My First Year of Jiu Jitsu by Andrew Helding

Starting something new will always carry with it an element of uncertainty, risk and difficulty. The choice to start jiu-jitsu is in some regards an acceptance of the risks and uncertainty of starting something new.

As with life in general, the greatest opportunities for growth lie on the precipice of the unknown, in times of discomfort and through overcoming adversity.

Having just passed the one-year mark of my jiu-jitsu journey, it is a good time for me to reflect on some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from jiu-jitsu, What I’ve gotten from jiu-jitsu and also my favorite aspects of jiu-jitsu

My three most important anecdotal lessons from jiu-jitsu to date as of 2020:

You’re going to suck AND things are going to suck- for a long time. You’ll feel uncoor

dinated and confused when drilling and defenseless when rolling- once you’ve been exposed to the staggering skill curve and skill ceiling of jiu-jitsu you soon realize the massive scope of the journey you’ve begun and you may also feel a bit intimidated. However! allowing yourself to be bad at something is the first step to improving. Inversely, refusing to allow yourself to lose in order to salvage your ego is a pernicious concept that will do immeasurable damage if you allow yourself to continue with this line of thinking. Being beaten is part of the learning pr

ocess and refusing to be beaten is denying yourself a chance to grow and improve both as a person and as a martial artist. For now, just remember that improvement is an incremental and active process and that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, sometimes that first step is just to walk through those doors and put in the hours. Everyone including the untouchable black belts and the elusive purple belts has had to start where you are now and it may seem impossible at first but the saying “black belts are just the white belts that didn’t give up” exists for a reason and goes to show that turning up, leaving your ego at the door and being open to learn is a dead simple surefire way to improve.

The people around you are both an immeasurably valuable resource and also some of the best people you’ll meet. In a learning capacity, being surrounded by people who are also actively trying to improve and learn aids massively in helping you improve. The common goal that exists between you and your training partner also does wonders for creating a relaxed and friendly atmosphere thanks in no small part to the attitudes and beliefs of the teaching staff- whose own personalities will serves as the se

ed from which the club or gym’s own atmosphere and personality will grow. Having visited other gyms on occasion I can confirm from my experience that- competitive coaches breed competitive gym culture, and in the case of Eastside, friendly and relaxed coaches equate to a friendly and relaxed gym culture/atmosphere.

Don’t concern yourself with an end date, it’s a lifelong journey. Setting nearsighted goals in an attempt to justify the time and effort you invest has been a trap I’ve tried very carefully to avoid. An example of this thinking may be “Man I can’t wait to get my stripe, belt promotion etc. then I’ll feel so much better” But what happens when you achieve your goal? Maybe you

feel demotivated by the fact that you’ve achieved your goal and yet you feel no better- because you’ve been exposed to just how much you still don’t know. The cycle of- sucking, improving and sucking again seemingly repeats itself indefinitely and I see it (or at least I think I do) in many of my teammates and also in myself. My personal solution and also my recommendation to others is to focus on “just getting better”, learning that submission that you still screw up, fixing and improving what you already know and slowly adding to your repertoire of moves. Focusing on an abstract concept as your goal as opposed to a fixed point in time allows you to continually improve without having to constantly readjust your goal and worry about losing motivation.

Final thoughts

The main takeaway from my first year of jiu-jitsu is to embrace everything. Embrace the process of sucking and improving, embrace your teammates both as training partners and as people and embrace the journey you’ve begun.

Andrew Helding


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Reflections (literal and metaphoric) of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu White Belt by Gary Gorov

Standing in front of the mirror, I see a very different version of myself to what I was two years ago. I was fat. I was a smoker (for twelve years, with the longest break about two weeks). I was bored. I was undisciplined.

Now, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a decade. I’m proudly 18 months off the cigarettes. I have an amazing hobby with a great group of friends. I am far more disciplined and focused.


But reflecting deeper than the surface, there’s a few life lessons that I’ve picked up from my short time spent on the mats.

To be sure, there are countless lessons BJJ can teach us: be humble; looks can be deceiving; stay calm; just tap; small details matter; and on and on.

Maybe there will be an opportunity to share my thoughts on those but for now, if you’re still reading; here are my (metaphoric) reflections as a BJJ white belt.

Taking Failure with a Smile

There’s an old BJJ proverb, “You either win or you learn”. I’m not sure who said it first, but a Gracie somewhere is definitely taking the credit. I take it to mean that you will have to take failure with a smile. What do I mean by that?

Failure is part of the process.
You will tap repeatedly.
You will also be inoculated to the fear of failure.
It just won’t matter anymore.

We fail by not learning from our setbacks and making the necessary adjustments until we succeed. Every change we make, every person we roll with and every bit of information we absorb comes together so we can create a different outcome.

At the end of it all just smile at the fact that you have an opportunity to fail on the mats. And to learn from it.

The nexus between hard-work and progress

Ok, so let’s face it life isn’t fair. It’s not always the case that you get what you deserve. But I’ll tell you what, the harder you work for something the luckier you become, and the easier things happen for you.

Likewise, BJJ isn’t a democracy. Some are just gifted; others have to work harder for it. But everyone who wants to get anywhere in this craft, needs to spend the time on the mats.

It’s like that with life as well. Different people have different starting skills, upbringings, talents. But unlike life, which is nuanced and complicated, BJJ has a certain romantic simplicity about it. At the end of the roll, there’s a winner and a loser.

Talent is overrated.
The old adage, ‘Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard’ is true for BJJ.

You can’t fake BJJ. You might be athletic; you might be talented. Yet, against hard work, you will be exposed. Ultimately, there’s an honesty about the mats. Your culture, creed, race, religion doesn’t matter; on the mats we’re all equal (aside from our belt colours of course).

What’s also deeply rewarding is the successes you finally achieve; the progress. It’s deeply rewarding because you can’t fake it.

Starting from zero

I can honestly say that in my adult life, I’ve never worked so hard and dedicated so much time to something that I continue to be pretty bad at. We all know how humbling that is. I think BJJ teaches you to be more empathetic with people who have different skill levels. Perhaps in the past I was only sympathetic to the fact they may have been less capable. Now, all I need to do is picture myself getting smashed repeatedly and I can immediately empathise.

As a result, I am better at recognising, and more receptive to, people in life who are working as hard as they can but aren’t seeing the results they’re hoping for, or I expect from them.

There’s really something special about learning a new skill, starting from zero.

Having a Plan B 

You’ve all probably read the ‘Serenity Prayer’. Its most common variant is:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Grips are not worth fighting for, in training. Have the wisdom not grip fight the 100 kg purple belt who’s also a judoka. Have a Plan B. BJJ teaches you to always have a Plan B. Allow yourself to flow. Chain your movements. The triangle fails; go for the arm bar. They stack you; finish the omoplata.

Likewise, in life we don’t always get our ideal outcome. Sometimes we have to opt for Plan B (or C, or D). That’s ok, we’re used to it by now.

Right now, we’re all at home or work (or at home working) and wishing we could get back to the mats. This situation is certainly not our Plan A. All we can do is work on our next steps.

We can take the setback we’re feeling now with a smile. We can be grateful for the hard work we’ve put in and the progress we’ve made. If you’re still training from home then this is a new challenge for you to work hard. You might be starting from zero, having never trained alone before, but that’s okay too.

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Multiple Motivations

I’ve been training Jiu Jitsu for almost 10 years. Throughout that time, my training has remained relatively consistent and constant. Aside from a few minor injuries (mostly sustained from non-BJJ activities) and some travel, my class attendance has remained steady.  This consistency can be attributed to the multiple boxes BJJ ticks in my life. Some people may be able to sustain long-term dedication with a single motivation. Perhaps they want to be a world champion, or their singular aim is to obtain a black belt. Throughout my life, I have found different reasons to keep going back to Jiu Jitsu. When I take stock of the motivations that draw me into Jiu Jitsu, four stand out.

Knowledge and Technical Understanding

I gravitate towards Jiu Jitsu for the learning and mastery of technique. The thirst for new knowledge is often a great catalyst for training. Having an inclusive space to learn from an instructor and fellow students keeps eager students coming through the door. That thirst for knowledge can be specific. Sometimes I am consumed by solving a problem I see in my BJJ game. Other times that thirst comes with no questions, no focus and no agenda, just an eagerness to learn Jiu Jitsu.

Knowledge and understanding of the art is a powerful motivator.

Mindfulness and Wellbeing

Martin Seligman explains in his PERMA model of happiness the experience of Engagement or Flow. The state of being totally absorbed by a present task where time and self- consciousness seem to cease. Personally, nothing helps me achieve this feeling of flow more than Jiu Jitsu. At the end of a stressful or busy day, Jiu Jitsu allows me to engage and reconnect with myself. It lowers the volume on inner thoughts and expands my awareness beyond my immediate anxieties or worries.


BJJ is a technical and mindful pursuit but it is also a physical one. The fitness and health benefits of Jiu Jitsu are well documented and well observed by anyone who trains Jiu Jitsu.  If I take too many days off, I begin to feel sluggish and unfit. Some nights I go to training just to sweat.


On any given day, I may not be craving knowledge. I may not feel like a workout. I may not be in need of decompression. On those days, I still enjoy spending time with friends and training partners. A Jiu Jitsu academy often becomes a social haven, a close group of likeminded people and a surrogate family. The comradery, the laughs and the social environment are a draw card even when my Jiu Jitsu cravings aren’t present.

When I walk onto the Jiu Jitsu mat, it is rarely for a singular reason. Multiple motivations are always at play and they keep me coming through that door. The more reasons and the more motivations we have to do something, the more likely it is to endure.


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The Right Move at the Wrong Time

When a white belt begins to learn BJJ they will start to build up a small repertoire of moves and submission that they feel comfortable to use in a roll. This may be a favourite choke or a useful sweep. Regardless of what the move may be, the inexperienced BJJ practitioner will narrow their focus and try to employ that move in all situations.  While this action is coming from a good place, a place of excitement for a newly learnt technique, it can also lead them down a dangerous path because the right move at the wrong time is the wrong move. For those who train BJJ this phenomenon will not be a new concept. For example, a favourite among new white belts is the Kimura shoulder lock submission. A move that, when used correctly can cause your opponent to submit due to intense pressure applied to the shoulder. It works brilliantly from a myriad of different positions including full guard and side control. If however you become tunnel visioned and try to force the Kimura into every situation things can go bad. If you find yourself in your opponent’s full guard for example, attempting this move will almost surely end with your opponent transitioning to your back, a terrible position to find yourself. From here, you can be easily controlled and often submitted.

From my fiist class a white belt, and now teaching at Eastside Jiu Jitsu the moments that get me most excited about learning and teaching BJJ are times when its messages can be generalised to everyday situations and mindsets. The concept of rights moves at wrong times is one that I find myself using daily. Take the situation when a family member or friend requires advice. I ask myself is the ‘right’ advice right for this time. I have seen all too often how the right advice, given at the wrong time can be the wrong advice. To be successful at BJJ and to flourish in all areas we need to understand that success is about timing and picking your moments. No one philosophy applies to all situations, no single mindset will see you through every task and there isn’t any golden rule that works all the time.  This is true in life and true in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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The True Science of Martial Arts – Musashi

The famous Japanese Samurai Miyamoto Musashi once wrote, “The true science of Martial Arts means practicing them in a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in a way that they will be useful in all things”.   Musashi was writing in the 17th century and his Martial Arts of choice was the use of a Katana sword. Nevertheless, the words of this immortal quote ring true in every Jiu Jitsu academy around the world today.

 “Practicing them in a way that they will be useful at any time”

Jiu Jitsu’s boom in popularity can be attributed to many factors. The wide spread appeal of the UFC and other MMA promotions, its low impact training style, and the increasing number of highly skilled instructors and training partners for example, have all contributed to its growth.  Jiu Jitsu’s rise can also be attributed to its usefulness as a self-defence system and martial art.  To train and learn BJJ you only need a safe matted area, its simplicity makes it easy to generalize. While some moves employ the use of the Gi (traditional jacket and pants), all Jiu Jitsu techniques can be applied to real life situations, meaning it will be useful at any time. At Eastside, we endeavour to teach all techniques in such a way that they can be applied to any opponent, in any situation and at any time.


“Teach them in a way that they will be useful in all things”

When you spend time and energy learning martial arts you will learn to apply lessons learned to all areas of your life. As a practitioner becomes more proficient with Jiu Jitsu, they will learn important lessons. They will understand how to remain calm in the face of sever pressure, how to wait for the right opening, how to adapt, how to control their emotions and how to remain humble in all situations. These are lessons that can be easily adapted to all areas of one’s life. Teaching martial arts is more than showing a student an arm bar. The true beauty of Jiu Jitsu is how it can positively affect all areas of life, how it can be useful in all things.  Another Musashi quote simplifies this perfectly, “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything”

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Eastside Jiu Jitsu Values Part 3: Humility & Strength

Eastside Jiu Jitsu Values Part 3: Humility & Strength

Our third and fourth values are ones that come hand-in-hand. At Eastside Jiu Jitsu, we believe in the harmonious relationship between Strength and Humility.  There is no doubt that through the training and practice of BJJ ones strength, in many areas, will grow immeasurable. However, without a deep understanding of humility and its importance, that strength will have a ceiling. Most Jiu Jitsu matches and rolls end with one opponent tapping out. In the most tangible display of humility, one opponent will admit defeat rather than suffer further pain or sustain a potential injury. It is only through this act of humility that students of Jiu Jitsu are able to grow their strength. By tapping out, we ensure we are able to roll in the next round or train the following night. Students who insist on fighting out of every submission and who refuse to remain humble seldom last long in a Jiu Jitsu academy.

Humility runs deeper than tapping. When you first walk into a BJJ academy, you will undoubtedly notice moments of great strength. You are watching people fight after all. However, if you watch closely, you will also see moments of humility in almost every interaction in a BJJ academy. There is humility in the way we teach others techniques, when we bow to our lineage, when we greet each person when we enter our academy and when we thank our training partners after an intense sparring session.

Jiu Jitsu, more than any activity highlights our weakness to us in each moment. It holds a mirror up to us and compels us to check our ego, know our place and surrender our will. If you can come out the other side of that process with your head held high then you have truly gained the strength that Jiu Jitsu can offer you.

The late great Carlson Gracie Sn put it best, “Always enter like a kitten and leave like a lion. But NEVER enter like a lion and leave like a kitten. Always be humble”.

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East Side Jiu Jitsu is an inclusive, family friendly and community focused Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy offering a holistic approach to martial arts and self-defence. As a member of the Carlson Gracie Federation, East Side Jiu-Jitsu is proud to be continuing the legacy of Carlson Gracie in Australia.

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