Hitting the wall: Thoughts on plateaus & mental blocks in training.

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Many a student has experienced the notorious “plateau” or felt the sensation that they, try as they might, are getting nowhere with their training. “Hitting the wall” is or experiencing a mental block is common in any area of learning, Martial Arts being no different.

I would like to share my thoughts on why I believe that the dreaded plateau does not exist. In my opinion, it is in fact a symptom of a far more important cause that needs to be treated in your practice. 

“Jiu-jitsu is perfect, it’s humans who make errors”

Rickson Gracie

I think that this quote by Master Rickson most succinctly sums up my view on plateaus and, in general, the process of learning Jiu-jitsu (or indeed anything).

At the core of this issue, we need to understand that Logic dictates LearningJiu-jitsu, just like anything else, presents to us a methodical approach to learning a broad martial art. Jiu-jitsu values specific concepts and emphasizes technique to solve a problem over pure physicality or brute force. However, we cannot apply the same techniques to every problem. I believe that this is where people “Hit the wall” or plateau. A large part of Jiu-jitsu comes down to the execution and practice of techniques we have come to learn and understand. When we misinterpret a situation and fail to apply the correct techniques, we encounter resistance and  even failure. This is where the plateau comes in. Either a practitioner will be able to diagnose the error and will return to the same problem with a different solution or they will repeatedly attempt to make the incorrect technique work. The latter, in my opinion, is what causes a plateau in learning to occur.

Think of it this way. I teach a student how to use an exclamation mark when writing. I give the student two different sentences and tell them that one sentence requires punctuation with an exclamation mark. Only one sentence can be correct, if the student is not able to identify which they will become stuck when it comes to punctuating a sentence with exclamation marks. To overcome this, they may need to experiment, learn from their mistakes or ask further questions to gain a better understanding of punctuation.

We need to learn to step away from methods that are failing if we want to find a way around a problem. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You need to have more tools in your belt to solve specific problems. Some of these tools you will be able to gain in the same way as you gained others before, but you will only be able to access some tools by changing the way you train or by looking to new places.

“Jiu-jitsu is simple, you just gotta do it right.”

Roger Gracie

Roger has a very simple way of putting it: if you want to keep progressing in your practice, you need to do it right. Progress is not made by repeatedly doing things you already know how to do, progress is made by understanding that there are solutions to problems other than what you already know.

Look for new ways to do things, put yourself into bad situations and look for technical solutions. This is the “right way” that Roger is talking about in my opinion. If you never make mistakes you will never learn, if you only go to what works and never deviate  it will be not possible for you to develop further.

Working in education has taught me a lot about how people learn. We can’t apply the same solution we use for one situation to solve a different one, we will only meet resistance. We have to learn to assess the situation on a case by case basis so that we can pass around the wall instead of hitting it repeatedly. I don’t believe that any able-minded person has a ‘learning limit’; a point where we plateau or can’t learn any more than we currently do. Science supports this theory too with the concept of neuroplasticity.

If you’re hitting a plateau or repeatedly encountering the same issues with your training or practice, it’s time to take a step back and look objectively at other ways to approach the problem. 

Thanks for reading, as always I hope this has given you some new perspectives on the topic.

Oss.

2 thoughts on “Hitting the wall: Thoughts on plateaus & mental blocks in training.

  1. This does make sense. However, I have hit more of a mental block or wall than a plateau. It happened as a result of a fractured knee that left me unable to train for two months. I still came, took notes, videos, but coming back has been a challenge. I’ve been back for 2 1/2 months and feel as if I am back to being a no stripe white belt (I am currently at two atripes). I’m not sure what to do. I used to come home from jiu jitsu elated. Now i just feel upset and worthless.

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    • Hey Sharon, I think it is important to try and refocus on what it is/was that used to bring you that elation. The road is rocky and (relatively speaking) you are very early in your journey. Just as a perspective; a very close training partner of mine had a meniscus tear in his knee that required surgery. He has only just returned after about 4 months off. Persistence is the key. He knows he is rusty, but the willingness to put the work in once that initial spurt of motivation disappears is the mark of discipline. If you want to make your martial arts journey a lifelong pursuit, it is important to approach those feelings; find out where they are coming from and work through them. Quitting because of this obstacle should not be an option in your mind, it’s just an opportunity to improve. Hope this helps.

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