People get involved in BJJ for a number of different reasons. Some want self defense, some MMA, some love the sport and some just want to be a little more badass. A common goal most of these jiujiteiro will share is the much revered black belt. Arguably the most prestigious black belt of all martial arts, a BJJ black belt is certainly not a guarantee for any student. The average black belt in BJJ has put in at least something like ten years of consistent training, although for many it takes even longer than that. In fact, each and every rank might signify two years of training or more for an individual. When these milestones are so far apart, a lot of practitioners find it difficult to stay motivated to reach that goal. A lot of people in BJJ joke that as soon as someone gets a blue belt, they will quit, and unfortunately it is often the case. So how can keep ourselves motivated and excited all the way through our careers?
It’s About the Journey
Although black belt should ultimately be a goal for everyone, too much focus on outcomes is going to end up being discouraging. If your mind is on that black belt, your progress will feel insignificant and slower than you can imagine. Know that your rank is symbolic of the journey that you’ve been on and focus instead on the journey itself. Set daily, weekly, or monthly goals, rather than always thinking about the roughly bi-annual belt promotion. Think about a sweep that you want to try to incorporate into every day of rolling, or improving the amount of time it takes for that big upper belt to pass your spider guard. It can help to have little bite sized accomplishments that are within your reach. Not every class will go your way, not every week or month either, but know that having a rough class doesn’t mean you got worse, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t growing as a martial artist. Removing yourself from outcomes will all-in-all make the journey a more smooth one for you.
Breaks are OK
I personally have taken significant time off. I lose full weeks here and there, and that doesn’t set me back. Most significantly, I went off to college not long after getting my blue belt. I had no job and no way to pay for my training in my new city. I took a year off of Jiu-Jitsu because of this. I did however put a lot of time into strength training. When I made it back to the mats I was much bigger, much stronger, and extremely rusty and fell back into some of my spazzy white belt habits. I won’t pretend like it wasn’t a setback in some regards. Not unrelated, I watched some guys who started around the same time as me or even a little after me pass me in rank. That was hard for me, but I was the only one responsible for my own progress. I had to learn that and internalize it. I recognized some of the differences between our games and learned what I could from them. I broke out of the slump I felt from my time off and learned how to apply my newfound strength to push my BJJ well past any point it had previously been. I got myself right back on track and built a stronger love of the art in the process, and here I sit, a month away from my very own black belt test. A little time away from BJJ might help mentally reset you and bring your motivation back up. Don’t take a lack of motivation as a death-sentence to your BJJ or even your MMA career.
Avoid Comparisons to Others
Competition and comparison can help push us along but there are reasonable limits for these things. In organized competition BJJ is broken up by age, weight, sex and rank. An adult only IBJJF tournament could have 600+ different divisions when you do the math. There are 9 weight classes, 7 age divisions and 5 belt ranks. There are only a narrow range of people who might be appropriate to gauge yourself against in the first place, but fact of the matter is that really isn’t a perfectly level playing field to make these comparisons on in any case. Understand that everyone’s journey is their own, and everyone’s motivations are a little different. Maybe you’re the worst practitioner in your school, maybe that means your have the toughest school in town, maybe someone newer will sign up next week. These things ultimately have no bearing on your ability to improve, however. You are in charge of that, and your coaches and teammates will be more than happy to help you if you have a real desire to improve.
The road is long, there’s no two ways about it. It will not be all sunshine and rainbows. You are more than likely to invest real blood, sweat, and tears into a black belt if you stay the course. If you didn’t would it wouldn’t hold the meaning that it does. Every day on the mats will push you toward it even if by just some minute fraction of a percent. But that’s ok. Even if you stop, even if you have to take the occasional step backward, even if the guy next to you goes twice as fast, you will get there if you keep moving forward and you stay the course.