The More You Learn, The Less You Know

Photo By @stewartuy

When you first start jiu-jitsu, the prospect of a ten-year journey to black belt feels unending and overwhelming. It’s no wonder that so many students get to blue belt, feel satisfied with their competence in the martial art, and peace out after a year or two of training. Even looking up BJJ technique videos on YouTube can feel like flipping through book pages in an infinite library, which makes it all the more impressive when you think about just how much BJJ black belts actually know.

I used to feel comforted by the idea that, one day, I’d know a lot more about jiu-jitsu. And I guess I have. Certainly, I’d be able to clobber my lower-belt self and teach her a lot of jiu-jitsu in the process. But at the same time, the more I learn about jiu-jitsu, the less I know. The knowledge that I have feels remarkably sub-par compared to what I now know is possible.

When I first started to become aware of this knowledge gap, I was disheartened and even discouraged. How can a person hope to ever feel worthy of a black belt when you’ve been training for years and have still barely scratched the surface of what there is to know in the sport? It felt like the old “carrot on a stick” analogy, only the carrot was getting farther and farther instead of staying the same distance away.

Now, though, after accepting and embracing the never-ending pursuit of “more” on the mats, the vastness of the breadth of knowledge in jiu-jitsu is exciting.

I think it’s human nature to be hyperfocused on end goals. It’s why so many people feel the need to repeat that “It’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination.” Jiu-jitsu puts us in an interesting position between the journey and the destination, though. The objective of getting a black belt, as with any martial art, is considered the “end goal.” We have multiple belts in between white and black to mark our progress on the way to that end goal. But, at the same time, if you ask a lot of black belts if they feel like they’ve mastered jiu-jitsu, they’ll just laugh. In fact, many of them will say that they feel like their jiu-jitsu journey is just beginning.

Yes, there’s a lot of knowledge and technique that develops from white to black belt. But perhaps the biggest difference between beginners and advanced jiu-jitsu practitioners is the understanding of just how much there is to learn. As a white belt, learning new techniques is like throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Then, as you advance and begin to understand and appreciate the details of “macrotechniques,” you realize how far you still have to go. You discover that the first triangle choke you were ever taught has a ton of variations and little details that you couldn’t possibly understand at the beginning levels of jiu-jitsu.

As your knowledge of jiu-jitsu expands, you’ll become aware of your knowledge and technique deficiencies. But how wonderful it is to simply be able to learn, and continue learning, and know that there will always be something else to learn in a hobby that you love so much. There’s no finish line, no point when you have to resign yourself to the completion of a long and beautiful journey — only the excitement of constant discovery, even decades down the line.

The endless potential for learning in jiu-jitsu can feel overwhelming, but if you really love the art, it’s actually a blessing. The idea that you can train for a decade and still have so much to discover can either weigh you down or encourage you to stay curious and keep training. The choice is entirely yours.


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