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Being Good

Thursday 12:00 noon
Brooklyn

As we are lining up for class, our instructor always asks us to "set our intention" for the hour, what do we hope to get out of it, what is our goal. Because I expect this comment, I often give some thought to this concept when I wake up Thursday morning. This class is my hardest. There is a lot of rolling. It is full of advanced students, many of them martial arts teachers themselves. Most of the top brown belts in the organization are there, as well as a few black belts. It is taught by an impressive (and somewhat intimidating) man who has been around the martial arts even longer than I have. He is the perfect balance of kind and tough, encouraging and terrifying. The energy in the room is always high, always positive. Everyone is super nice and helpful. It is a great environment to learn jiu-jitsu.

It is also somewhat outside my comfort zone. 
Going outside my comfort zone is very good for me.
You know how the rest of that speech goes.

Some weeks I go into the class with a clear cut goal already in mind. I want to work on defense. I want to relax and flow. I want to work on inside control. I want to have fun. Other mornings I am a bit lost, and when we get to that moment before we begin my brain shrugs. "I dunno. Arm bars?" 

I know that isn't exactly the kind of intention he is looking for.

I often struggle with self confidence in BJJ.  Sometimes I become obsessed with the idea of being "good." Am I good at jiu-jitsu or do I suck? There are many problems with this. First of all, it is obviously the least productive way to think about my training. But even more than that, it is impossible to quantify what this "good" actually means?

Am I good at jiu jitsu if I catch everyone in class with submissions? Am I good if  I help my partners get better? What if I am a purple belt who constantly gets tapped by white belts but those white belts are all bigger and stronger than me? Do I suck then? What if I am tapping people but all my rolls are slow and methodical? How do I know if I am any good if no one is trying to kill me? What if my defense is on point but I rarely tap anyone? What if I remember all the drills and can execute them perfectly, but have trouble doing the moves live? Am I good if I get a new belt? Am I good if I win my division at NAGA? What if my division is all 16 year old blue belts? Am I competing against my classmates? Against myself? Against a clock? Am I not competing at all?

Obviously this is a conversation with my brain that could go on forever. My solution to this problem has been to attempt to change the language, to replace "good" with "better". Not "better than", just "better." As in, I am getting better at jiu-jitsu. This implies a journey that does not end with one submission, or one class, or one new stripe or belt. It allows for the good days and the bad, the ups and downs that are a natural part of BJJ training. 

Better for me means that I am making progress towards teeny tiny goals, which are part of much bigger, loftier goals. I want to have a totally unpassable guard? Well this week I am working on keeping my legs inside. I want to have unstoppable leg attacks? Time to work on heel hook grips. Isolating these individual pieces of the puzzle gives me a clearer idea of what to do when rolling. It is much more interesting training than "Smash! Get on top! Win!". It is also a much healthier way to judge my own progress. 

Like many of you, I am my own worst critic. My insecurity is much more crippling than any instructor's criticism. BJJ for me is a constant battle against the little voice in my head that wants to convince me that I am not good enough. That I don't belong there. That I don't belong in that Thursday class full of purple, brown and black belts. That I don't have any business training with the "squad", the small group of people in our UWS dojo who train for competitions.  That I don't belong on a BJJ mat at all.

The silencing of that little mean voice is one of my major motivators to keep showing up for class. I know she is wrong. She is trying to knock me off of my chosen path. She is trying to make me doubt myself. She is trying to break me.

She doesn't get that I am unbreakable.





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