quitting jiu-jitsu

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Many people leave their training for many different reasons – they were embarrassed rather than mentored, they got edged out by an antagonistic environment, they’re matched with a teacher who cares more about what they can do for him than what he can do for them. 

To quit something that’s good for you, like Jiu-Jitsu or the martial arts, you better have a compelling reason. This is not quitting smoking or junk food, where we can all agree that leaving it behind is a good idea no matter your reason.

We’re talking about something that – when you’re in the right place, the right community – provides you with a chance for real growth as a person. Not only does it present real solutions for uncertainty and anxiety in our day-to-day lives, but it allows us to become students of ourselves in a very real way. We can look at who we are in total – our relationships, our self-concept, our world-view – and then chip away to get closer to who we want to be in the world.

I saw a former student on the street – a young guy, someone I actually like a lot, a very good purple belt practitioner – and he said, “I’m working around the corner and I saw you and I wanted to say hi.”  I asked him where he’d been.

He said, “Well, some people I had been training with had left the school, so I started thinking that things had changed. I thought that since they had left, then I should probably leave also.”

I said, “Wow – that’s a pretty radical leap.”

In that moment, I had a flashback to when I was a kid and everybody bought a pet rock. They saved up their allowances and spent $19.95 on a rock. A damn rock! It was a rock just like the other rocks you’d find in the park. But it seemed like such a good idea at the time. Everyone was doing it.

Then that rock sat on the shelf and people stared at it. Eventually it became a symbol of regret – people looked at it and asked themselves, “why did I do that?”.

I believe that often when people encounter something that asks them to grow or change, they hide from themselves by following the crowd. They make excuses or find something convenient to hang their decisions on, but they don’t really explore why they’re uncomfortable.

For instance: how many people are there in the world who used to do Jiu-Jitsu who aren’t even sure exactly WHY they’re not training any more?

Like with the pet rockthe ebb and flow of the crowd can pull us into deep waters. Just because everybody’s doing something doesn’t mean it’s actually the best decision for *you*.

So back to our student. It was clear that “everybody was doing it” wasn’t his actual excuse, so I went a little bit further and asked him what had really happened.

He said, “well, some of the some of the new blue belts aren’t serious as when I was coming up.”

I asked, “Isn’t that an opportunity to help someone? When you were coming up as a blue belt, for sure the purple belts thought the same way about you. But instead of being selfish, they helped you. They didn’t quit because they thought you were terrible – and they didn’t make you quit either.They wanted to see you succeed and they put aside their time and and and did something for you.”

I could see him begin to fidget. Once he was out of excuses, I saw that beneath everything else, this young guy just didn’t want to be held to a high standard. And he wasn’t willing to hold himself to a higher standard either.

It’s why things seemed so dead-end to him. He had chosen to turn his back on the problem than look for a solution.

What we know through our training is that the solution isn’t a straight line. It is always changing because we are always changing.

Our solution is the outcome of our confrontation with ourselves, our past, other people. And it is totally OK to take small steps towards the resolution, just so long as we never give up.

The lesson in this conversation is: if the reason you quit Jiu-Jitsu was because you stopped holding yourself to a high standard, what would happen if you understood that what was important was your progress, your process, rather than a fixed end-result?

It’s why our emphasis on progressive growth in the classroom is so strong. Because it is possible to return to the challenge of working on your weaknesses without feeling like a failure. 

Now, if you’d rather quit than face the challenges, that’s your choice. It’s what the young man in our story did.

If you’d prefer to run than to stick it out, then do that and accept everything that comes with it. But understand that it is incompatible with Jiu-Jitsu and the martial arts. What is compatible is holding one another to a high standard and then getting closer and closer to that standard.

We believe in using Jiu-Jitsu as a method to keep progressing to find solutions to succeed. It’s true that there’s no hiatus, no respite…but you get to build a life of dignity, character, confidence, respect, power. This has always been one of the central promises of martial arts training, and it is within everyone’s grasp so long as they’re willing to do undertake the work.


For more about the collaborative, cooperative model of Jiu-Jitsu, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu site here.

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