I came to understand a bitter truth last night: I may never become better than my jiu-jitsu partners. Ever. As I rolled with Partner S, I realized that all of the skills and transitions that I had been working on during the week were being matched with equal, newfound responses. What? Even the new single leg takedown from the clinch…the one I actually feel will work for me? Yes. Despite my entire arsenal of submissions, transitions and escapes, I remain in the same inferior positions against Partner S. Why?
Friends and family might assert that it is because I must suck at jiu-jitsu since I am still losing and still have a white belt. My ego could point to all of my imperfections relating to age, weight, available time or speed. The ego finds all of the dark places to choke away our efforts to develop.
No. While I generally spar with teammates who are better than me either through superior attributes or experience, I sometimes find a newer student to roll with who may not match my attributes of weight, strength or experience. The whole game changes. Submissions are simple, transitions become fluid, and I can sense where my partner is wanting to go. The ego then changes tack and screams for me to destroy this new partner: show Coach what you are capable of, my Precious. No. I never do.
Why? Perhaps I remember just how tough my last roll with Partner S or Partner J was for me? Perhaps I am weak and just have no taste for pain and havoc in the mats? No. I know that my ego and its control is a major puzzle piece for my eventual promotion along the jiu-jitsu journey. Crushing and smashing a new partner not only makes them feel like quitting, but it also robs me of the opportunity to help my club’s most valuable assets and the level of student I need to practice with to develop the smoothness of my skill set. I do not need to catch (and finish) the Ezekiel choke eight times to show my magical powers. Seven flows towards the conditions that promote the submission followed by one follow through is a far superior option for both partners.
Can I catch that Ezekiel against Partner S? No. I doubt it. He undoubtedly has been working on the counter or it opens me up to a triangle or guillotine within his wheelhouse. And while painful to my ego, such a realization confirms that progress is matching my Partner’s progress and keeping pace; jiu-jitsu players help each other develop through positive challenges. Nothing gets me to class more than knowing my competition rivals are also going to keep up and keep ahead. And yet…I value that competitive spirit because all non-professional jiu-jitsu players are on the same team and the same aspirational journey towards growth.
I am exhausted from the long nights with my new baby daughter and longer days at work. My knees both hurt at the ACL/MCL ligaments from kneebar/ heel hook work at the gym. And yet…I get to the gym twice a week, every week; not only so that I continuously improve along my planned path, but also so that I can help my crew progress along theirs. My ego would tell me that “you suck, go home Old Man, your team thinks you are awful…” but I tell my ego to flee and accept that I see and feel the truth every time I roll with a person who is still beginning their practice. I tell my ego to shut up, so that I can open the next door ahead.