One special aspect of the jiu-jitsu community—and there are several—is that even the newest white belt can interact directly with the biggest names in the sport. Our heroes run welcoming gyms. They travel the world to host open seminars. They compete in tournaments and sit casually in the general population bleachers as they wait for their matches to start. The people we look up to and admire are accessible, which makes it feel like we are all a part of the same community.
As good as this is for the community, the blurring of the line between the professional and the hobbyist can actually poison your enjoyment of jiu-jitsu, especially if you have a family and a demanding career outside the gym. In this case, when you start to compare yourself to a professional grappler, you can feel inadequate, that you aren’t progressing fast enough or that you’re actually inferior. You may even begin to think you’re wasting your time and the time of your training partners on the mat.
Let’s do some math
Even now, jiu-jiteiros marvel that B.J. Penn earned his black belt in just three years. If Penn trained 5 days a week for 6 hours a day on average, he would spend 30 hours in the gym a week. With about 52 weeks in a year, that’s about 1560 hours of mat time for a year of training or 4680 hours over 3 years.
If you are a part-time grappler who trains 3 times a week for 2 hours at a time, you will accumulate 6 hours of training in the same window that Penn would accumulate 30. That’s 936 hours in 3 years, a difference of 3744 training hours between you and Penn.
While you may not have aspirations of being the next B.J. Penn, you are likely to run into professional grapplers at nearly all levels at your gym and at tournaments, and these experiences can derail your motivation for training. At the IBJJF level, we are seeing that the majority of gold medalists are full-time grapplers, even at the blue belt level. They may not be living off sponsorships and seminars, but they have the resources to focus exclusively on training. When you’re punching in for work, they’re training. When you’re running the kids to soccer practice, they’re training. When you take a night off for date night, they’re training.
When you’ve spent 5 years working your way to purple belt and a 2-year blue belt (who trains full-time) beats you up and down the mat, your natural reaction is to criticize yourself. A torrent of negative feelings will surge through you with every submission and those feelings will only get worse when you watch the YouTube highlight for the newest rising star.
Your jiu-jitsu is your jiu-jitsu. You are not B.J. Penn, You are not Keenan Cornelius. You are not Marcelo Garcia. And that’s okay. You will advance at your own pace. You will earn your next belt when the time comes. You do not need to be a world champion competitor to enjoy the sport or to make a difference within it.
The spotlight shines on our heroes. We admire their technique and aspire to be like them. Our adoration for someone else’s ability, however, should not come at the expense of our own enjoyment of the sport. The passion of the community can quickly sweep you away and make you feel like you, too, should be training all day, every day.
You don’t have to make jiu-jitsu the most important thing in your life. Your family matters, and so does your job. Maybe you like to go hiking when the weather is nice or you occasionally skip out of training on Saturday to hit a Magic: The Gathering tournament. That’s perfectly fine. You’re still a contributing member of the jiu-jitsu community; you still support the sport. You don’t need to be the next Marcelo Garcia to make a difference. Your only goal should be to become the best “you” possible and to inch a little closer to that ideal with each training session.
That’s a good goal, so don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a grappler simply because you can only train part-time.
Making The Time
Sometimes seeing the realities of jiu-jitsu math is not enough to keep you from falling into the trap of unfairly comparing yourself to a jiu-jiteiro who can train much more than you. To protect your love for jiu-jitsu, adopt these 4 strategies:
1. Set goals that are dependent on you, rather than on your training partners. For example, the goal, “Tap out Mike because he always beats me up!” puts your success or failure in Mike’s hands. Instead, make your goal something like, “Get 50 repetitions on my brabo choke escape because Mike always catches me with it!”
2. Appreciate your time away from jiu-jitsu. If you can only train 2 or 3 times a week, you’re in the majority of grapplers. If you’re missing training because you have family obligations, focus on enjoying those other aspects of your life so you can teach yourself the importance of balance. If you can do this, you will be on the mat for the long haul.
3. Befriend your fellow part-time grapplers so you have a support network of peers who are facing challenges similar to yours. This doesn’t mean you should not be friends with the more active grapplers, but spending time with people more like you can help you keep things in perspective.
4. When you’re at the gym, train! Talk less and drill more. Work hard to get your repetitions in and make the most of your rolls by trying to use the techniques you’re covering in class even if they might fail, and stay after for a few extra rounds of rolling if your instructor allows it.