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The mental anatomy of a grappler.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu- or indeed any of the grappling arts- is that there is no body type or kind of person that can’t learn to grapple. People with very body type, every personality, race, culture, religion or walk of life can learn to grapple.
If anyone can learn, why do so many quit? Today I want to explore the ‘mental anatomy’, if you will, of the lifelong grappler and what it takes to develop the mentality.
When I was first introduced into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2012, I never imagined that it would put me on a lifelong journey. In what is a relative drop in the ocean in terms of the amount of time I have been training, I’ve already seen hundreds of people begin… and hundreds of people quit.

I always wonder what it takes for a person to persist; what is the ‘mental anatomy’ of a lifelong grappler like?
I talk a fair bit about the “growth versus fixed mindset” and how much difference that makes, but I believe that this works on a different level when it comes to persisting in the highly demanding pursuit that is grappling.

Grappling has innumerable physical, emotional and psychological aspects that we’re forced to confront on a daily basis in training (magnified even further in competition).

We as practitioners are forced to not only confront these challenges, but find ways to overcome them if we wish to progress. This takes a level of grit in the face of gruelling physical challenges and a level of honesty with our selves in the face of difficult internal challenges. We have to accept that we need to adapt if we want longevity within any grappling art.

It took me two miserable years without BJJ after my first year immersed in training to realize that I needed to return to the art. I needed to so that I could confront all of the things that were making me so dissatisfied within my life. I had an unhealthy diet, I was overweight, depressed and insecure. I struggled to maintain positive relationships with others and was a shitty friend and employee.

After a major health scare on a trip to South Korea, I returned to training in the beginning of 2014. I forced myself to persist despite being 120KG’s, completely out of shape and having my ass handed to me every night on the mats. I put my discomfort aside and immersed myself in the learning, understanding that the results would follow if I could simply show up. I’m not sure I can ever truly convey the importance of this time in my life and the challenges I was forcing myself to confront. I literally owe my training partners and coaches who supported me at this time my life. I have reached a point now where I cannot imagine my life without regular practice, and I couldn’t be happier about that. 

As a kid, I always hated my thick “farmer hands”. Now, I’m grateful for their ability to endure all the abuse I’ve put them through.

The real challenges in grappling arts are not the big visible things; they are the small, often unobserved things. Trying to learn a challenging technique, turning up to training when you don’t feel like it, reflecting on mistakes or recovering from injuries; these are the small things that we deal with that challenge us on a daily basis and force us to adapt.

I firmly believe that anyone can learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or any other grappling art, but only those who can embrace change will be able to persist and develop themselves into a lifelong grappler.  If we want to commit to our art form for life, we need to reflect on our own mental anatomy to progress on the journey.

Thanks for reading,