Showing posts with tag: Jiu Jitsu motivation

Thoughts before a competition

Just finished competing at the first major tournament of the year. The IBJJF European Championship.

My results didn’t go the way I wanted them too. But as I often tell my readers. We can learn a lot from our tournament experience.

We can’t control what happens on the day of the competition. No one can. But we can control our actions and thoughts leading up to our event and what we do after the competition.

For this post, I decided to focus primarily on what goes on in the mind of a competitor before a major competition. Drawing from my own experiences and those of my close friends.

I think the last few days leading up to a competition are some of the most important and stressful.

It’s that period of time when you’ve done all of your physical preparation and there’s really no more time left to add anything new to your game.

All that’s left is the last bit of mental prep.

The more I train. The more I’ve seen the importance of the internal aspects that develop from our training. Some might call it fortitude, or poise. Whatever you want to call it.

This last bit of mental prep can make or break your tournament experience.

I’ve seen athletes that were beasts in training. Beating everyone.

Go into competition looking like a shell of their former self.

The hard truth is that not everyone competes well. Sometimes it isn’t due to their techniques or skill level. But everyone can bring their best self on the day of the competition.

I had to narrow down my list a bit. But these are some of the major thoughts that I’ve had before big competitions.

Did I train hard enough?

No matter how hard you prepare for a tournament. All the drilling, rolling, strength training and cardio. All athletes are going to have some level of doubt in their preparation. You’re always going to feel like you could’ve done more or pushed harder.

A lot of tournament success depends on your preparation. You prepare the best you can but the second part of the equation that many competitors miss out on is believing in themselves.

Believe in your training. Believe in your training partners. Believe in your instructor. Believe in your techniques. Above all believe in yourself.

This is easier to talk about than to develop. It will take time.

The other competitors are more well known

There’s been many times coming up through the ranks when I would have someone approach me. Often before a match. To inform me that my opponent was so and so or won such and such title.

I honestly believe these people were trying to help me. But it often had the adverse reaction. If I was super focused, this would often be enough to let doubt enter my mind.

I’m also sure many of those people wanted to throw me off in order to help their friend I was competing against.

Regardless, you can’t let your opponents past success or your own cloud your mind. Each tournament is different. Believe in yourself and go for it!

What’s my game plan?

This one is highly dependent upon your style. Some competitors follow a strict move A plus move b equals c formula while others have a more improv style.

Figure out what works best for you and stick with it.

I always suggest using techniques that you practice and use during your training.

If you normally play spider guard. Use your spider guard in the competition. Don’t play fifty fifty or some other guard as your main move if you haven’t practiced it.

Will I be on or off the day of?

There’s no way to control this one. The best we can do it try to keep our routines as close to normal as possible.

Have you ever experienced a great roll or day of training where everything was going your way and you performed way above your normal abilities?

If so, try to recall everything that happened on that day like how you slept, what you ate, and anything special that you did to help you perform well.

Once you’re able to pinpoint these things. Try to replicate these factors consistently in your training.

If you’re able to nail this down you will be ready for comp day.

What will I do if I lose?

Again, we can’t control this. In fact, it’s best not to even worry about it. Losing happens. Everyone loses in Jiu jitsu at some point during their career. Don’t dwell on the negative. Even if you lose you hopefully won’t die during the tournament. Although your ego/pride might get a little bruised.

What will I do if I win?

This is a better use of your energy. Instead of worrying about losing. Worry about winning and what you will do after you win.

I know I usually think about how I’ll celebrate after the tournament or how many followers I will gain on social media or how many academies will want to host me for seminars.

For me, each tournament and every competition is a chance to showcase my skills and show the world that I am one of the best.

If you master this mindset you can beat anyone.


There are so many thoughts that will run through your head right before a competition.

You can kill yourself worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong or how good your opponent(s) will be.

Or you can focus on the things that you can control like your preparation before and your mindset going into the competition.

There are times during a match. Especially really close ones where you are evenly matched in skill. When believing in yourself and having a positive mental outlook could be the deciding factor in winning versus losing.

White Belt Mindset Revisited

My friend Sam has written a lot about the beginner mindset.

If you have the time I definitely recommend reading up on this topic at

This is the first resource that I direct many of my beginning students too. Especially, if they have a lot of questions and want to delve deeper into understanding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a martial art and a lifestyle philosophy.

Maintaining the mindset of a white belt (or that of a beginner) has helped me so much during my training and my travels.

There have been many times when I was in a foreign country teaching Jiu Jitsu where I only knew a few words of the local language with no other way of communicating.

It’s a very humbling experience.

Sometimes it gets hard. Like when I say the wrong thing or I don’t quite convey the details behind a technique the right away.

I might embarrass myself.

In fact, I have embarrassed myself numerous times.

But through it all, I never give up.

Doing Jiu Jitsu has taught me how to persevere.

How to break complex moves and ideas down, and make them smaller and easier to understand.

And of course patience.

Patience is key.

As an instructor, I have taught many students at all levels.

But I’ve made it a point to focus on beginners for this post because they (or you) are the most easily influenced and seeking guidance.

I’ve taught Jiu Jitsu for over 10 years now and have come to notice a lot of trends concerning BJJ students among many topics.

Namely, the differences between those students that continue with their training and go on to higher levels. Compared to those students that plateau and eventually give up.

I believe it all comes down to mindset.

That and a few actions that we can all develop to make ourselves better students, better teachers, and better people.

White belt mindset

White belts learn so quickly for a number of reasons.

Everything is new to them so when they are first exposed to techniques they look at it with no judgements, no preconceived notions or any past reference of what they are being taught.

Much like a toddler learning to walk. White belts are so focused on the task at hand that they don’t over think the move. They just try their best.

A quality that many higher belts lose along the way.

By putting in their best effort and focusing all of their energy into learning something new. White belts are able to reach a clearer state of mind.

They are not thinking about their lousy day at work.

Or the girl that turned them down for a date.

They just focus on the techniques.

Very zen like.

Because they have no past reference of what they are learning. They are more likely to listen.

They listen to their fellow white belts.

They listen to the higher ranked students.

They listen to their instructors.

We have two ears for a reason.

This is one skill that has personally helped me throughout my years training.

Being able to listen to instruction or being coachable is an asset that many people lack. Even more important if you have plans towards competing.

And once white belts are done listening. They always have a question.

Some instructors frown upon students asking questions.

This is more common in traditional academies where the instructor shows a technique and then expects the students to perform just like robots. Drilling the move to completion.

But most of the top academies encourage asking questions.

Not only does it help open dialogue between teacher and student. It’s also a great learning tool.

By allowing students to ask questions they deepen their understanding of Jiu Jitsu and they are more engaged. More involved.

But the most instructive experience comes from white belts lack of experience.

They fail and they fail often.

It doesn’t matter how good the instructor is or the level of the academy.

Starting out we all fail.

But how we handle failure and all the other set backs to come. Shapes us.

I think this is the essence of what it means to have a white belt mindset. It’s a pure focusing of energy for a singular task. Ever moving forward.

Common pitfalls of the white belt mindset

The white belt mindset is not without its downsides. I believe that the major pitfall of the white belt mindset is the rush to improve.

Improvement is good.

I think it’s what really hooks beginners when they first start training martial arts.

Every day they go to the academy they are learning something new.

A new technique.

A new exercise.

A new form of movement.

It’s actually quite addictive! Getting better at something everyday. I think it’s very similar to a lot of video games. Where with enough time at the start, you can level up a lot in a short period.

This is all fine and good. But when beginning students begin to rush improvement or when more advanced students want to rush competitive success, that’s when they lose sight of the power of the white belt mindset.

In fact, many students begin to lose their white belt mindset at the awareness of new belts and higher ranks. Especially in the U.S., where we have a history of misusing martial arts belts.

There’s a famous video of a purple belt that decides one day to promote himself to brown belt which is a whole other issue in itself. But during his speech (in which he or one of his students decided to post online) he talked about never having another belt placed on him by another.

The sparkle of the new belt and the responsibility that comes with it weighs heavily on less experienced students.

I remember going from being a happy go lucky white belt. It didn’t matter if I got tapped out or if I loss in a tournament. It’s was okay. I was just a white belt so there was no pressure or expectation on me to do well. If I did well it was great. To a blue belt that represented my academy and my instructor. It didn’t help that I trained at a world class academy with other really great competitors. No one put that pressure on me directly, but I definitely felt driven to uphold the quality and the results that were expected from my academy.

As humans, I believe we instinctively want to compare ourselves with our training partners.

However, our time would be better spent developing the white belt mindset. Not being in such a hurry to pass it by.

Improvement is good and no one can stay a white belt in skill forever (hopefully).

But again, it’s all about having the right mindset.

How to redevelop the white belt mindset

In my post [Rushing Success] I talked a little bit about my own battle with wanting immediate success. My own impatience actually causing me to underperform in the academy and in competitions.

I think many competitors get caught in this trap.

The harder you try to force a technique the less effective that technique becomes.

And it’s the same with the white belt mindset.

It’s funny, but I rely on the white belt mindset more now as a black belt than I did when I was a white belt.

I wish someone would have told me this a long time ago. It would have saved me countless hours that I wasted beating myself up over every little mistake or when I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential.

Now I embrace failure or negative feedback as I like to understand it.

However, it’s easy to let our ego get in the way. To keep you from further developing yourself.

I’ve seen guys that trained for years.

Competing in every tournament.

Make no improvement whatsoever in their Jiu Jitsu game.

Hours of training and thousands of dollars wasted.

However, this isn’t just regulated to Jiu Jitsu and martial arts.

You can see this in every walk of life. People who seem stuck in time. Just going through the motions.

But like any skill. The white belt mindset can be developed and honed for any imaginable task.

If you wish to develop or to redevelop your white belt mindset then I think you will need to focus on four major steps.

Do your best in whatever it is you choose to focus on.

Listen intently to mentors and those with more qualified experience than you.

Ask Questions if (and when) you are unsure of any details or need a simplified explanation.

Fail often because this is the quickest route to gaining more experience.

It’s that simple.

Can you make it in Jiu Jitsu?

I know many athletes pursuing Jiu Jitsu as their career all over the world and the general consensus is that making it in Jiu Jitsu full-time is hard.

Even if you’ve made a name for yourself and established yourself as a skilled competitor and instructor. It’s still hard.

As much as I like writing about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a martial art and will continue to. It’s still a business at the end of the day and many athletes will still have to pay tuition to their academy, pay rent, tournament fees, nutritional supplements, health insurance, etc.

As Jiu Jitsu continues to grow, more and more people are going to look to make a career out of it, it’s only natural. In the U.S. we’re always told that you should follow your dreams and do what you love.

But what are the options for someone looking to make a career out of Jiu Jitsu?

The most obvious, and the one that I hear everyone say is that you should open up an academy.

Get a black belt, open an academy.

Win a world championship, open an academy.

No other skills, open up an academy.

I expect most high level Jiu Jitsu competitors have had this thought cross their mind at some point. But running an academy is a business, and just like you have to prepare your techniques before entering a tournament, you also have to prepare yourself to run a business.

Starting an academy takes preparation, patience and resources.

And if you foolishly rush into this it can be an expensive lesson.

I will save my views on opening an academy for another post. But for now I want to focus on those that are maybe not ready for this step or have yet to raise the capital to get to this point. Which I believe is where the majority of my friends and many of my readers are at in their Jiu Jitsu careers.

What can you do?

I think the best thing that you can do at this point is to learn about business in general.

If you are dead set on having an academy one day in the future then you should be learning about the business aspects of running an academy as soon as possible.

Easy test: If you had to work the front desk at your academy for one hour would you be able to handle everything without a hitch?

This could include answering the phone, dealing with unhappy clients, signing up new prospects, etc.

You would be surprised that many academy owners and instructors are completely lost when it comes to handling basic business operations. Let alone doing basic accounting, marketing, and sales. Things that make businesses successful.

All the Jiu Jitsu technique in the world won’t help you when it comes running your business.

However, you don’t have to confine yourself to just learning about martial arts businesses. Really, any business experience would be helpful and translate over well.

One summer, I was lucky enough to intern with a friend’s start up during a break in my training.

Of course, I did a lot of errand running but I was also able to develop an understanding for basic business principles by interact with clients, helping close deals, research topics, and doing whatever else that was asked if me.

I’m a big advocate of working for yourself and starting your own business but you have to start somewhere. You need a base of knowledge in some field to work with but this often takes time.

So you need a way to buy yourself time to develop valuable skills while also allowing time for you to train.

Work Part-time

If you are serious about pursuing a career in Jiu Jitsu as a competitor or an instructor you will need a lot of mat time. I’ve seen a few people manage this while working full time jobs and raising a family. But every year it gets harder and harder.

A decade ago you could train once a day while managing a career and still be competitive, but in 2016 you have blue and purple belts training and competing full time.

So you will need to maximize your time spent on the mat while also being able to support yourself financially.

Benefits of working part time

Working part time is a smart way to make money initially while also transitioning into a Jiu Jitsu career. Depending on the part time position, not being confined to an office for many hours will allow you the flexibility you will need in order to train Jiu Jitsu and improve your skills.

Know your finances

I have to write a little bit about finances. If you’re starting to pursue a career in Jiu Jitsu and you don’t already have other streams of income or savings. You are going to need to have your finances down. There’s just no other way. Things that normal people take for granted such as going out to eat, concerts, and most activities involving money won’t help you get closer to your goals.

Travel costs.

Tournaments cost.

Training costs.

There are ways to subsidies these things once you reach a certain level when you have access to sponsors and other entities helping to cover these costs. But for someone starting out, with no name recognition or major tournament success. Your entire focus should be on improving your skills.

There is money in Jiu Jitsu contrary to what many blogs, social media posts, and Internet memes might suggest. But you have to have the skills either in competition or marketing to gain access to that level.

Teaching Jiu Jitsu

Getting a part time position at your academy would be the easiest place to start.

Most Jiu Jitsu writers will suggest starting with the kids program and moving on from there but I would argue that teaching kids Jiu Jitsu is harder than teaching adults Jiu Jitsu and will take longer to get good at. Kids instructors also don’t start off making a lot so you will be doing a lot of hard work for not a lot of pay.

I started off teaching kids when I was just a seventeen year old blue belt and while I’m grateful for all the experience that I gained. I believe it’s better for new instructors to start out by assisting with adult beginner classes and gaining experience before moving on to teaching kids.

Working with adults will allow you the proper environment in order to develop your teaching ability and all the other skills you will need as an instructor such as the ability to speak confidently, logically conveying techniques, and commanding respect so that you will be ready to instruct kids.

Let me tell you this.

When you’re teaching kids your skills have to be on point. They can smell weakness or inexperience and will eat you alive.

It reminds me a lot of when a substitute teacher would cover a class in grade school and the entire class would descend into chaos.

I think many academies have this backwards. They often put their least experienced instructors to teach their kids classes. When I have observed that it’s often better to have your best instructors working with those impressionable minds. But that’s a topic for another day.

Front Desk/Manager

Even if your plan is to teach Jiu Jitsu or to compete. I think you should spend some time working or helping out at the front desk at the academy that you train at.

If you really want to understand how a martial arts business works this is where you need to be. I know so many really talented instructors, with great techniques and knowledge of all things Jiu Jitsu but never took the time to actually learn basic business concepts.

This is okay if you decide to partner with someone with actual business experience. But most academies start off small time and are self financed.

Take a look at just about all of the top academies and you will realize the world champion instructor was just the talent in the equation. Often there is an investor with way more business experience and financial backing that handles everything outside of instruction, at least initially any way.

Examples. The Art of Jiu Jitsu academy and RVCA or Marcelo Garcia and Josh Waitzkin.

The point that I’m trying to impress upon you is that the top academies, the ones that are really grossing six figures or more per year, all have a strong business foundation.

Things that you can learn working the front desk

  1. How to interact with clients
  2. Generating leads
  3. Converting those leads into clients
  4. Organization
  5. Following systems
  6. Talking to people
  7. Writing emails
  8. Responding to emails
  9. Negotiating
  10. Having uncomfortable conversations
  11. Dealing with past dues
  12. Dealing with special cases
  13. Getting shit done

Even if your academy isn’t in need of a front desk manager that doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss business with them or the owner or whoever is in charge of running the business. I’ve found that most times it’s as easy a just asking, especially if the person in charge is business savvy and actually enjoys talking about their business.

I’ve also found that less knowledgeable and less business savvy academy owners are less open to talk about their businesses.

What if there are no openings at your academy?

At larger academies there might already be a large supply of instructors on hand to teach and cover most of the classes.

Even smaller academies might not be able to bring on any supplementary instructors.

I still suggest finding a way to get experience even if you have to volunteer to do it. Think of it as an internship or an apprenticeship that will pay off largely in the future.


There are a lot of part time positions available. Your biggest resource will be the network of students that attend your academy. Many of whom probably have their own businesses or are in positions to hire.

Begin promoting your brand

For higher level athletes and instructors looking to make it in Jiu Jitsu now is the time to start building your own brand. Competing and winning in major tournaments will be the easiest way to get your name out into the collective Jiu Jitsu community.

The first step is the hardest.

I will never forget during my last year as a brown belt. I was working part time for a popular yoga apparel company and still uncertain of my future as a competitor.

I was visiting my former instructors’ academy after a few years of not seeing each other and he sat me down after the training session and we just talked. We talked about my goals and what I was doing to achieve them and he gave me much of the same advice that I’m sharing with you right now.

What I took away from this conversation is that we all have doubts but when you’ve poured so much of yourself into this art. You owe it to yourself to see it through and sometimes it takes someone to just say some motivating words to help you get through those rough patches.

It seems so simple now but having someone that I looked up to, someone that I trusted, say those words to me aloud really motivated me in a way that had an instant impact.

Have you ever had a lightbulb moment when something just clicked?

Well, that’s how I felt after this conversation.

Even if you haven’t had a lot of success there are ways that you can use to differentiate yourself. Competing and winning is definitely the easiest way to do this but I can name many others that were able to find their own unique niche in which they were able to promote themselves.

Alternative sources of income for high level athletes

  • Seminars
  • Private lessons
  • Professional tournaments
  • Online product
  • Instructional DVD/digital download
  • Association
  • Sponsorships

There are a lot of options out there if you have the skill and knowledge. Sometimes it just takes you putting yourself out there. Letting people know that you available for different opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

Start small by teaching a few private lessons, even if you have to discount them. Just focus on building a clientele until people start actively seeking you for lessons.

The same concept applies to getting seminars. Offer to teach a seminar for a charity event and then leverage that into getting paid to teach.

Keep developing yourself

I think it’s important as athletes and martial artists that we continue to develop ourselves outside of just our techniques on the mat.

One day you won’t be as fast or as strong as you once were. Even if that is a few years off, one day your priorities might change so that you are not able to maintain the same level of training. Whatever the case, you will want to have other skills to fall back on.

The worst case scenario is that you become a really talented competitor that has failed to develop outside of competing. What happens when you become less relevant?

I started writing this post as a guide for many of my friends grinding out there. But I think now more than ever they need encouragement to continue on the paths that they have chosen.

So many people in Jiu Jitsu are struggling. Many of them academy owners struggling to keep their doors open while trying to make ends meet. Others trying to make it as full time competitors in Jiu Jitsu while struggling to get their names out there in the Jiu Jitsu community so that they can do seminars and private lessons.

There is so much potential in Jiu Jitsu and it’s growing every year. It’s been a slower growth relative to MMA, but compared to many of the other combat sports/martial arts there are a lot of possibilities.

Just like how I saw that there was a ray of hope out there. I want you to know that there are ways for you to make it in this industry. No one’s going to lay it all out for you and sometimes it will be hard and you will be discouraged from moving forward. But there is a way.

One of my favorite sayings in Jiu Jitsu is that each person’s journey is a marathon and not a sprint.

Sometimes it takes just hearing that you can make it to actually inspire you to take action and continue on your path.