Escape your Own Head: How to Get the Most out of Jiu Jitsu

You hear a lot in jiu jitsu that you should leave your ego at the door, don’t focus on winning or losing, and avoid negative self talk.  Sure – these are all great advice but how do you do it?  It’s certainly not as easy as packing your gym bag, remembering to leave your ego on the shelf at home, and going to train.  I struggle with negative self talk in all facets of life and I know my life would be easier if I could just be nicer to myself.

So how do you tell your mind to just shut up so you can train?

Set Goals

When I am struggling with motivation or feeling like I’ve hit a wall training I like to set a goal for each day.  The goal has to be specific and something I can control.  For example – try that sweep we learned last week.  Other goals could be related to cardio (I will roll the whole class without taking a break), or attitude (I will thank my partner if they catch me in a submission) or positional (I will try to use the butterfly guard at least once today).  Just don’t have your goal be to not tap – you don’t have control over that and its not a healthy way to learn.


Sometimes it feels like I go to practice, zone out during the drilling, roll with the same people, and then go home.  When I start to feel this way I like to reflect on what I learned from drilling and from each roll.  If I don’t feel like I learned something from a roll – I try to determine why.  It could be because I did not feel comfortable with that partner and only used my defensive game.  Or it could be because I wasn’t feeling motivated to try new things.  This could also be a time to reflect on whether you achieved your daily jiu jitsu goal.  If you did, great!  How can you do better next time?  If you didn’t, why not?  Was it because you were rolling with higher level belts so didn’t get to try what you wanted to?  Or did you forget?  Or was there another reason?

Think of Jiu Jitsu as a Game

Almost a decade ago, Evan and I decided to try a judo class.  We wore our jiu jitsu gis, found some white belts, and hoped we didn’t make a fool of ourselves.  When we got there, a nice judoka helped us through all of the moves and made us feel welcome.  One thing that stuck with me is that he kept calling us “jiu jitsu players”.  I had always thought of it as “I do jiu jitsu.”  I had no words for someone who did jiu jitsu but I had also never thought of it as playing.

Now, there are many words for people who do jiu jitsu but I prefer jiu jitsu player; I play jiu jitsu for fun.  Thinking of jiu jitsu as a game and remembering why you are there may help you take yourself and the game less seriously.  Very few people in the real world take our game seriously, so who cares if you win or lose against your teammate?

Realize that Everyone Else has Off Days Too

I thought that I was the only one who picked apart every move I made and always found my game wanting.  But then I talked to my friend who I think of as my jiu jitsu big sister.  She often feels the same way.  Then I was talking to a teammate who started 6 months ago and she feels that way too.  Everyone has off days and its hard to realize when you are progressing.  Take a deep breath, realize that even if you can’t see progress – those around you probably can – and remember why you play jiu jitsu.

Remember it Takes Years (a Decade?) to Get a Black Belt

And even after you get it, you’re still learning.  So if you are having a bad day and tapping left and right, think if you’ll remember this day in a year.  How about 5 years?  Will anyone else remember?  If you need to take 3 months off for an injury will it really make much of a difference in your jiu jitsu journey?

Notice What You’re Thinking

Don’t take what you’re saying to yourself at face value.  Sometimes your mind lies to you (like when you’re hungry at the grocery store, that chocolate really is a great idea).  So just notice what your mind is saying to you.  Would you say that to someone else?  Is your mind being honest with you?  Thinking something does not necessarily mean its true.  Just noticing what I am saying to myself lets me distance myself from my thoughts enough to evaluate them (and my feelings) rationally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *