9 Things I Learned in my First Year of Jiu Jitsu

Time flies. I cannot believe I've been training for a year and a half. I've always loved the saying about a year from now you will wish you had started today. I am SO GLAD I made the jump into jiu jitsu. It is one of those things where you look back and can't even remember what your life looked like when you weren't training. 

If you're a woman who is interested in trying BJJ but is kinda scared like I was, click here and read this.

Here are 9 things I learned in my first year of BJJ:

1.   For some reason BJJ is a beacon for nerds. My Facebook timeline used to be full of people from high school, pictures of the house in the suburbs they just bought, and their Caribbean vacations. Now its full of fight breakdowns, pictures of Settlers of Catan marathons, sociopolitical rants, video game reviews, anime stuff that I don't understand, passive-aggressive memes, and cats. 

2. There was once a training partner who would always poke me on the mats, and he would message me on Facebook and say, "Hey beautiful, I like it when you choke me". I wanted to ignore it and hoped he would stop, but I started to feel really uncomfortable in training and couldn't focus. I was nervous that if I told a coach, I wouldn't be believed, or I would be seen as a troublemaker. I always wondered what I would do in that kind of scenario. People (especially people on the internet) are always going to speculate about what they would or would not do in a situation. I have learned that even though I am pretty good at speaking up for myself, I still felt confused and like a little lamb when this was happening. He was a relatively popular guy, and I was fairly new. Who would believe me? And would anyone even care that I didn't like what he was doing? To my surprise, and my appreciation, my concerns were taken very seriously by the academy, and I didn't have to worry about interactions with this guy anymore. 
If someone at your academy is interacting with you in a way that you feel is inappropriate, please talk to one of your coaches about the situation. If it is your coach who is the person in question, go further up the food chain and talk to your professor. You deserve to be respected on the mats and to train hassle-free just like anyone else. 
As BJJ and MMA are very male-dominated, I wasn't sure that I was going to be listened to. Thankfully, I was, and I learned that some people really do mean it when they say that jiu jitsu should be for everyone.

OK I lied, 5:40am. Shhh.

OK I lied, 5:40am. Shhh.

3.   I can be physically and mentally exhausted and still get up at 5:30am to go train. This has been surprisingly profound for me. I used to be a bit of a princess when it came to sleep, and I would have sworn to you that unless I had a good, solid eight hours, there was no way I was getting up that early. Now, I embrace the discipline it takes to prepare your gym bag, clothes, breakfast, everything the night before a morning class. I always thought of structure as boring, but since incorporating this practice into my life, I really look forward to it. When my mind is racing and my to-do list is haunting me, I honestly find solace in being able to pack my gym bag and make sure things are in order. I will set aside my subway fare, iPod, get my purse ready, check tomorrow's weather, pick out clothes for the next day, and make sure dishes are clean so breakfast is easy. Structure is sexy, who knew?

4.   I have learned the difference between "sore" and "painful". It's no longer a big deal if something is sore or if I have a giant bruise. I'm used to physical discomfort and just keep going, but I also know when it's time to pull myself out of the game. Nobody knows your body like you do. BJJ can be a very taxing sport, so play smart. In the last year, I've had two concussions from jiu jitsu. Some people don't believe me, or counter with, "Well, the risk of concussion in jiu jitsu is actually very low". That's nice. I still got concussions. You have one body, and you need it to do things. Don't be dumb.

5.   I have never regretted a training day. Especially the ones that are really, really emotionally hard, complete with tears, snot bubbles, and the "why do I do this!?" thoughts. I made a commitment to myself from the first day I started BJJ that even if I go to the bathroom to cry, I will still come out and finish the day, even if it just means sitting on the mats beside a training partner or coach. I used to be scared that people would think I was weak or stupid if I got upset, but I try to remind myself that what other people think of me is none of my business. And pretty much every time I've bawled my eyes out at jits, someone comes to sit beside me and tells me one of their sob stories and reminds me that it's normal. 

6.   You can't force anyone to train. Lots of people are going to start jiu jitsu, but you won't see them again after a month. There were a couple of girls who I used to message to try to encourage to come back, and they would claim they wanted to get back into training, but they just need to find the time, etc. I've realized now that if someone wants to be on the mats, they will be there. It is not my job to police their activities and force them to come; it needs to be their decision. If jiu jitsu isn't for them, that's okay.

Me & the bird's nest of hair after a 7am class. I'll say hasta luego to the nails, but not the hair.

Me & the bird's nest of hair after a 7am class. I'll say hasta luego to the nails, but not the hair.

7.   I was willing to give up my long nails for BJJ, but I still refuse to give up my long hair. There are some things I just won't compromise, no matter how many times someone steps on my ponytail. 

8.   My experience of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is what I make it. My goals are up to me. My progress is up to me. My focus and my aggression are up to me. Your teammates and coaches are responsible to you, but not responsible for you, and vice versa. I just signed up at a judo academy because they specialize in everything I'm the worst at. Taking responsibility for my areas of weakness is my job, not anyone else's.

This last point I almost wasn't going to write because it makes me choke up (for real). 

9.  I've learned that as long as you show up and put in work, you will become part of the group. About a month ago, I was having a really hard time (with this whole life thing, you know?), and when talking to my coach about it, instead of casting me to the side like some people would have, he made me feel heard and said "we're your BJJ family". I'm going to leave it at that, because those who have the ears to hear, will understand. 

Your turn! What have you learned in BJJ?
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