There is an old saying. “go where no one else is willing to go.” It’s another day at the gym and I get another white belt beginner who wants to take a easy route to the top. They see their teammates who started the same time but have already surpassed them in 6 months. I sit down with the student for a little heart to heart pep talk. Straight to the point I tell him there is no secret to why they have progressed faster than you. I see which students are sweating it out every day in the gym, asking questions, and challenging themselves to be better. While this student does just enough to get by or barely get by; inconsistent attendance, coming into class late, and rarely staying behind to take advantage of extra training sessions. Yet, despite repeated offerings of help from me they chose to complain about their lack of progress in the art.
The great performers give it their best everyday for a chance to stand among the best in their field. They own their space or rightful place, setting themselves apart from the mediocre. It is those times when you are working while everyone is sleeping. It is the extra boring repetitive movements you do when the easily distracted move on to the next shiny object. It is when you are still hanging around the gym after the doors have closed and everyone has gone home. It is the time you drag your bum into practice when you are feeling tired and sore to face another grueling practice session.
Developing the discipline, and success habits is what will allow you to become the best you can be. There are three types students, those who give very little effort, those who do just enough, and those who go the extra mile. Very few chose to the last option; a place where only a few are willing to go. However, it is here where the laboratory to building greatness exists.
When other students marvel at the star performer it’s easy to assume they got there through luck, genetic gifts, or having the right connections. However, most do not look deeper into where they started which is at the bottom. I’ve seen these great athletes transform from humble beginnings literally sleeping at the gym, squeezing every ounce of effort in extra training sessions, working away on their goals while friends party. Being mediocre is not a part of their mindset, they want to be great; setting high standards for themselves.
Becoming a master is a long road requiring one to work alone when everyone follows the crowd. During my journey to black belt, I was in the gym for up to 5 hours often losing myself in the experience, as soon as I got home I was watching instructional videos until 3am in the morning. My wife would wake up in the middle of the night asking me to come to bed as I lost track of time. This went on for a period of 12 years. It was not work to me, I was living my passion and purpose in life as a professional martial artist so I loved every minute of it. The driving force behind my motivation was not only to be the best I could be, but to be respected for my martial arts skills.
Growing up I was extremely small in stature making me a target for bullies. Simply having a black belt was not going to make these problems go away. At 5’11, 156 lbs., with no tattoos or a shaved head; I’m not exactly an intimidating figure. I know there are bigger students who will come into the gym and take one look at me and dismiss me as not truly capable of handling myself. Winning medals, being featured in the media is all good but being able to perform and back up my skills was the most important goal for me. Those years of sacrifice have all paid off. The respect came with it, the ability to showcase my skills even as I near age 50 have given me self-assurance, security, and confidence.
Before we talk about how to achieve personal mastery, I wanted to let you know I compiled a resource that will help you with your Brazilian jiu-jitsu mental game. Want to check out how to think like a black belt? Download my free guide “The Black Belt Mindset: 5 Ways BJJ White Belts Can Build Inner Excellence” here.
How Can I Achieve Personal Mastery?
One of the most popular theories for achieving mastery was from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: the story of success. He suggests it takes ten thousand hours of practice to master a subject. Now this theory has been debated by other scholars but I still like that he set somewhat of a guideline for people to follow.
In his book he used The Beatles as an example. Most people only saw their meteoric rise to the greatest rock band in history. However, very few knew they struggled for many years. In fact, Paul McCartney said he at one-point thought of quitting, thinking that maybe they weren’t meant to be successful. Luckily, he didn’t as we were treated to some of the most beautiful music ever written.
However, there are countless numbers of extremely talented people in sports and other endeavors who never made the cut. What is the reason for this? Gladwell believes it is the ten thousand hours rule. The Beatles started to get noticed in 1963 but they had formed in 1957. This was 6 years of slugging it out at small venues or bars before gaining any traction.
The key turning point in their development from mediocre band to the greatest came in 1960 when they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. It wasn’t the typical gig where they would play one show per night. Under the contractual agreement they would play for eight hours per day, seven days per week as a bar band. There were times when they played to only a handful of people but here is the key, the long hours meant they got to play the same set repeatedly. This repetitive process allowed them to refine their skills, and polish their stage presence. The eight hours a day of performing also meant they had to come up with new ways of playing and engaging the audience. Prior to this they only performed for one hour a night. In the end, this defining experience allowed them to break through the glass ceiling as shortly afterwards they rocketed to stardom. The Beatles prior to making it big in America had played more than 1,200 times. Most bands never came close to matching this number.
I want you to keep this story in mind the next time you practice BJJ. Mastery takes continuous practice, time, discipline and focus. There are no short cuts to the top. The pursuit to be your greatest self requires a firm commitment to improving each day, heading to practice when you are feeling tired or don’t want to face getting crushed that day.
The greatest masters do not accept being mediocre. Being okay is not good enough. They have a life purpose which is to squeeze every potential out of themselves before their time on earth is up.
Are you up for the challenge? Are you willing to go the extra mile in pursuit of personal mastery?
Many will read this article and go back to wishing for success on the mats, make excuses for their lack of success, chase the belt, avoid rolling with tough training partners choosing to take the perceived easy route.
The other group will consist of the action takers who are driven to work hard, stay disciplined, and do the little things each day to inch closer to be the best BJJ player they can be.
Which road will you choose? How would you like to like to viewed by fellow BJJ colleagues in a year, five years, or ten years down the road? If you want to be respected start putting in the extra time for practice. Simple.