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About the author: Sam Joseph is a 2nd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atalanta.

For the most part, kids are supposed to learn from adults. Children are told to listen, for their own good, to the wisdom that adults have acquired via experience tempered with greater maturity.  Brazilian jiu jitsu offers adults the opportunity to take direction from the kids as there are some distinct advantages to looking at BJJ through “child-like” eyes in many circumstances.  Let us explore some ways in which we can enhance our BJJ experience by learning from kids and their points of view!

Kids have “short memories”!

BJJ can be very frustrating and even discouraging.  A tough training session or a disappointing performance at a tournament can leave us feeling down on ourselves and our level of jiu jitsu. Even the most talented and positive of us sometimes feel like our games have regressed and are not advancing at the rate we want. The problem is that, as adults, we tend to dwell on these things, which allows them to take root and grow into real issues that do even more damage to our BJJ.

Kids have a gift that gives them a leg up in these situations: the short memory.  When in our Kids’ BJJ Class at my academy, I have to deal with many a “crying child” due to losing a round of sparring, performing poorly in a game, not being picked to demonstrate a drill or taking a knock while training. Sometimes there is even anger at me or another student (depending on the situation) adding to the intensity of the situation.  The great thing is that most of the time, if we fast-forward five minutes into the future, those kids are smiling, laughing and enjoying the class!

Kids have the incredibly useful ability to “bounce back” from frustrating situations, put them aside and get back to having fun!  To be fair, often they need adult help to get them to stop focusing on what started them crying, but once they get that direction they put it behind them in a way that most of us should envy. By making the choice to move forward, leaving the negative behind, kids open themselves up to the positive things and good times that await them.  When we are able to mimic kids in this, we find our own fun and often walk through the door to improvement in our games.

Kids are competitive without being adversarial! 

I have two nieces (ages 15 and 11) and a nephew (9 years old) who train BJJ. When I see the youngest two, whether we are on a mat or in a living room, the first thing they want to do is see if they can now out-grapple me! They try to take me down, attack my back, pass my guard etc.  The engagements always end with me winning via submission by tickling, but I often see HUGE improvements in their games as they learn more BJJ and mature. The best part is that once we are done “competing”, they are all smiles and I am “Uncle Sam” instead of the “enemy”. We enjoy each others’ company without any reservations due to the fact that we just sparred and will spar again in the near future.

When we as adults get competitive on the mat, even with training partners, it often borders on adversarial.  I have seen many “academy rivalries” disrupt what could have been tremendous training relationships because one or both people allowed training to cross the invisible line separating “healthy competition” and “taking it too personally”.  Kids have a way of intuitively understanding the difference and if we can follow their lead, we can reap the reward of maintaining a healthy, yet competitive, training environment.

Kids enthusiastically test their limits!

The kids at my academy in Atlanta, Georgia provide a great example of the next point: they enthusiastically test their limits on the mat.  Whether we are sparring, doing throws or playing balance ball games the kids are constantly pushing themselves to get better/do better and/or beat the instructor.  The enthusiasm with which they approach this gives them what seems like unlimited energy and that energy is FUEL for the “improvement machine”.  When we, as adults, emulate this approach and dive into training with the same child-like enthusiasm and passion, it always yields positive results. If nothing else, that approach makes it easier to spend more quality time on the mat and that alone aids us as we look to improve.

An additional benefit is this type of positive energy is contagious. It goes from student to student like wildfire and very quickly helps to create an atmosphere that is empowering and inclusive. Again, it all starts with coming to the mat looking to enthusiastically test ourselves.

Kids are wide-eyed!

Have you ever watched an instructor show kids a new move?  It is a joy to watch how kids light up when they see something new or when they try something new that they have just been show. The world of BJJ is so BIG to them and they seem to have an appreciation for that vastness in a way that can energize a room. When we allow ourselves that same kind of raw appreciation for the new techniques, concepts, strategies etc that we learn we unlock real energy that can help support great advancement in our own BJJ games.  The beauty of this is that, as more mature beings, we can have an even GREATER appreciation for the little details that can make huge differences in techniques in BJJ.

We also are blessed to live in a time where we can have real access to so much of the BJJ world. From the ability to find video of the best competitors in the world to the easy access to the philosophies/strategies of BJJ thought-leaders around the world online, we can find plenty of information and footage to entertain, build our individual BJJ ideology and/or challenge and inspire ourselves.

Kids don’t take themselves too seriously!

For me, this is the most important lesson we can learn from the way kids approach the mat!  I have seen many talented athletes slow down their progress by taking themselves too seriously and not allowing themselves to enjoy the BJJ journey. In 2001, I had been a blue belt for 2 years and enjoyed some success in regional and international tournaments. I thought that I was getting close to getting my purple belt and something interesting happened… I stopped enjoying BJJ as I was only focusing on getting promoted. I remember being uptight in training and hindering my own performances in a couple of tournaments as I was thinking about what I had to lose. It was the height of arrogance in retrospect as I was acting like the BJJ world revolved around me and, in doing that, I robbed myself of months of real fun and potential progress. Fortunately for me, when I received my purple belt, I regained a healthy sense of humor and perspective. They and my instructors helped me smile regularly in training and view tournaments a tools to get better rather than validation of my BJJ worth.

Again, kids just seem to “get” this. They are easily able to laugh at themselves in training and they do not allow BJJ obstacles to stop them.  Kids trip and hit the ground just like we do, but they seem to be able to see the humor in it in a way that takes the sting out of   the fall. That ability, to be able to laugh at themselves and go on, is like water in a desert…. it’s priceless.

All in all, kids have a great deal to teach in terms of how to best navigate the BJJ journey.  If we listen, we will be the better for it and maximize the BJJ lifestyle! See you on the mat!

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April 19, 2015 — Jiu Jitsu Style