When you first start jiu-jitsu, you start to feel good about your progress very, very fast. You learn a lot of very big concepts (how to do a triangle, how to go from being stuck in closed guard to actually passing someone’s guard, how to use clothing to choke someone) right off the bat, and it makes you feel like you’re going from knowing nothing to knowing a lot of important things. You’re building your foundation, and even though you know you have a long way to go before you have an entire house, you’ve taken the massive step from sleeping on the ground to creating the beginnings of a place you can call your own.
Over time, though, that continuous upward trajectory will falter. The steady line will instead become a series of peaks and valleys, and sometimes, the valleys will start to feel like the new peaks. You’ll start to feel left behind, like everyone is progressing except for you, and that no matter how hard you try, this is exactly where your abilities in jiu-jitsu will remain for the rest of your life.
The more you train, though, the more you’ll learn that you’re far from the only person to get stuck in a progress rut. Everyone, if they train long enough, experiences an era like this (or two, or twenty) in their jiu-jitsu journeys. Many people cope with this quietly, wrestling with the question of if they’ve just stopped learning or if this is just a phase. Why do they feel like they suddenly know nothing beyond month-one jiu-jitsu? Why are all the lower belts catching up to them so quickly? Do they know submissions that aren’t armbars, or is this just, like, the only submission they can pull off right now?
If you’ve ever felt like this, take a deep breath — it won’t last forever. The most important thing to do to get over it is to get through it. Keep showing up to class, and soon enough, you’ll be on the other side of the progress canyon. Or, if you feel like you’ve dug your own rut by training too much, making yourself overwhelmed and overtrained, take a break for a few days. You may find that your plateau was just your body and brain’s way of telling you that you needed a couple of days to not wear yourself out in a physically and mentally exhausting sport.
Remember that jiu-jitsu is an uphill battle from day one. You’re going to be tested every time you train, and sometimes, those tests will be more mental than physical. Confronting the desire to give up entirely when you feel like you’re just not getting any better is part of the work you do every time you step onto the mats. Actively choosing to keep going when you could easily just quit is progress in itself, and you should remember this when you’re tempted to get down on yourself for learning a bit slower than usual.
This rut will pass, like all the other ruts before it and all the other ruts that will come after it. Just remember as you trudge your way through it that you’re not the only one who’s been in this place before, and if you can make it out, you’ll give yourself another chance to climb a peak.