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The survival mindset

One of the major reasons why people (kids and adults alike) quit Brazilian JuJutsu (BJJ) has got nothing to do with their conflicting schedules as they claim. It’s the teaching methodology. Period.

I know that first hand having been part of two different (yet so similar) schools of thoughts. When I signed up for my first BJJ school in 2012, the head instructor was a gentle soul. (He’s now a dear friend.) His teachings were a direct influence of his own personality. I think he knew exactly what to teach to the students based on their individual potential. He was quite particular about rolling (sparring or mock fights) — one should’ve been practicing the art for at least 3 to 6 months before they can even dream about it. Even then, he’ll assess if the student is ready or not. I loved the idea because the whole idea of getting into a fight with a sweaty/smelly person who can choke you to sleep was quite intimidating.

It was quite fun and balanced until I reached the point I couldn’t train because of conflicting schedules. I took up powerlifting and the rest is history. I don’t regret it a bit. Nonetheless, BJJ never left my mind. The primal part of me craved to go back and train in the art. I just couldn’t fit it in my schedule. Believe me, I tried.

It took me 7 years to finally sign up for another school near my vicinity (I’ve moved to a different city now). Let me tell you, it’s quite different from the previous one. The head instructor is a competitive BJJ athlete. And the focus on athleticism shows — I was thrown into full-on rolling on the very first day!

After training, I felt tired and beaten-up, way more than I’ve ever felt in years. And since I’m a problem solver to the core, I began researching on finding solutions. I started with the foundational techniques that I should know and start with because I learned one random technique in the class and simply couldn’t made it work during rolling. The instructor just told me to try and use what I learned that day. And I failed royally at that.

Let me tell you — exploring the foundational techniques beyond the class was the best thing I could’ve done. Not because I’ve now know the most basic 4-5 moves but I got exposed to this principle called the survival mindset. It simply states this — the first year of BJJ is the hardest because you will get beat up every single time you step on the mat. This is particularly true if your focus is all about beating your opponent up with a move or that fancy submission you learned in class. And because the moves don’t work, people start losing faith in the art’s effectiveness. Eventually they stop coming.

Instead of beating up the other person, our focus should be on survival using the absolute basics to just defend ourselves. Watch the opponents moves carefully and get used to seeing, feeling, reading their mind. You only get better the more you practice. And that’s your biggest opportunity each time you get on the mat. Overtime a magical thing happens — you become more relaxed because your defence gets stronger and so does your powers of anticipating the opponent’s moves accurately. And that helps you take advantage of the gaps they might have to implement one of the moves that you’re sure you can execute. That’s what practicing the art is all about.

People in your school (including your instructor) might say, you’re going to lose out on points if you just stay down and don’t do anything. They’re right but you need to be clear on the reason why you’re practising jujutsu — is it to win competitions or get better at self-defence (and the art overall) or improve overall fitness? If you’re not competing, nothing really matters except your safely. You do that by ensuring you’re practicing self-defence and that’s what the art is all about.

I believe instructors should take out time to every new student understand that it’s a process and will take time and commitment. And for the first year, they should just focus on survival than getting frustrated with their inability to implement the techniques they learn (they get to practice their techniques in the class anyway before rolling). Instilling this mindset is very important to the ethos and practice of the art.

Like most things, I couldn’t help but think about the survival mindset and draw parallels to our life. Particularly when you’re trying to pursue something totally new to you. As a recruiter and talent management professional, I can’t help but think how relevant it is for a new employee to survive. Of course, I don’t want them to do just the bare minimum and get by. The idea is to learn what it takes to be a good professional and meet expectations before you explore avenues to grow your wings and exceed expectations. And that’s orchestrated by the hiring and onboarding process. Investing time in creating a robust one always goes a long way in nurturing rockstars in your team.

Like the teacher’s crucial role in dojo, the the hiring manager too plays a significant role in a person’s career achievement and tenure with their organisation. That’s precisely why I’m a firm believer in longer onboarding processes (ranging from 6 to 12 months) instead of the traditional 2-3 day long series of meetings in a closed board room. You’ve got to teach them how to survive before they can thrive.