article. In it, an enlightened cow admonishes a neophyte cow to take time on the journey of life to “stop and eat the roses.” It’s human nature to be in a hurry to progress through the belt ranks. But there’s so much that’s wonderful about being new to BJJ, particularly the ardor we feel for it as if we had just started dating. And while progressing through the ranks is of course gratifying, it also brings with it more responsibility, more pitfalls, and, if you’re anything like me, more existential crises. Enjoy where you are on your BJJ journey. You’ll get “there” soon enough. And then there will be more and more “theres” to come.

5. How important it is to judge actions rather than words or appearances.

I remember once long ago a guy started training at the academy I was attending at the time. He had a shaved head, was covered with tattoos, and spent a few minutes before every class taking out all his piercings, including, I would learn later, some in the bathing suit area. Of course nowadays, having spent so much time in the grappling context, I am surrounded by people who have lots of different kinds of body modifications, and it doesn’t even register. But keep in mind that early on I was fairly strait-laced, so I had some preconceived notions about people who resembled this guy. I took one look at him and pegged him for a bully and a thug, and of course I was proven as wrong as it’s possible to be proven. Over time, he became one of my favorite training partners, and I learned how funny, gentle, and kind he was. I also learned more than I had ever thought I wanted to about the process by which someone would go about getting one of those bathing suit area piercings.

Of course judging the actions of another is something we should do in all aspects of our lives, but particularly in a situation where we are all up in each other’s physical business, the lesson is that if we do so, we may eventually gravitate toward people who might seem unlikely partners in crime at first.

Honestly, I could be here for hours, at the corner of Naïveté and Hindsight, contemplating all the things I didn’t know when I first started training BJJ. And it’s been fun to go home again, so to speak. And now, it’s time to progress, so that someday I’ll look back on this pair of articles and cringe a little. Because that’s how I’ll know I’ve continued to grow.

BJJ photo provided by David Brown Photography.

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