It’s been said that winners never quit, and quitters never win. This is not entirely true.
Winners regularly quit things that do not serve them. They do it all the time. It’s time we rethink how we feel about quitting and consciously decide when quitting actually is in our best interests.
Consider life off the mat for a moment. We all know people that stayed in their job too long. We know even more people who have stayed in a relationship too long. Most of us have kept shirts and gis too long. If you can’t think of that person, then that person might be you. It’s time to let go.
Quitting has such a negative connotation. We’re trained to despise quitting and to praise the grind. We’re conditioned to believe that hustle and grind is the way. It certainly can be, unless you’re working far too hard at something that isn’t doing you any good.
My own realization about the power of quitting came while studying for the bar exam — that cruel, rite of passage for lawyers dying to get licensed and pay off crushing student loans.
My realization came about trying to understand something called the Rule Against Perpetuities. It deals with property and estate laws, and it doesn’t make perfect sense. I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I had studied tax law, estate law and aced my property law class in law school, yet this principle made no sense to me when trying to apply it.
I spent hours trying to understand it for the bar exam, then I quit trying. I realized that with how they structured the exam, that I would have a 50% chance of being asked a single question about the Rule Against Perpetuities. I knew I could narrow down the question enough to make an educated guess, and I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I got that one question completely wrong and never learned this principle of law.
Giving up on trying to understand the rule gave me time to prepare for the things I knew I would be asked on the exam. It worked. I was asked a question about the rule on the bar exam. I guessed. I have no idea if I got it right, but I passed.
Life on the mats
Our Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai isn’t that different. We spend a lot of time, sometimes inordinate time, studying what doesn’t matter. The pantheon of YouTube techniques is seductive, but it’s not a great use of time. The Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 rule, comes to life here. The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto concluded at 80% of consequences arise from 20% of the causes, so there is an unequal relationship between input and output.
In Jiu Jitsu it is no coincidence that some causes (techniques) are mostly responsible for outcomes (tapping). This is true if you are getting the tap or being tapped. Look at a triangle. From the back, from guard, in MMA or flying it has a disproportionate outcome compared to other techniques that might be limited in their application or opportunity to use them. This begs the question for us to think: what are we spending our time learning?
Professor Bruce has incorporated a good practice in his advanced class that everyone should adopt. Every student has to identify, in less than 5 words, what they are currently working on. Practice deliberately. This is the best way to see improvement. Not only is it helpful to identify what you are working on, identifying what to quit working on is especially useful.
We can spend far too much time, years even, trying to develop a technique or game that has a lower likelihood of success for us. As much as we need to specify the things we want to focus on, we need to also recognize which things to quit doing.
For example, one student recalled discovering lockdown and using it all the time only to realize years later that it stalled out developing his guard. It might be time to quit hitting your favorite technique all the time in order to develop something else. Maybe quit pulling guard if it means getting passed, or even if you are an excellent guardiologist, consider quitting the guard to focus passing or grip fighting. Worst case you can fall back on your best stuff.
Injuries will often times force us to quit certain things. With the right mindset, injuries are a gift. They require us to quit doing things that aggravate injury and develop new methods. The inverted ones with bad backs know this all too well. Those in the ACL recovery club have had to do this too.
While it’s important to work hard and focus, it’s just as important, perhaps more important, to unburden yourself from the things that are getting in the way of your success.
Some of our techniques and habits are an old crutch. They served their purpose for a time, but eventually we all need to let them go if we are going to become our best. Go ahead and quit.