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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.


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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