12 Lessons Learned From the Mat
A guest blog by Jaelyn Wolf
I’m sitting at my Jiu-Jitsu school as my house is being shown three times today. Fridays are my favorite. Like, my absolute favorite. I have every Friday blocked off on my calendar beginning at 2:00 PM, and this is fairly non-negotiable for me. We have a weekly training session called “War at Four.” It’s an hour and a half of live rounds with some of my favorite training partners. It’s exhausting, but a complete and total blast. I only have two more Fridays in town after today. Only two more “War at Fours.” Easton Training Center is the school that introduced me to Jiu-Jitsu; the family that taught me about who I am through this sport. The lessons I have learned on the mat have carried over into every aspect of my life, and I have forged friendships that will last a lifetime.
Jiu-Jitsu is an interesting sport. It is unlike any that I’ve been involved in, and having been a competitive athlete my entire life, I’ve been involved in a lot of them. To say I’m grateful for finding Jiu-Jitsu would be an understatement. It ticks all the boxes – the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I have learned a lot on the mats, and narrowing it down feels impossible…but here are some of the most important things that have carried through.
1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and breathe through the discomfort. Learn to make decisions under stress.
Making decisions under stress is not something we are always taught how to do, but discomfort is something you will always come across in life. If we are always comfortable, we are not growing. And growth, growth is where the magic happens, even when it’s painful. Just as you have to remain calm while facing a quicker or more skilled opponent, you must remain calm when life gets messy. Trying to solve problems is immeasurably more challenging when you are freaking out – both on the mat and off it.
2. Life is all about perception – there is no winning or losing, you win or you learn.
Perception is everything. Our attitude is everything. If you get upset when you lose a match, when someone kicks your ass, use it as a learning experience. Use it as a way to dial in to the reasons you made a mistake, the things you could have done differently. The matches you lose will show you more about your skills and the things you need to work on than those you won. If you approach a scenario that is less than optimal with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, you are way more likely to come out of it with gratitude and appreciation for the experience. You get to choose if you want to be bitter or if you want to learn.
3. How you respond to failure says a lot about your character.
Do you get off the mat, sulking and angry? Do you bring that attitude into your next match or your next interaction off the mat? Or do you take it in stride and learn? We all know the athlete or person who gets knocked down and lets it affect their entire day, week or month. Who takes it out on those around them. Who do you want to be? How do you want to move through this gift called life?
4. You need people – on the mats and in your life. To help you grow, to teach you, and for you to teach.
Everyone can be a teacher and a student. Your community, the people you learn from, they are the most important. We are nothing without our training partners – you can’t get good at Jiu-Jitsu without someone else there to drill with, to learn from, or to teach. Just as you can’t practice Jiu-Jitsu alone, you can’t move through life without a community. You need a support system, you need a community that you can trust and rely on. Independence is great, sure. But find your people and keep them close.
5. There are always multiple solutions to your problems.
It’s easy to get stuck on an idea, on a submission you want to practice, or on something that you are comfortable with that you have in your ‘game.’ Life doesn’t always go as planned – just as matches don’t always go your way. Learn to adapt. Learn to read the room, your opponent or your obstacle, and adjust accordingly. You may surprise yourself, but most importantly, keeping your options open and your toolbox full will provide you with more opportunities and more paths for you to take that will ultimately lead you to a place you want to be.
6. There is no place for ego, but confidence is important.
Ego will get you into a world of trouble on the mat. There is always someone better than you, hungrier than you, working harder than you and more experienced than you. They got that way because they checked their ego (most likely). It’s important to go into competitions knowing that you can win. Knowing that you put in the work and the effort – but if you approach each match, and life in general, from a place of self-righteousness and believing you are innately better than everyone around you, you are in for a world of hurt. Be humble. Be graceful. And don’t be a jerk.
7. Face your fears and embrace your weaknesses.
It’s easy to constantly choose partners who you can destroy. It’s easy to shy away from the things that scare you. But if you are always working on the things you are good at, you will never fill in the gaps. You’ll never be a well-rounded athlete or person. You’ll never truly improve. Strive for improvement in all aspects of your life and you’ll ultimately be a better person and athlete because of it.
8. Sometimes you need to tap out.
This is a hard one. You have to know when to tap. In jiu-jitsu this is important because if you don’t learn this, you’ll get injured. In life, it’s a bit more challenging because there is a fine line between knowing when to move on and giving up. You don’t want to just give up when things get tough, but you do want to recognize when something is no longer serving you and be able to walk away from it. Learning the difference and being able to identify it is a skill developed over time, but invaluable when fully understood.
9. There are no shortcuts – hard work and patience is where it’s at. Mastery does not exist and therefore, comparison is useless.
You won’t get good at Jiu-Jitsu overnight. It takes a decade to develop any sort of proficiency, and even then, the greatest in the sport will tell you that they are constantly learning, improving and perfecting their craft. The same goes for life. There will be skills and techniques that you are innately good at. That your body and mind gravitate towards. But there is always room for growth, improvement and adaptation. It takes hard work and patience. Everyone is on a different leg of their journey, a different stepping stone on their path. Comparing your journey on the mats or in life to anyone else will just bring you pain.
10. Passion will not always fuel you. Sometimes you have to rely on discipline.
Life is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. Sometimes passion for the sport will bring you into the gym every day without question. Sometimes, you will feel burnt out and will need to take a break. But like anything, if you want to be great, if you want to succeed, you will need to rely on discipline to get there. Passion fades and discipline fills in the gaps when we lose our motivation. Show up and do your best, every single day. Your best will change day to day, month to month. But that’s okay.
11. Don’t worry about what you can’t control: stay within your 3-foot world.
This is huge. This is a lesson a friend of mine taught me years ago when he got it tattooed on his hand. You can only control and respond to your immediate surroundings. Learn to identify what is in your control and what is out of it. (Most of the time we have very little control anyway.) You are capable of controlling your response to external stimuli – you can respond to your partner while training, to your partner in a competition, and to life events that are thrown your way. Your response is what is important. Nothing else matters. Don’t let the noise and sparkly objects distract you from what is most important.
12. Have fun.
Your attitude is everything. On the mat. In life. If you’re not having fun, what is the point?!
I’m incredibly grateful for everyone that Easton Training Center has introduced me to. For the friends I’ve made in the school itself and for those I’ve met outside of the school because of the Jiu-Jitsu community at large. I am forever changed because of it.