“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” Mark Twain.
But there’s a problem with this: bad decisions, in martial arts, can get you hurt and slow your progress.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn from someone else’s bad decisions?
I asked a few of my friends what, if they could go back in time, they would tell their white-belt selves all those years ago. Here are some of their answers:
“Ego is not your amigo! Don’t be afraid to tap – safety first. Don’t be dumb.”
This one is pretty obvious. You don’t get medals for sparring in class. You can’t get better if you are not training and you can’t train if you are injured. Tap early, tap often.
Easier said than done, right? Maybe we can’t eliminate them but we sure can swing the odds in our favour. First and foremost, never skip a warmup. Studies show that proper warmups reduce the risk of injury by about 50%. The second most important factor in injury prevention is general fitness ie. strength, flexibility and balance. So make sure you compliment your martial arts training with other activities that will help you develop those skills.
How do you get the most out of your sparring? Firstly, as per the above advice, if you are in risk of getting hurt – tap!
If you are sparring with a lower belt or someone you can out-muscle, give them a dominant position and work on your weak elements like submission escapes. Make sure you work on some element of your game in every spar. If you are out of ideas try to land the moves you just covered in class.
Always have an objective in mind – a sparring where you don’t improve is time wasted.
“Don’t rush, don’t panic.”
Think before you move. This will improve your game as you will get in trouble less frequently. Think of your spars like you would a chess game: always try to see 2, 3 moves ahead.
When you are in trouble, panic can be like quicksand, making you more tired and only getting you into deeper trouble.
“Find some guys to drill with.”
Repeating techniques outside of classes will help you immensely. Try to find a group of people that will drill with you.
“Pay attention to detail.”
Focus on what the coach is saying and doing, especially when he’s demonstrating techniques. Every little detail matters and can make a difference. Sometimes the coaches will do something without even realising it – if you can spot that, your understanding of the technique will get even better.
“Compete, especially at a lower belt.”
Competing is a skill and has to be learned, and it’s not just for the elite few. If you’re serious about BJJ, then make sure you learn to compete as early as possible. If you’re doing it more as a hobby, competing will improve your stamina, focus, and how you deal with stress and pressure.
And, finally, a piece of advice I very much wish I’d heard early in my own career. It would have saved a lot of heartache and awkwardness:
“I would also have told myself to try to be less handsome. It’s not nice when everyone around you feels inadequate.”