Why I’m training for a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“How did you do that?”

My arm was still tied behind my back as I was helped off the mat. My sparring partner just smiled and said, “you were so busy trying to win, your arm presented itself to me.” Apparently, that presentation allowed him to use my Gi as a rope and tie my arm behind my back … without me noticing. I felt like Po in Kung Fu Panda, getting schooled by the Furious Five over and over. And it was awesome.

I’ve been exploring the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu — and even after 60+ hours of training — I have only begun to understand how vast a world it is. More importantly, in that short time it has flashed me with a new perspective on the idea of competition and confrontation. Principles that can be transferred to an office profession where the struggle to ‘win’ is very real. But first, a brief intro into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“For men with bodies like dead chickens.”

The Gracie family brought Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the shores of the USA in late 1970’s, and wanted to show the world that BJJ was the ultimate self defense system, and most importantly, one that worked for the real world. The Gracie’s challenged the best fighters from different styles to a no holds bar ‘Mad Max’ style contest. One by one all manner of fighters came in to crush, kill and destroy these Brazilian upstarts. And surely enough they were ungraciously taken down to the floor, rolled into a pretzel, and made to quit by a much smaller, unknown opponent.

Designed for the smaller person, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a non-striking martial art. The idea is to use leverage to force your opponent to submit — the words ‘Jiu Jitsu’ literally translates into ‘The Gentle Art’ — which kinda sounds boring right? I can tell you from experience, it is not. There is nothing ‘gentle’ about getting ‘arm locked’ or ‘triangle choked’ so hard it feels like your head is about to pop.

This approach revolutionized the world of fighting, leading to the creation of the UFC, and since then the Gracie family have been at the forefront of bringing ‘The Gentle Art’ to mainstream martial arts of America. It’s effectiveness is so evident, it has been adopted as self defense system for law enforcement, SWAT and Spec Ops.

Each stripe represents 10 hours of work. A black belt is about 7.5 years away for me, and that’s a good thing.

How to rethink the combative mindset

Five lessons from 60 hours of BJJ introductions.

1. Perfection is the illusion.

There is no such thing as perfection. I have heard this several times from BJJ’ers who have been training for many many years. Shedding the idea that there is a way to perfect a certain move or technique makes you mentally and emotionally free to embrace the idea of progress.

At the office… Focus on the progress and the process. The things that you can control and do your best to let go of the outcome.

2. Look for leverage, not the knock out.

In BJJ there is no straight line to winning. Learning to fight from the ground is anything but linear, but it is very practical as 90% of fights end up on the ground. BJJ is about continuous movement, a series of transitions from worse positions to less worse positions, until you have created enough leverage and pressure on your opponent they lose all their options.

At the office… Solving problems has become more like grappling with them vs. boxing with them. There are no knock outs these days. Today you must look to continually move from bad position to better position, continuously creating leverage.

3. Take what they give you.

No one who practices BJJ has mastered it all. The learning never stops. When grappling with a problem or tough situation, be mindful of what your opponent ‘presents to you’. Just like I presented my arm to my opponent, look for what they give you in their desire to win, take it and make it something you can use to your advantage.

At the office… Many of your competitors will want to crush you. Using their scale, global network or heavy hitting reputation. Don’t fight them head on, instead look for what they compete with, consider how it could be a weakness and then expose it.

4. The ‘Tap’ is the ultimate training tool.

BJJ is unique to all other martial arts because of ‘the tap’. The ability to end a sparring session with a simply ‘tap — tap’ of your hand on your opponent. That ‘tap-tap’ allows BJJ students to spar at full-contact with a reduced risk of injury vs other striking martial arts. It can not be understated — the importance of training as close to reality as you can leads to a new level of personal and group effectiveness.

At the office… Create training plans that mimic reality for you and your team and drill them. Even if it gets weird.

5. Attitude + Attendance = Greatness.

These two elements combined overtime define how fruitful a person’s BJJ journey will be. It takes an average of 90–100 hours of training just to get from white belt to blue belt, and an average of 8 years to get your black belt. And the journey doesn’t stop there. BJJ is not a short term game, or one of physical prowess. It’s a long term commitment and more of a mental challenge than anything else.

At the office… The mindset you have about your work and your ability to ‘show up’ with that mindset consistently, in many ways will shape your personal growth and the impact you’ll have on others.

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