This is a question that everyone that has trained (any sport) has asked themselves plenty of times. Learning and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been one of the most exciting and challenging things that I have ever done in my life athletically. It has been a pursuit that has challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally on a consistent basis and it is a complete paradigm shift from what I have been used to.
When I was powerlifting, seeing if I was getting better or not was easy. The simple question was, am I lifting heavier weights? If the answer was yes then I was improving. If the answer was no then there was something wrong and I need to reevaluate my situation. In BJJ, it is not that black and white.
There have been many days to where I felt completely helpless on the mats like I was some sort of training dummy. At the school where I train at, we have some very exceptional athletes and in class everyone rolls with everyone. Yes, there will be white belts rolling with blues, purples, browns and sometimes black belts. The difference in experience and skill can be vast. A sparring match may go roll then tap 30 seconds later over and over. As a beginner it seems like you are just treading water while everyone else it swimming with ease. It is frustrating because you are just trying (unsuccessfully) not to drown in a pool full of sharks.
I, personally, find myself at times being able to perform a movement or drill perfectly against a non-resisting training partner. This practice gives me the confidence to attempt the movement in sparring. I get a little excited about learning a new move and then when I practice the movement against a resisting opponent I get smashed or stuffed or maybe I pull it off (not likely at first). This process alone can discourage anyone. You spend half of the class learning a movement and feeling good about it and then the other half of the class getting choked out. Trial by fire certainly. Try a move. Fail. Try another move. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Almost. Fail. Fail.
Class is then over, we bow out, slap hands and then I walk back begrudgingly to my gym bag sometimes I don’t even know what happened to me other than the fact that I got my ass kicked again. I change out and quietly walk to my vehicle sometimes with aches and pains. Inside my vehicle I sit in silence trying to process what just happened. Then I ask myself a couple of questions:
“Am I getting better? It sure doesn’t seem like it.”
“What am I doing? I have to be too old for this nonsense.”
“Should I quit? I do have a Netflix subscription.”
I would like to say that we have all been there, consumed with self-doubt thinking about quitting but some people haven’t experienced that. I know that I have. I’ll drive home in silence. I won’t turn the radio on. I won’t answer the phone. I will just drive and go home. Defeated. Completely and utterly defeated but yet for some reason I show up the next day to repeat the process all over again. I keep showing up but am I getting better? How do I measure my progress?
I was told the simplest thing that changed the way that I look at progress, and that is to look at the little victories. The. Little. Victories. What does this mean? Little victories? To start it could be rolling with a higher ranked opponent and not being submitted when previously you were submitted. That is a little victory. Another example of a little victory could be simply performing a movement in live sparring. Maybe you practiced the scissor sweep over and over again and finally you executed it against a real live opponent. Little victory. Keep in mind all of the little things that you are getting better at and give it time. Don’t give up and everything through hard work and consistency will fall into place.