The First 10 Months of Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu White BeltNOTE: The text below was written in a journal I found recently. I’m nearly 4 years into training Jiu Jitsu at this point, but I enjoyed re-reading this journal entry from when I first started. I thought I’d share it in case others might relate to the same experiences that I went through.

I started Jiu Jitsu in May of 2015 at Hurricane Jiu Jitsu in Cleveland. It has been 10 months since I began and I have grown a lot in that time. When I first started I could barely make it through the warm up without being totally out of breath. Running in a circle around the mats, hopping, side-stepping, most of the time I could only think “I’m too old to be doing this”. After the exhausting 10 minutes or so of warm-up the lesson would begin and I would be silently grateful for the chance to rest for a few minutes while the instructor showed the first technique of the class. I remember those early lessons when I would try to grasp what was being taught, while simultaneously trying to grasp for air.  

Martial Arts were not a foreign endeavor for me. In the past I had studied a wide range of styles (some briefly, others somewhat extensively), Karate, Kung Fu, Wrestling, some boxing and my favorite until Jiu Jitsu – Shootfighting. I understood such principles as leverage, breath control, and balance. Taking an opponent to the ground and applying an arm bar was not new for me. But it had been a few years since I had done any martial arts, and with my cardio so badly wrecked, coupled with a weird nervousness at being the new guy in class that I hadn’t experienced previously, I was having a hard time concentrating on what the instructor was teaching.  

I can only attribute the nervousness that I was feeling to the fact that my 6 year old son was also taking jiu jitsu at the same school. My wife and I enrolled him in the kids program 5 months prior to me joining. He had taken to it well, got along well with most of the students and had a great relationship with the instructor. The school had just opened the year before, and they had started the kids program at the same time that my son started. He was their first student in the kids program. So I think the anxiety I felt in my early classes could be attributed to not wanting to let my son down. I was now in classes as a peer with his instructor, both of us under the tutelage of the head black belt. I would be rolling with the same guy that I trusted to teach my son, and I didn’t want to do anything to negatively impact their relationship. I had read about the “white belt spaz” and felt that I had the potential to be “that” guy, so I wanted to be as careful as possible, if for no other reason than to make sure that I didn’t reflect badly on my son’s training. 

Over the next 3 months my cardio started to come around. This was partially due to getting “jiu jitsu conditioning” from training 2-3 nights a week, and partially from learning more technique, thus relying less on grabbing on as tight as possible and holding on for dear life and more on properly moving around my opponent. At the 3 month mark I was still getting my ass readily handed to me, but I was feeling good about being able to go the full hour class followed by the half hour of rolls after. I do remember driving home some nights and barely being able to grip the wheel because my arms were so wrecked from using excessive strength. Those nights I would come home and lay on the living room floor for 45 minutes before I could muster enough strength to get into the shower. 

As I approached the 6 month mark I started to have some sort of control over my movements. I could make intelligent decisions like “if my training partners foot is caught in my gi it’s probably not safe for his knee to quickly pass to side control” and “this is a brand-new guy so I can take things a little slow and let him get the feel for what’s going on”.  It was around this time that I experienced my first promotion ceremony. As we all lined up after class the instructor started handing out stripes and belts. He started with us white belts in the back and moved up the ranks. When he got to me I expected to get a stripe, I had been there 6 months diligently training as often as my schedule permitted, but when he gave me 3 stripes all at once I was really surprised. I didn’t expect to get those, but they were hard won stripes. Those 3 stripes may have been the hardest thing I ever earned. Needless to say I was thrilled, but even more than happy I became motivated. It made me want to work even harder. 

After that ceremony I really tried to ratchet my game up to a new level. I drilled harder, sparred harder, and started studying much more outside of class. I balanced my rolls between trying hard to win, and putting myself in bad situations so that I could work out from them. I focused on my strengths (the very few that I had) to sharpen them, and also focused on my weaknesses (of which there are many) to try to overcome them. I got more comfortable with experimenting at the risk of being tapped out, and also more comfortable bringing an aggressive game, knowing that my training partners appreciated the benefits of rolling hard at times. All this had the added benefit of improving my jiu jitsu cardio even more.  

Around the 9 month point our school hosted an in-house tournament. I had not been interested in tournaments at all, and when our instructor announced this tournament I initially shied away from the idea. I didn’t know if I was ready, and I didn’t know if I wanted to focus my training on “tournament worthy” techniques (not that I even knew what that meant…). But there were a few other white belts that had signed up, and they convinced me to give it a go, so I signed up as well. I’m really glad I did. The tournament was eye-opening. The techniques that I thought I had under my belt, I didn’t. The cardio I thought I had built up, was quickly depleted. My take-downs, non-existent. And the oddest thing, time moved super slow during the competition. During my first bout, exhausted and barely maintaining mount (a position I gained almost by accident) I looked at the clock feeling the match was near it’s end, to see that only 2 minutes had passed, and I was already gassed! I think my opponent was feeling the same by the look on his face so that was a little consolation. My signature move at the time, the Americana from the Mount, failed miserably. I felt like I was yanking my buddy’s shoulder right out of his socket, but he seemed un-phased. Luckily he reached up with his other arm to try to push me back and I was able to grab it for the arm-bar, winning the match. But I had learned a lot in those few minutes. My second match went almost exactly the same. And like the promotion ceremony, I left the tournament with a renewed vigor and an interest in ratcheting up my training yet again. 

At this point I unfortunately got sick, walking pneumonia. I was in and out of training for a couple of weeks. I had a sudden interest to become a jiu jitsu competitor, but the next competition was during a weekend that had already been booked up with family obligations so I would have to miss that, but I got better and got back on the mats. 

 END NOTE: That was the end of the journal entry that I re-discovered. Interesting to read back on how I was feeling back then. I will say that in some ways Jiu Jitsu has gotten easier, I’m more conditioned for it, I know more things, and where to apply them, my reactions have gotten better, and I’m just generally more comfortable with grappling. With that being said, it’s still really hard. Jiu Jitsu is just a physically demanding sport, but anything worth doing comes with some effort.

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