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About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atalanta.

One thing that we all have in common is that life will always throw TOUGH lessons your way. As we grow to be adults, there are things that we learn that can be hard to swallow, but are facts of life. One of the true hidden benefits of Brazilian jiu jitsu is that it can help soften the blow of some of these life lessons by preparing us to not only deal with them, but to thrive along the way. Here are some fairly common tough life lessons that BJJ prepares us to navigate successfully as we learn them!

#1: Failure can be the springboard needed to propel us to major successes!

Nobody likes to be told that failure is a “good thing”. We often convince ourselves that failure is a part of everyone else’s journey to success, but we will be the exceptions who always win. I have also heard people rationalize that they thrive on success and are motivated by success the same way they are motivated by failure. World-renowned life coach Tony Robbins disagrees, and often says that humans are generally more motivated by the stick than the carrot. What he means is that the threat of pain drives more action than potential pleasure in most of us.

In BJJ, we have often seen major success follow very public pain. A recent example of this was Paulo Miyao’s brown belt absolute victory over Keenan Cornelius at the 2013 Mundials. Keenan had repeatedly beaten Miyao and his brother in IBJJF events at purple and brown belt until that match.  When Paulo won, he could barely hold back the tears of joy.  It was clear that the “failures” against Keenan, or maybe more accurately the “failures” of not winning absolute gold in previous tournaments, drove Paulo and were at least part of the inspiration that led to this victory.

Lucas Lepri of Alliance won his first black belt Mundial tournament in 2007 and, though collecting gold at many other major tournaments, failed to repeat that feat until 2014.  What stood out in 2014 was how he utterly dominated in the semi finals and final matches (against Roberto Satoshi and JT Torres - two men who had beaten him before) displaying a level of focus and strategy that saw Lucas win by truly impressive margins!  Watching a BJJ athlete who had admittedly not fought “strategically” in previous matches fight so tactically and flawlessly at that level of competition, spoke directly to his desire to avoid the pain of defeat and have the joy of ultimate victory.  Simply put, Lucas learned from his experiences and applied those lessons to drive him to tremendous success.

These examples clearly demonstrate how the “failure” can help sharpen our resolve for future success in a way that drives us forward. The experiences in failures can also teach us the way to success simply through trial and error.  Either way, BJJ offers us this lesson in competition and in how we learn to apply techniques on live opponents. Failure is a part of the process and causes us, if we are to be successful, to evaluate what went wrong before going back to try again until we get the desired result. Learning and experiencing this on the mat gets us ready to apply it in other areas of our lives.

#2: We must learn to trust others if we are to have major success!

One of my favorite sayings is “Nobody does anything alone”. Various poets and scholars have said this in different ways and at different times, but it boils down to that.  BJJ can feel like an individual sport as we spar and compete one on one, but to minimize the impact that others have on our ability to reach our goals would be a big mistake.

In 1999, I fought in a 4-man MMA tournament in Georgia. This was the “style vs style” era so I was representing BJJ against a wrestler, a shoot-fighter and a striker with all the fights in one night. I won my first match via unanimous decision but when I went to the back I could barely move my neck.  I could not remember ever being so tired and I did not want to go back out for the second fight. I waited in the dressing room readying myself to pull out due to injury and live with the relative success of one win and the relative failure of not being able to continue. My coach at the time, the great Jacare Calvancanti, came to the back when it was time for the final and said, “C’mon, Sam-boy - it’s time”.  When I opened my mouth all that came out was, “Okay”.  I trusted in his belief in me more than my lack of belief in myself. Because of that trust, I went out to compete and finished my opponent via arm-bar in the first round. I ended up celebrating one of the best wins in my life when I almost did not even give myself a chance.

When I think about that story, it drives home the point that often success comes when we learn to trust others. It can be trusting what others see or trusting them to take action, but the core remains the same - we need other people on the road to success. BJJ prepares us for this from the first day we put on a gi. We cannot even learn basic techniques without partners there to work with and instructors there to guide us. And when we compete, as illustrated in my case, sometimes we need their belief to carry us to new heights.

#3: We are not invincible or perfect!

BJJ teaches us this tough life lesson early and often. In fact, many of us got into the sport because someone showed us in our very first class how “beatable” we really were! BJJ not only has a way of generating true humility, but it also teaches us to embrace this in a way that stimulates real growth.

Rodolfo Vieira of GFT dominated the 2011 BJJ world. His performances in the Pan Ams and the Mundials were epic and had people questioning if anyone would be able to challenge him. Well, that challenge came in the form of Marcus Buchecha of Checkmat in 2012. Since the 2012 Mundial, Buchecha has beaten Rodolfo multiple times and many question if this rivalry is now one-sided.

The positive part of this, from Rodolfo’s perspective, is that he has gotten better for it.  If you compare Rodolfo’s performances in 2011 to his performances in 2014, you see a more decisive finisher (Rodolfo finished all his 2014 Mundial opponents except for Buchecha) and an even better guard-passer than the monster he was in the past. If not for Buchecha, I hazard to guess people would be calling this Rodolfo the “greatest of all-time” and/or at least asking the question of whether he could stack up to Roger Gracie in that regard. In learning that he was not “invincible”, Rodolfo was driven to evolve into something even better than he was to begin with.

Again, BJJ creates the opportunity for us to learn this every day in training as we spar, tap, learn and evolve our games. We can also create additional situations via competition, like Rodolfo, to hone how we make this work for us.  Either way, life will repeatedly show us how we are not invincible or perfect. The BJJ athlete is just better prepared to make that a catalyst for positive change than most.

As I stated, these lessons are often not pleasant to learn and easy to want to avoid.  Unfortunately, the reality is that we will most likely have to face them if we have any aspirations involving being successful. The GREAT news is that as BJJ athletes, we have access to relevant experiences that can help us navigate these lessons in a way that support massive success. See you on the mat!


December 18, 2019 — Jiu Jitsu Style