BJJ six month update: humiliation and progress

Have you ever wanted to try a physical activity that seemed completely out of your reach? Maybe my story will inspire you.


In a sort of backhanded way, my jiu jitsu instructor gave me quite a compliment this week. He told me that when I first walked in the gym he didn’t know what he would be able to do with me. I had no talent, no physical ability, no special skill set.

Yet, here I am six months later, looking and performing like an athlete. (His words, not mine.)

I’ll take that.

So here’s the latest in the saga of a regular Joe middle aged man’s attempt at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Get in shape to get in shape or just get in shape

I walked into that gym in pretty bad shape. It was weird. I thought I had been doing pretty good in my efforts to stay healthy, but soon discovered I was way wrong. I had come a long way from where I was in 2019, but I still had a long way to go.

The choice was quit and try to get in better shape, or just deal with it. I chose to deal with it. Six months in, I definitely made the right choice.

The only real concern if you are out of shape is increasing the chance of injury. But on the flip side, you’re going to get submitted so fast from being gassed that you decrease the chance of injury.

For the last 30-40 minutes or so of class, we “roll.” Rolling means five minute bouts with your partner, and then you switch it up and go with someone else. When I first started, I could barely make it thirty seconds and I was gassed. Now I can roll several times before I need a break. Still, my cardio is a long way from where it needs to be, but a ton of progress has been made.

Speaking of injury

I had a lot, a lot of bumps and bruises, too. No major injuries but plenty of pain. I kept playing through it. Trying to manage it. The lesson I learned is if you can play through it, you should play through it.

Too many people nurse little injuries. The problem with that in the context of BJJ is that this is fighting. It is supposed to hurt and you should leave every class a little banged up. Play through it or don’t bother. If you take time off for every soreness and sprain, you will miss more classes than you make.

Besides, if you are learning to fight, learn to fight injured. That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

To what do I attribute my ability to hang in there? Cold showers and breathing exercises. They definitely aren’t hurting, at least.

The internal battle is the real fight

So what have I been doing wrong? Well not to give injustice to the many deficiencies I have on the mat, the biggest one seems to be my desire to win. It screws up my inner dialogue. This is a common white belt problem.

I am always thinking, how can I get this guy, how do I beat him?! That’s all ego. I should subdue my ego by directing my thoughts, such as:

  • Stay calm

  • Focus on technique

  • Take what is given

This all seems to fly out the window, but over the next six months I want to get better at this internal battle.

Humiliation leads to tremendous growth

BJJ has humiliated me sometimes. I mean downright embarrassed. Not from failing, but from the way I was failing. It seemed in my control and yet I couldn’t control it. I walked out of the gym visibly frustrated on a couple of occasions.

But, this is exactly what my ego needed. Following my latest setback, the next several classes were my best yet. I made astonishing improvement and started getting a lot of compliments on my grappling skills.

Humiliation forced me to think about what I really wanted. I need to incorporate this idea of humiliation into my regular life. It’s very powerful.

Goals moving forward

So what’s next? Since I started from zero, I have a longer road than most BJJ newbies. But unlike most people, I don’t quit when faced with adversity. I am persistent.

I am using this first year to get in shape, to get to the level of physical fitness of your regular athlete type guy in his 20’s. Then we’ll see what kind of progress I have made if I can move forward and chase a belt promotion. My mind is able to remember and process the different techniques and ideas, so once my body can execute them more regularly, I think it’s going to make things really interesting.

In the meantime, I’m having fun (most of the time.)