What to do When You Suck at BJJ and Hate Life


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Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks, or months) at jiu jitsu where you seemed to always be the nail and never the hammer? Like when you get your blue belt and suddenly people aren’t taking it easy on you any more? Surprise, your guard  passing wasn’t as good as you thought it was!

We’ve all been there. I’m the smallest person at my club; most times my training partners are double my size so I definitely feel your pain. Is it worse when you know they’re letting you get things on them or when you get smashed? Well, both suck but guess what? You could be in a box gym somewhere running on a treadmill bored out of your mind. Get over it.

Here’s the thing, it’s the hard times that make you better. Those are the times that build character, empathy and mental fortitude. It’s the difficulty of jiu jitsu that makes it so fulfilling.

The Debriefing Technique

I was in a process management course a couple of months ago and the facilitator heard my group talking about a problem customer who was always calling the department and losing it on employees. He came to our table and mapped out what he called “The Debriefing Technique”.

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Since learning The Debriefing Technique, I have gotten a lot of use out of it, both when dealing with others and in talking myself out of a negative thought pattern.

This is what he told us: in order to get over a negative experience you must ask three questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Are you OK?
  3. What can we do to prevent this from happening again?

Let’s debrief our jiu jitsu. So what happened?

I’m a blue belt and no white belt should ever tap me ever and so then I rolled with this guy who started after me and he only has two stripes but he passed my guard and he got me in side control and then I was trying to get out and I couldn’t and then he got my arm and set up an Americana but I straightened my arm and then he got a straight armbar and then he looked smug and said good job after the roll.

Yes, I would definitely hate that, too. Are you OK?

I waited too long to tap because he’s a white belt and he only has two stripes and then he pushed on my arm hard and then I tapped but now my elbow hurts.

Oh no! Elbows are resilient, though, especially if you didn’t actually injure it. Other than that are you OK?

Well, yeah I guess overall I’m OK.

When you do the debriefing technique, you relieve your brain of the “fight or flight” response. When you explain the situation and state that you are OK, you begin to calm. You realize that hey, I’m not in any real danger here; I’m OK. So now what?

Now you make a plan for the future. This moves your thinking to the rational side of your brain and your fear begins to subside. You begin to have hope for better results in the future.

What I like to do after I get tapped by anyone, including black belts, is study Neil Melanson instructionals and plot ways to bring the pain to people. If you say sorry when you use his techniques, it’s not greasy. I also consider mental warfare.

Or you can be a mature adult and think about what is happening in your rolls. Where are you losing control? Are you unable to retain guard? Are you getting swept a lot? What is the problem?

You know, at blue belt (or purple or brown or black) you’re really still quite new to BJJ. It would do you a lot of good to review the fundamentals and make sure you really understand the concepts of how the game works.

Instead of desperately searching for escapes for particular submissions or Hail Mary techniques that will work one out of a thousand times, really work on your basics. The best BJJ instructional series I’ve seen for explaining these concepts is The BJJ Formula with Rob Biernaki and Stephan Kesting. 

If you’re not sure what happened, schedule a private with a higher belt at your club, ask them to watch you roll and then work specifically on problem areas.

The next time you’re rolling, don’t focus on winning so much as improving that first break in your game that is allowing your training partner to gain control. One small improvement at a time will snowball and before you know it, your biggest concern will be how to open someone up when they are balling up tight under your mount.


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Keep Your Head Held High

As Jordan Peterson says, never compare yourself to who someone else is today, only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. And train yourself to be resilient. Condition yourself to be someone who can get dominated, stand up, brush off the defeat, retain the lesson and walk with your head held high. If you wallow in defeat, if you dwell on it, you will condition yourself to be a loser.

In this video, Dr. Peterson talks about what happens to lobsters when they are defeated in a fight and it leads into a story about his old railroad coworker, “Lunch Bucket”. Your teammates will still respect you if you get defeated physically. Where you will lose your footing is if you can’t pull yourself together, laugh it off and try again.

If you think it’s hard getting merked by lower belts at blue, wait til you hit brown or black. Oh, that burn! And they will be gunning for you, too. You better start working on that resilience now, little caterpillar.


Dear giant white belts,

I will cut you.

love, Sally

Just kidding, white belts. Come train at Titans MMA, I teach beginners class on Thursdays, see you there!

Yes, I did draw these cartoons. I am a talented artist, obv. You may be asking yourself, what can’t she do? The answer is nothing. #suchhumble





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