Are We There Yet? The Role of Anticipation in Training

No matter how long I train, every time I collect my gym bag, walk through the door, and suit up, there’s always that sense of anticipation, which, I’m not going to lie, has some anxiety mixed in.

I got into writing about BJJ through a personal blog I started keeping when I went batsh*t crazy back in 2006. Titled Prancing and Sucking, the blog chronicled my experiences traveling around the country (and Canada) training BJJ in different places. I had quit my job, sold my home, and bought a car, and my resulting freedom caused a friend of mine to say that now I had the opportunity to prance around – and that I sucked because of it. Hence the name of the blog, and hence the batsh*t crazinesss. You’ll see I haven’t updated it in recent years, but it chronicles a turning point in my life.

If you add up all the academies I have visited in my grappling career – during my sojourn and also during my other travels before and after – the number probably approaches seventy or eighty. This means that at least seventy or eighty times, I have driven or walked up to an academy, usually alone, where I usually knew no one, shored up my confidence, and gone inside to meet my grapply fate.

It has certainly become easier for me to enter new situations after so many opportunities to practice (another thing BJJ has given me), though it’s still not a snap. To paraphrase a friend of mine, I seem to have become comfortable with the discomfort attendant upon visiting a new academy, navigating the similar but different conventions for behavior (e.g., do I bow to the mat? How do the students line up to bow in and out of class? Should I wait to be paired up with someone?), making enough of a connection with the instructor and students to have and contribute to a good experience, and otherwise maximizing fun and minimizing negativity.

There is always a sense of anticipation and even apprehension about visiting a different academy. I never have anything to fear outright, because the hosts at any academy I have ever visited have always been nothing but hospitable and welcoming. Even when I visited far-flung places like Alaska or tiny, out of the way academies in the Midwest, initial curiosity about what on earth I was doing there, and realization of the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure myself, always gave way to friendliness and inclusion.

The anticipation, I think, stems from uncertainty about the unknown. Even though I have always been welcomed, I never know for sure what I’ll face when I go inside, and there’s no way for me to know ahead of time, so I have plenty of time and brain space to wonder. That may help to explain the possibly unexpected fact that I still feel that sense of anticipation even when I’m gearing up for training at my own, familiar academy (and there have been several in my career). Arguably, my academy is a known quantity. I know the people and I know the structure of the classes, though of course there is some variety in both on any given day. And I don’t raise eyebrows just with my presence, because I am a known quantity too. I already know I’m accepted there.

And yet no matter how long I train, every time I collect my gym bag, walk through the door, and suit up, there’s always that sense of anticipation, which, I’m not going to lie, has some anxiety mixed in. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the unknown, but a more circumscribed unknown, one based on me and my potential actions. I can have a game plan for what I want to accomplish in a given training session, but just like in competition and in visits to new academies, there is a lot of uncertainty. For instance, it’s possible that I will be physically unable to accomplish what I intend, and it’s also possible that I will decide in the moment to quit, or to “dog it,” or to otherwise sell myself short. I don’t want those things to happen, but I have different reserves of confidence, energy, focus, and drive every time I train, and whether I want them to or not, this has an impact.

val worthington, valerie worthington, bjj, mma, brazilian jiu jitsu, grapplingBJJ is very important to me, which means I care about how I perform, both in the long run and in any given moment. I am also aware of my own imperfections and how my decisions and my presence at any point might conspire to help or hinder my improvement. I have made peace with the fact that I’ll never become as good at BJJ as I would like, and I always want to enjoy my journey, but perhaps the anticipation I feel before every training session is a good thing. It reminds me that I am about to do something that matters, and as such, it’s incumbent upon me to do that something to the best of my ability, to make decisions I can be proud of.

Do you feel some kind of anticipation before you train? What do you think causes it? How do you deal with it?

Photos provided by David Brown Photography.