Updated: Sep 9, 2020
When I started Jiu Jitsu in 2018, my word for the year was DISCIPLINE. Even though I had just started training, I quickly realized this journey wasn’t going to be something that happened overnight. Time and time again I was showing up to class, feeling incredibly awkward trying to move my body in ways I’d never done before, and getting beat up no matter how much I tried to retain even the simplest movements. If I was going to find any enjoyment in this and actually stick with it, I knew I was going to have to focus on something besides “winning,” “getting it right,” or coming out on top. It had to be something deeper.
So for a whole year I simply focused on showing up. DISCIPLINE wasn’t something I had ever mastered before, but that year I learned. I learned how to be disciplined with my training schedule, with my eating habits, with my mindset. I kept showing up and adjusting and learning and trying again, and after a solid year I realized the value of commitment and how much can happen when I simply focus on the journey and show up, trusting the outcome will follow. There were definitely moments where I felt like I “got it” and was in flow and had super good training sessions; and there were also many other moments where I showed up and (surprise, surprise) it wasn’t magical, I didn’t piece much together, old habits came back, and I put myself in compromising positions. Through it all I learned how much persistence and consistency make such a difference. Especially when DISCIPLINE just wasn’t enough.
Because what I also learned is there comes a time when my body is truly tired and my mind is exhausted and everything inside of me screams to just go home and rest instead of drive to the gym. (Are these rest days important? YES….but not every single day.) I was so happy when I finally got that blue belt wrapped around my waist and I knew all those times of showing up had paid off; I cried because of everything it represented and all of the internal fights I had won over the past two years. Yet in the weeks that followed, it was like the DISCIPLINE that had gotten me this far completely vanished. I had heard of the “blue belt blues” and thought they’d never happen to me, and yet here I was. I frequently felt too tired to train, beat up everytime I was on the mat, and even though I loved it there was just something I wasn’t enjoying about it anymore. My persistence and consistency felt long gone, and I realized an important lesson: it’s not your strength that holds you to your purpose, but the strength of your purpose itself. I had reached a milestone in my journey, and sheer willpower wasn’t enough to push me to the next level; I had to dig deeper and discover why Jiu Jitsu was still going to be a big part of my life...or if I was going to scale back and readjust my priorities and goals, and go a different way.
As I kept my routines and kept showing up to train, I let my coach talk me into signing up to compete at No Gi Worlds. Had I competed no gi before? No. Had I competed as a blue belt before? No... and apparently both were irrelevant because I decided to go for it anyways. What did I really have to lose? I knew the simple fact of registering meant that I was going to approach training very differently over the next couple of months than if I wasn’t, and I needed a kick in the butt to get back on track. As No Gi Worlds got closer, I was working on my mindset with one of my coaches, and he asked me to identify what “my win” was going to be. At first I was confused, because wouldn’t “my win” be winning? He explained that while winning gold could be my win, that put a lot of pressure on a single outcome and risked discrediting all of my hard work, dedication, discipline, and preparation up until that point if I didn’t get that gold medal. So what were the other wins I can identify that would allow me to know that even before I step out on that mat I had already secured my win? As I thought about it, deep down I knew what my win was. It was why I ever chose to step on these mats in the first place. Why I changed gyms. Why I chose to sign up for my first competition. Why I pushed myself day in and day out and kept showing up to class. My win, unattached to any medal or any specific outcome, was to prove to myself that I am stronger than my fears and bigger than my doubts. At that moment I realized, it wasn’t discipline that kept pulling me back to these mats - my purpose now went so much deeper than that. Every day that I showed up in spite of my fears and in spite of my doubts, I proved to myself just how strong I am and how strong I am becoming. Regardless of whose hand was raised that day, I knew for myself I would have already won.
No Gi Worlds came, and my hand wasn’t raised that day. Twice I lost, and it really sucked. I felt like all of my Jiu Jitsu left me as soon as I stepped on those mats and somehow my mind was communicating with my body in incredibly slow motion. I was disappointed, and also proud of myself for choosing to get out there in spite of my fears and in spite of my doubts. For once, those didn’t stop me. I didn’t let the voices get to me and hold me back -- regardless of them being there, I still stepped out there and proved that I was stronger and I was bigger than any of the voices telling me otherwise. That was a huge win. As my coach and I debriefed the matches on our way home, I realized part of my breakdown was feeling intimidated that the girls I competed against were all bigger than me. Being one of the taller and stronger girls on my team, it wasn’t often I actually went against someone my size and build. I set the new goal of consistently going against teammates who were bigger, stronger, and better so I could overcome that fear and show up better next time.
Let me just say, the coming weeks sucked. I had identified about eight people at my gym who were bigger, stronger, and better than me, and I shared my goals and asked them to really push me when we rolled. They did not disappoint! Or let up. In the weeks that followed, I learned how to defend, re-guard, and shut off that voice in my head so I would keep fighting. I felt like I was always on bottom and always getting tapped, I felt like I wasn’t seeing any improvements. Until I competed again a month later. I was disappointed I lost my first match 0-3, but stoked to find out it was a double elimination tournament and I was still in it for bronze. After my first match, one of my black-belt friends pulled me aside and said it looked like I was out there fighting not to lose, and I needed to fight to win. That completely changed my mindset, and for the next three matches I went out there focusing on having fun and playing my game. I swept the consolation bracket, getting my first submission in a tournament as a blue belt and earning my spot on that podium. After we received our medals and took our photos, I found out the woman I first lost to (and who won gold) had won Pan’s the previous year. She was bigger than me, and I was so proud I’d held the score to 0-3 rather than getting intimidated like I had the previous month at No Gi Worlds. When she congratulated me after, she commented on how great my defense was - everything she tried to set up, from taking my back to knee-on-belly to chokes, I defended. Here it was, everything I had been so uncomfortable working on for the past five weeks and that I couldn’t see was making any difference, had completely paid off. No, my hand wasn’t raised in victory after that match...but I 100% consider that one a win.
What I learned in all of this is that when I have my sights set on a single outcome -- a gold medal, another stripe, the next belt -- then I chase such a small sliver of what actually matters, and I rely on discipline to reach the goal. However, when I dig deeper and find greater purpose in why I choose to step on these mats everyday, all of a sudden I realize it’s about the whole journey, and there is so much to celebrate. In 2018 I focused on DISCIPLINE, which made me committed. In 2019, I discovered my PURPOSE, which made me strong. In 2020, I am focused on celebrating the journey, understanding that the relationships I form and the experiences I have are greater than any medal that will hang on my wall. No matter the outcome of any match, of any training session, of any tournament - through the tiredness, mistakes, and mishaps - I realize there is always so much more to celebrate than a single outcome. Every moment I choose to show up, I remind myself just how strong I am. That I am stronger than my fears and bigger than my doubts; and that’s my incredibly strong purpose that keeps me training.