I Almost Ruined My BJJ Journey With Bad Goals
What first got you interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Before you were training regularly, what were you hoping to get out of it?
Do you ever forget the answers to these questions? Do you ever lose sight of why you started in the first place?
I did, and it took a day of crying to realize that I needed to leave the place where I was training, and be okay with the fact that I am not going to be able to fit some people's definition of what constitutes proper training.
After my first ever BJJ class, I was speaking with one of the owners of that particular gym about potentially signing up for a few months. I had just had my first taste of a class and knew I wanted to continue. I said that I would be interested in coming 1-2 times per week according to my packed schedule. The guy kept repeating, "Well if you want to compete, you'll have to be here a lot, like 4-5 times a week". I'm standing there thinking, Who said anything about competing? This was my first BJJ class EVER; I just learned what a guard is. Why are you talking to me about competing? I didn't say I was interested in BJJ because I wanted to be a world champion; I wanted to be there because it was fun.
I couldn't help but wonder: if I signed up to train at this gym, would this guy continue to forget to ask me if I even liked the class, and instead pressure me to train as frequently as possible without actually knowing my goals?
We always hear that it's about the journey, not the destination. So, what if my participation in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has nothing to do with achieving a higher belt? What if, regardless of the destination, I want to make sure that I am enjoying myself and feel like I am learning?
I signed up for a few months at a different academy, and soon found that I was having a hard time making it to class. Somewhere along the line, I had internalized outside influence regarding how my jiu jitsu journey should look. I thought my task was to accomplish some goals that, while appropriate for someone else, would not be particularly fulfilling for me, such as:
- obtaining a blue belt within ____ months
- toughing it out where I was training, even amidst a mat bully
- measuring up to someone else's idea of how many times per week I should train
Had I remembered that my original intention in starting BJJ was to have fun, I probably would have spared myself some anxiety and tears by changing my outlook and potentially making different choices. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, within a few months, had stopped being so much fun.
I got a breath of fresh air the other day, when my blog was mentioned by Dr. Danielle Dowling:
Notice: "Fitness should be fun". At first, I didn't even recognize that she was referring to BJJ and my blog. Reflexively, that phrase is something that I would expect to have yoga, dance, or hiking listed after it. I had stopped thinking of BJJ as a fitness activity that could be done for enjoyment, instead of having your task be to fit in with the "BJJ lifestyle" people.
It felt great to have BJJ put into context for me in a way that was directed toward a community of women that probably know next to nothing about the practice. It felt really good to step out of the BJJ bubble, and realize that, hey, just like yoga can either be your lifestyle or simply something you do once or twice a week because it's fun, the same can be true for BJJ. You can go as deep as you want with BJJ, working your whole life around training, or simply engaging in a BJJ practice once or twice a week for a fun workout.
I have been running recreationally for over 10 years now, for fun. I fell in love with it, and running became my happy place. I do it because I love it, not because I want medals. Am I less of a runner because I've never run a marathon? I don't think so. Am I less of a yogi because I cannot yet contort my body into Dragonfly pose? Nope. Am I less of a BJJ practitioner because I'm a white belt, and may be for longer than most? I dare say that I'm not.
I keep being told over and over that I will progress much faster if I just add another day or two per week to my training. Never does anyone ask how I am enjoying my BJJ practice. Never am I even asked what my goals in BJJ are. I bet you the questions people ask me would change if they knew that my BJJ goals have nothing to do with a belt, or competing. If people ventured to ask me what my goals in BJJ are, I would tell them this:
- I want to feel that post-workout rush when I'm done a training session
- I want to learn how to move my body in ways that surprise myself
- I want to feel the balance between challenge and competence
- I want to feel connected to a larger community
- I want to help encourage other women to start their BJJ journey, especially if they are scared
- I want to practice BJJ in a positive, encouraging environment
- I want to focus on longevity of my BJJ practice, versus speed of progression (I like being a snail)
I should have been intentional about governing my BJJ journey by the points listed above, and I have learned my lesson.
I thought I wanted a blue belt. What I really want is to feel proud of myself.
I thought I wanted the bully at my last academy to like me. What I really want is to feel connected in a positive, authentic community.
I thought I wanted the BJJ world to approve of how frequently I train. What I really want is to focus on fitness and competence.
How you measure your progress is dependent upon the endpoints you specify; I didn't define endpoints that resonated with me, which predictably left me feeling resentful and unmotivated. If my goal is to feel proud of myself in my BJJ training, for instance, I can break that down into what that would look like:
BJJ goals, and goals in general, are not intrinsically good or bad; it's about whether or not they resonate with you. If your goal actually is to obtain a certain belt in a specified amount of time, or to be a world champion, then go for it! Just make sure that your vision for yourself is rooted in a meaningful place, instead of coming from outside of yourself. Your goals have to fire you up, or you'll end up like me, torturing yourself with measurables that will leave you unhappy.
Finally, please, don't assume that someone else's goals mirror your own. Open-ended questions are your friend here. Instead of telling the girl who comes to class once or twice per week that she will progress much faster if she comes more frequently, why don't you ask her what progress means to her in the first place? Support her in whatever success looks like for her, and I'm certain she will reciprocate that support for whatever success looks like for you, on your terms.