Training Diary: Worm Guard Reflections

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This is what worm guard is supposed to look like (Vince Millett/Flickr)

So, I haven’t been training enough lately. I’ve been sick, and not wanting to plague rat my gym, and I’ve also been adjusting to a new work schedule. In that I’ve been working somewhere with a schedule. (Not unrelatedly, I also haven’t been super diligent about posting here.)

But I wanted to share a quick observation from the last couple times I’ve trained.

At some point when I wasn’t looking, I developed the ability to laugh off being bad at things. This has always been a struggle for me with BJJ, and life.

Traditionally, if I haven’t shown a natural aptitude for something, I’ve just stopped doing it. This is why I write for a living, and still do math at a fifth grade level. BJJ is arguably the first thing I’ve voluntarily stuck with in spite of not being good at it. But I still haven’t been good at not being good at it. I tend to respond to struggle with a sort of furious self-flagellation and self-loathing. I view not immediately getting something as a moral failure.

A few days ago, we were learning worm guard. Worm guard is a pretty complex guard that requires pretty good balance and core strength— neither of which I have in abundance—and also for you to keep track of a lot of different moves in sequence, which as someone with medium-strength ADHD, I find hard.

So, worm guard went about as well for me as you’d expect. I fell over a lot. I got stuck in a lot of weird positions. I’m not sure I ever actually executed the worm guard sweep my instructor was showing us. But what I didn’t do was get frustrated. I didn’t get mad at myself, or my training partner, or the world. I laughed. Because it was funny. I was upside down with my foot wrapped in another man’s gi. That’s funny. And not being able to sweep someone from worm guard isn’t the end of the world. Everyone who loved me before still loves me. This is just something I need to work on.

I don’t know if this attiudinal shift is permanent, or if it will apply to my life outside BJJ, but I’m happy it’s happening at all.

Training Diary: Letting Go of Ego OR Belts Aren’t Magic

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(Photo courtesy my bad self)

Belts aren’t magic and you have to learn to fight without ego.

If you’re at a good Brazilian jiu-jitsu school, these are things you’ll hear over and over again. But it’s one thing to hear them, and even to understand them, it’s another to remember that message in the middle of a roll.

Earlier this week I got submitted by a white belt. Twice. Maybe three times, I can’t quite remember. I think I blocked some of it out.

It was subsequently pointed out to me that until a couple months ago, I was also a white belt, and that because of my concussion, I haven’t actually trained a ton since then. It’s also worth pointing out that the white belt in question was probably a decade younger than me, in much better shape, and definitely seemed like he had some sort of previous grappling experience. (If I had to guess, I’d say he was an ex-wrestler.)

Neither of these things mattered in the moment. What mattered was I felt embarrassed and stupid and useless. I was furious at myself for my inability to figure out how to out jiu-jitsu someone who’d been doing this half as long as I had. My ego was hurt.

Because really, no one cares. Belts aren’t magic. A blue belt doesn’t give me some sort of cheat code against white belts. And it doesn’t necessarily guarantee I’ll lose every fight against a purple belt. (The fact I can’t generate offense off my back guarantees that, but I’m working on it.) Higher belts get tapped by lower belts all the time. During the same class where I was submitted by a white belt, I watched one of my black belt instructors get submitted by a brown belt.

Did he get upset? No. He congratulated his opponent and laughed about it. He felt no type of way about it. Because he knows that regardless of rank, some people are better athletes, or have a killer go-to move, or are sneakier, or are just able to catch you on a bad day.

You win or you learn in jiu-jitsu. So what did I learn here?

1) I really need to get better off my back. My mount escapes are exceedingly bad.

2) More importantly, I need to not worry so much about “looking foolish” or “getting embarrassed.” Because those kinds of concerns are holding me back, not only in BJJ, but in life.