The “Bad” Jiu-Jitsu Days Are What Turn You Into A Champion

Photo Source: Issys Calderon Photography/ Instagram

Have you ever had one of those days where you sleep through your alarm, put your shoes on the wrong feet, and get ketchup on your white shirt? For most of us, these days are an anomaly— they suck, but we know that we’re not normally so clumsy and unlucky. It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.

Even though we like to think that all our problems melt away as soon as we get to jiu-jitsu, that’s not always how it works. We’ve all had those classes in which everyone passes our guard, we can’t nail any submissions, and our cem quilos may as well be dois kilos for all the good it’s doing. Yep, sometimes, you just have a bad jiu-jitsu day.

Just as in day-to-day life, everyone’s idea of “bad” in jiu-jitsu is going to be relative. A purple belt would probably be on top of the world if they had what a black belt considered to be a “bad” jiu-jitsu day. But regardless of what you happen to be struggling with, you can be sure that everyone you’re training with has also gone through similar frustrations.

It’s enraging when you feel like your guard passing technique that was on fire just yesterday feels slow and clumsy today. You might start questioning if you really earned that belt when you’re inexplicably struggling against the lower belts you usually dominate. Maybe you just feel a bit sluggish when you live-roll, almost like a lethargic shadow of your normal self.  

It can be tempting on those rougher days to find an excuse— any excuse— to avoid things like rolling that would make your current weaknesses more obvious not just to your teammates, but also to yourself. “This isn’t me,” you think, “so why am I going to waste my time and energy on a class in which I’m not giving my best to my teammates or myself?” But the times when you’re training at your worst are going to be the ones that separate the lions from the house cats.

One of the principles of jiu-jitsu is the concept that we must submit our own egos, and training when you’re at your worst is a great way to get that done. In a sense, we’re given a glimpse into our own past, back when what we now consider to be “bad” was what we once considered to be awesome. We remember what it’s like to struggle with things we’ve begun to take for granted as we’ve improved. Our “bad” days are a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Even more important than acting as a mental time leap, however, is the fact that our bad jiu-jitsu days offer us a challenge that is easy to overcome physically, but often difficult to overcome mentally. Physically speaking, we know that we’ll probably be back to our old selves tomorrow. It might have been that we just didn’t get enough sleep, ate the wrong thing for lunch, or are just feeling a bit stiff from the day before.

When you’re in the moment, though, the mental wall you might hit is a bit harder to climb over. When you feel like we’re going backwards instead of forwards, even if you know it’s only temporary, there’s a whole lot of self-doubt and anger that can creep into your head. From the time we’re children, we have it drilled into us that success is a straight path forward. It can be seen pretty clearly in the way we progress through the educational system: elementary school leads to high school, high school leads to college, college leads to an entry-level job, which leads to promotion after promotion until you’ve “made it.”

In reality, the path to success has a lot of squiggly lines and dotted lines and things that don’t really resemble lines at all. When you work to achieve your goals in jiu-jitsu, you’re probably going to go to elementary school, then high school, then back to elementary school for a few months, then have a few days where you feel like you’re ready for that entry level job, but nope— you’re still just a junior in high school. If you keep working hard, though, you’ll eventually make it to college and beyond.

Whether it will take winning a world championship, getting your black belt, or just being better than you were last year to make you feel like you’ve “made it,” there are going to be a lot of times in which you regress before you progress. Those bad jiu-jitsu days might feel like stumbles on your way to the top, but they’re more like the small, but stabilizing steps we take backward in order to allow ourselves to maintain our balance as we continue walking forward. They remind us to not strut, to keep our eyes on the road unless we want to trip and fall.

The next time you get hit with a bad jiu-jitsu day, try to love it for what it is. Use it to remind yourself that you aren’t the type to give up whether you’re at practice or in the middle of the most important competition of your life. Do your best even when your mind and body aren’t cooperating, just to prove that you’ll still give it your all even when things get tough. It’s just a bad jiu-jitsu day, not a bad jiu-jitsu life.


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