Potential In Jiu-Jitsu — Does It Matter?

Belt Promotions

When starting jiu-jitsu, some students ask questions like, “How long will it take me to get good?” and “Do I have potential to be good at BJJ?”

This answer is difficult, if not impossible to answer. Sure, a new guy can come into the class with superior conditioning, a six pack of abs, and some other sport background and already be ahead of the others. Everyone else will say “when he learns some techniques, watch out for this guy!”

But then, one month later, that guy quits, never to be seen again.

So what did that potential amount to?

Unfortunately, nothing.

There is an intangible potential that we can not see with the eyes. A person’s love and ability to persevere long enough in BJJ to get a purple, brown, or black belt.

Many occasions, I have taught an introductory class and had more than 10 students come try it out. Several of the students will seem really keen and ask some questions about the techniques. Other students will be shy and quiet, hanging at the back of the group and appearing completely disinterested.

Yet, to my surprise, at the following class, the students who seemed enthusiastic are gone while the quiet ones show up with a brand new kimono and sign up for lessons. I can never tell!

Now, if we are talking about who has the potential to be a future World Champion, that is a different matter. Top coaches generally agree that champions are born and not made. Picking the right parents also helps.

However, when we are talking about the guys you see on the mats every week growing in jiu-jitsu alongside you, that potential is not as meaningful.

Chris Haueter perhaps said it best:

It’s not who is good. It’s who is left. And it is hours on the mat. And if you put in that time, natural athlete or not, you practice the art, you will be a black belt…you just can’t quit.

Look at the class photo from every year’s club promotions and photos day. Look at the various faces who came and went, then look at the faces who you will find in each year’s photos. They are seldom the most physically gifted athletes. You probably would not have earmarked them for one of the future black belts based on their physical potential.

But that isn’t what ended up being the determining factor of who got the black belt tied around their waist.

Talent is overrated. Perseverance and love for learning jiu-jitsu is most important.


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