A Competitor’s Insight Into the Mental Journey of Jiu-Jitsu
In a recent conversation on the mats, the point was brought up that “In order to make it to black belt in this sport, you have to be a little crazy.” I know so many people in Jiu-Jitsu, myself included, who deal with various levels of anxiety and depression. We experience self-doubt, nerves, and frustration, sometimes on a daily basis. We can be head cases. Even still, we keep getting after it. To quote Alice in Wonderland: “We’re all mad here.”
It’s been quite the journey over the past eight years, figuring out how to mentally prepare for competitions, and deal with the ups and downs of training. I’m still figuring it out. I have certainly come a long way and found some measure of balance for myself.
When I first started competing, it was purely for fun. I wanted to test my skills against other women my size, in an environment where we were both going full force. There was no pressure and I remember feeling mostly excited. Once I had several tournament wins under my belt, I started feeling some pressure to keep winning. I won, that’s what I did, and winning was important. People expected me to win. I remember my first tournament loss very clearly. It shook me a bit. It let me know I was vincible. In my last year at blue belt to my first year at purple, I experienced a lot of success. I won the ticket to go compete in Abu Dhabi as a blue belt, got quadruple gold at the Chicago Open, then received my purple belt. In my first year at purple, I won several FIVE Grappling tournaments and the No Gi Pan Ams. Things were looking up. Then I started losing. A lot. I still had some wins, but I was losing a lot more than I was used to. Looking back, I was also facing much tougher competition.
Losing is hard. It’s hard to put it all out there and fall short. I’ve definitely had losses that hit deep, where I thought about quitting, or questioned what I was doing with my life. I’ve struggled with thoughts that I’m not good enough, that I can’t cut it. I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety leading up to big competitions, and gotten really frustrated with myself in training, sometimes to the point of tears. I’ve even experienced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as acid reflux and an upset stomach. I think that it is really important to lose. It’s important to take risks and put yourself out there.That’s the only way we are going to grow. It’s important to fail and realize that the experience didn’t break you, because you’re stronger than that. Sometimes losing gives you more fire and drive in training, because you need to fix your mistakes. Winning can make you complacent. Sometimes I need a tough day and a good cry to really kick my butt in gear for the next training session. The losses make me appreciate the wins that much more, because I had to go through a lot to get to them.
The first time I went to the Worlds, I was a new purple belt, and I lost my first match. That was a turning point for me. It let me know that I could go all that way, fly to California, lose one match and be done, and still love the experience. I had a blast that week watching matches, training, and cheering on my friends. I think that’s when I knew I could really do this. I could put it all out there, fall short, and still experience life to the fullest. Since then, I have had several tournament experiences where I fought one and was done. It’s tough, but that’s the risk we take,and it makes the reward all the sweeter.
I think one biggest strides I’ve made in recent competitions is that I’m not afraid of losing. When I worry about “what if I lose this match?” or think “I can’t lose to this person”, it puts me in a negative place mentally. It can be really hard to let go of that worry, especially if I feel that I have other people counting on me. When I can take that pressure off of myself, it frees me to go out there and truly enjoy competing. I know that mistakes will happen, that’s inevitable. I don’t know what my opponent is going to throw at me. The only thing I can control is that I’m going to go out there and give it my all. I’m going to give my opponent hell and I’m not going to stop until that match is done. Whatever happens, win or lose, I know that I’m grateful to be there, getting ready to step out onto that mat. I’m doing what I love and trying to set an example with my work ethic and my attitude every step of the way. I know that this is all worth it.
Over the past eight years, I have gained a confidence in myself that I think only comes from experiencing the ups and downs of this journey, and coming out determined to keep going. My faith drives me. I believe that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m gonna do it with all my heart. When I can look at the big picture and realize how small this moment is in relation to everything else, it really gives some perspective. A win or loss really doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. It’s not about me. What matters is the impact I’m able to have with what I’m doing. When I can take the focus off of myself for a second and think about how I can use this to impact others, it gives me a new resolve and sense of calm.
I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far on my own. Knowing I have support means so much. Whether from teammates, or family and friends back home, having a support network can keep me going through the tough times. I may not be very responsive to calls and texts when a competition is close, because I need to get my mind focused on the task at hand. However, knowing there are people rooting for me and cheering me on fuels my drive and pushes me to do my best.
I still have days when I cry from frustration. I still have moments of self-doubt. Right now, I just keep reminding myself how incredibly happy I am to be living this life and doing what I love. What I get to do day-to-day is so cool. I still get nervous, but I try to channel those nerves into excitement. I’m so excited to get out there and do my thing!
So get out there, take some risks, and see what you’re capable of. Train and compete like you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.