Friday, March 18, 2011

What does it mean to win in the gym?

I post on a lot of BJJ forums. In other news, the sky is blue. I know. This is not news. Every week or two, there is another new post from a grappler, talking about "winning" in the gym. The post is usually one of a few different types. First, the grappler is brand new and wants to know when *he's going to start winning rounds. Normally, he means he wants to know when he's going to start submitting other grapplers. The second type is from the grappler who's been training for a few months (usually 4-6) and has "caught" an upper belt. He doesn't know that the upper belt is working on something new or is letting him work, etc. and foolishly brags about it on an internet forum. Then, there's the "I should have my X belt" or "how long will it take me to get my X belt" folks.

So, after seeing all of these threads (and at least a hundred variations of each one), I thought I'd talk about what I think it means to 'win' in your academy. First, winning is reserved for places where cash, medals, trophies, belts, or even swords are on the line. Hands are raised, referees are involved, etc. When you're training with your team, you're both winning. You're both getting better at jiu jitsu (ideally). That's sort of the point here. You actually can lose in your academy. Read on to find out how.

Ways to lose in the academy:
1) Only play your A game (which means you never develop any other game)
2) Only train with people that you are better than
3) Hang out in safe positions (hello, half guard of desperation!)
4) Take no risks

Are you seeing a trend here? The best way to lose is to never put yourself in a position to LEARN. You're paying good money for those ass kickings. Take them with a smile. Learn from them. Stopping someone from passing your guard by holding them in your half guard (I am so, so, SO guilty of this - so much that I'm pretty sure I'm the reason for a new rule in our academy) doesn't mean you 'won'. No one won. You had a boring round where no one got better at jiu jitsu. If you're stalling in half guard bottom, give up the pass and figure out how your opponent got there so you can stop him next time.

If there's, say, a 130 lb brown belt woman (hi, Marissa!) in your academy that armbars you 82 times in 5 minutes, don't avoid rolling with her. Learn to keep your arms safe. "Win" by making her switch to a triangle to tap you next time. (This is how I "win" when I train with Marissa, anyway - it's the little things in life.)

Set attainable goals for yourself that constitute a win for the day. Hit the sweep you've been working on against someone 1 belt above you. WIN! Work out the details of a new guard pass or the bow & arrow choke. WIN! Successfully defend an armbar against Marissa. DOUBLE WIN! (Trust me.)

If the only way you think you can win is by tapping someone out, you're going to spend a long time and a lot of frustrated hours losing. The academy is your home. Your teammates are like your big, dysfunctional family. Learn with them. Learn from them. If someone keeps doing something to you that you just can't puzzle out, ask them how to defend it. If they show you the defense, you BOTH win. Know why? Now you both have to get better at jiu jitsu. It's awesome that way.

*I'm saying he/his for ease of typing. Women want to win just much as men, though.


  1. Excellent entry!


  2. Great post. Found this through the Fenom Kimonos FB page. I cannot agree more, as many of us new to grappling start with that overly zealous attitude.

  3. Don't be dumb Chrissy.

    Winning means:

    Crushing your enemies
    Seeing them driven before you
    and quite possibly hearing the lamentations of their women

  4. Thanks, guys!

    And Jason, I want to hear the lamentations of their men. Men lament. I'm pretty sure about that.

  5. Great post, thanks! I'll add a link from my blog.

    I guess new white belts don't know or understand. They will learn or drop out. But it also happens to us who have been doing it long enough to know better!! I know I need a reminder occasionally :-)

    Yes, yes and yes to attainable goals, little wins and risk taking.

  6. LOVE this... so well put. Going to email links ...

  7. 3) Hang out in safe positions (hello, half guard of desperation!)

    LOL.... I resemble that remark!

    Sometimes my teacher will say, during positional sparring- "You get half guard- twenty pushups." He always glances at me when he says it.

  8. Awesome post, which reminds me a little of the greatest thread on the internet.

    I've actively tried to erase 'win' and 'lose' from my vocabulary when I spar in class. Although it is perfectly reasonable in context, it still makes me cringe a little when instructors say things like "in this round, you can win by..."

  9. @Slidey - I just skimmed the first few posts of that thread, and wow. I think he said what I wanted to say much more eloquently.

  10. I read it shortly before I started BJJ back in 2006, and I've been trying to follow the mindset he lays out ever since.

    However, he doesn't have a blog, or post regularly on lots of BJJ forums. Which I think means you win. ;p

  11. I really love this. I have to admit I had that mentality when I started bjj. I think the hard thing about figuring this out is that most people come into bjj thinking of things like UFC or Karate Kid competitions. There is a clear winner and loser. People come in with pride, wanting to see how they "stack up" against against other people or else wanting to prove themselves. It took me some time to realize what the point of grappling in class was. I thought it was like the test at the end of the lesson, at first. Now I see more as a the hands-on application part of the lesson. Time to see if I can do the stuff I'm learning.

  12. Great post.

    You really got me rethinking half guard. I get on the bottom and won't let go unless I can get a knee in (bad at it) or bump someone into deep half (horrible at it with heavier opponents). That's one position where I'm definitely "scared" to let go of control. "Half guard of desperation" is a perfect name for it.

  13. Clinzy - chalk this one up to one more reason I love you. ;)

    Last week I had what in my mind was a rough round with a bunch of the guys, I felt like I was getting my ass kicked left right and center by Ostap, Brian, Kenny, and Phil. I personally felt like I was dying after each 7 minute round from carrying their weight on the bottom most of the time. But after my match with Kenny, he said "that was fun". I figured, hey, if we can have a match challenging and fun between myself and a guy (my belt) who outweighs me by 40lbs - then that was a win for both of us. :)

  14. Very nice article! I have been caught red handed and guilty of being the one to tap a higher belt and post on a forum about it.... I did learn alot from the situation though. Although I was abviously very new and naive, but now seven years later I finally see why I tapped him.... and now Im better because of it.