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Be Prepared. Period.

Jake Whitfield, the black belt who heads Triangle Jiu-Jitsu Goldsboro, has an important new article out on the website. You should go read the whole thing, then come on back. I’ll wait.

… OK, this is the Internet, so no one reads anything in its entirety. You should, but if you choose not to, let me hit you with a quick summary: preparation is key to success, whether you’re talking about a jiu-jitsu class, a jiu-jitsu tournament, an MMA fight, or life.

One of the most overlooked areas of preparation is the simple preparation for each day of training. Everyone has had classes where they felt like they were on top of the world. Every sweep works perfectly and it seems like your training partner’s guard doesn’t even exist. Everyone has also had classes where it seems like everything you do is wrong. Often the difference between the two is the preparation you put in before class. Did you drink enough water throughout the day to give you sufficient hydration to make it through class? Or did you just chug a bottle of water in the car immediately beforehand? Or even worse, did you forget to drink water altogether before class? Did you eat healthy meals throughout the day and give your body time to properly digest your last meal before training? Did you provide yourself with adequate time to get to class on time without being rushed? Did you remember everything you needed for class? Did you properly warm up before class or did you rush in during the warm up drills, throw your gi on, and run out onto the mat while still tying your belt just in time to catch the first technique being taught? Every single one of these things has an impact every single time that you train.

This is exactly right. I’d like to add two things (a principle and a story) from my own experience.

First, these guidelines only increase in importance as we age. I’ll turn 40 next year. I’ve always been a prompt person: if I’m not someplace 15 minutes early, I feel like I’m late. But since immersing myself in jiu-jitsu I’ve tried to be as early as I can. This is partially because of something Jake talks about in the excerpt about: it’s important to warm up correctly to avoid injury, and getting some movements going early helps you have a productive, gradual warmup. This is more important for my body than it might be for a 19-year-old who is made of rubber (although it’s important for him/her, too!).

I also love being around to talk with the instructor and the other students before class. You never know when you’re going to hear a detail that you missed before, or something that helps you understand a position in a new way — or just some great stories from the old days. Like any practice, the more time you spend observing and preparing, the more likely you are to learn.

Preparation includes strategy formation of all types.

Preparation includes strategy formation of all types.

The story I’d like to tell involves me learning a lesson the hard way. These days it’s fairly rare when I drink more than the occasional beer. But when I first got my blue belt, my instructor started having me roll with all the new people. I think this is half because he knows I’m capable of being calm and gentle with the first-timers, but also that I’m capable of showing that jiu-jitsu works — and if a huge, beastly athletic dude gets dominated by a tiny, nerdy 39-year-old, they are usually forced to conclude that there is something to the art.

On this particular night before class, I choose to have three beers. Because my tolerance is low, this results in some dehydration and a mild hangover. Hey, that’s the price you pay. One of the benefits of jiu-jitsu training is that it’s a positive feedback loop: you train a lot and you drink less, because you want to be prepared for training. But sometimes you want to have a beer, and one turns into three.

Of course, I’m not going to skip class over it. Of course, this is the day that a huge former college wrestler comes in. Of course, I have too much pride to tell my instructor “um, Seth, I got a little awash in liquid amusement last night.” Of course, I’ve got to roll with the guy during the night’s first spar.

Usually, my philosophy in rolling with brand new people is not to hunt for submissions at all, but merely to take what is given when they make fundamental errors. That way, you can show them both the philosophy and effectiveness of jiu-jitsu (besides, every new person makes fundamental errors). Now that I’ve been training for a few years I also have a better sense for who is going to approach the roll in an open-minded, learning way and who is going to try to kill you.

This guy was clearly in the “going to try to kill you” camp.

He jumps onto me, and I collar choke him in about 5 seconds. He desperately does not want to tap, but does so after his face turns purple and he nearly passes out. Usually, this is enough to give even the most kill-faced person some pause. But this never seems to happen when you’re hung over. He just keeps coming. And about halfway through the roll, I really start feeling tired.

Now, at no point during the round was I in any trouble. He was throwing me around, though, and this is normally the type of behavior that I would correct as gently as possible with certain tactics. But I wasn’t at my best, and I didn’t have the control I needed to have, and hence couldn’t employ those tactics.

This made the round unpleasant for me. Having a college wrestler on top of you when you’re hung over is not an experience I recommend. But that’s not the worst part. I just wasn’t apply to apply techniques in the way I had become accustomed. At one point I just let an armbar go because I was afraid he flat-out wouldn’t tap until I broke his arm. Without the precision to apply the technique properly, I was forced to either let go or risk injuring a new person. This isn’t a choice I should have been forced into, but my lack of preparation made it so.

That happened well over a year ago, and it’s still one of my most vivid memories of jiu-jitsu — and one of the blessedly few moments I’m really embarrassed of. I didn’t prepare myself properly, because it was just another night of class. Because I didn’t prepare myself properly, I wasn’t able to represent myself of the art in the way that I would have liked to. I also am a firm believer that the way you represent yourself reflects on your teammates and instructor, so I’m always disappointed in myself when I don’t do things the right way.

I take pride in being able to show people both the benefits of jiu-jitsu and my love for it. the chance to roll with a new person is major opportunity to make that happen, and it’s one I don’t want to miss again.

It’s important to be prepared for many reasons. One is that you never know when a moment like that is going to happen, and you want to be able to put your best self out there when the occasion demands it.


About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

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