Sunday, February 6, 2011

Changing from Iron to Steel

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.Image via Wikipedia

One Easy Step to Getting Your Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu…

For those of you interested, I have to apologize for the delay in my first entry of 2011.  I sarcastically left a ‘cliff hanger’ ending for 2010 and promised that my first post of the New Year would be my one-step secret to receiving your black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I sometimes joke that life has a tendency to get in the way of the things we’d rather be doing.  It appears that the ‘New Year’ turned into February before I was able to sit down and get my thoughts typed up.  Ironically, that is sort of the point of my entry today, and how it relates to my “guaranteed method” of getting your black belt.

I know many of you would pay hundreds, or maybe even thousands for this secret… you may want to put away your checkbooks until you finished reading.

How do You do It?

In over 10 years of training in BJJ, this is probably the most common question I get asked.  From time to time former students of our gym will reappear and promise, almost as if they are convincing themselves, that they are going to get serious and start training again to get their next belt.  Some of these people started when I did, or were even higher rank then me when I started.  They’ll look down at the belt around my waist and ask “How do you do it?”  “Do what?” I’ll ask…  “How do you train everyday?”  Puzzled, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and pause for a moment, trying to think of something profound and inspiring to say.  However, all I can usually come with is “I just do it.”  The next part of the conversation usually proceeds with the person telling me about all the obstacles they have in the way of their getting to the gym to train.  Sometimes they’ll complain about the ‘long’ 20 to 30 minute drive to the gym… or perhaps their job… or maybe school… or perhaps a combination of all the above.

I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1997.  I had just graduated college and decided to return to school to receive my teaching degree.  It was during this time that I became addicted to BJJ and here’s what a typical week looked like for me:  I worked 6 days a week at a golf course, doing manual labor on the maintenance crew from 5:30 am to 2:00 pm.  I would come home, shower and change real quick, grab my gi and head out the door to drive in rush hour to try and make it to the gym by 6 pm.  Training was usually from 6 pm to 8 pm every night (I took Friday nights off).  On my "day off" on Sundays I worked for my parents at their restaurant.

During fall and winter I would split my time between work AND school, but still maintained my training routine.  I just did it.

I loved BJJ and was addicted to learning and getting better.  I trained everyday because I wanted to.  There was never a question of “if” for me.  Of course things happen and people may have to put their personal lives on hold to take care of personal business, family matters, or other things that are more pressing. I was fortunate that my time was my own and I could do with it as I wanted.  And I wanted to train BJJ, so I “just did it.”  Nike made millions off a simple campaign that told wannabe athletes to “Just do it.”  I guess that’s what they meant.

Changing from Iron to Steel

All of this came into perspective for me a few years ago.  I was reading an interview with multiple time world champion, and Jiu Jitsu great, Saulo Ribeiro.  In the interview Saulo talked about the change in his Jiu Jitsu that made him take the next step to elevating his competition game.  The following was his answer and something that I have kept with me for years:

“Iron is a common element: soft, malleable, and easily broken.  The fire is the years of hard work, and the dedication, and the daily routine of training when you get on the mat, or go to a tournament, even though you might not feel like it.  But when you stay in the fire long enough, it changes you without you really being aware of it.  One day everybody is tapping and then you realize that you’ve turned from iron into steel.”

After some research and reading it seems that I found the statement Saulo was quoting and paraphrasing to fit for Jiu Jitsu. A famous Yogi, Paramahamsa Satyananda, was known to say that his disciples learned nothing if their lives were easy and free from troubles.  An easy life is like pure iron, soft and easy to break down and with no growth.  However, steel is much stronger because of the impurities in it.  Like steel, we need to go experience the ‘impurities’ to make us stronger in life.  The impurities give us confidence as well as a strong mind and spirit. 

We do so many things during the day that we don’t even think of, because we know it’s a necessity… We just do it.  Jiu Jitsu was always the same for me.  It was something that I never questioned “if” I wanted to do it.  I just kept going, there was no thought behind it.  It became a part of my daily routine, like going to school or work.  For me, it was something I had to do.  There were definitely times that I was tired, sore, or injured, but taking time off just seemed unnatural to me and was never an option.  Those are the times that you must push through and drag yourself to the gym.  So, if I could give you one advice for getting your black belt it's this: Just do it... Don't quit.  You must be willing to not only face the impurities but welcome them and the impurities of training consistently.  

These are the situations that create an opportunity for learning and growth, and take you through the fire of changing you from iron to steel. 
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