New to Jiu Jitsu? You’ll need a lot of this…

Laurie Berenson BJJ Sparring

The following guest post is written by Laurie Berenson. She comes to BJJ from a background of training in Muay Thai. I really like her attitude so I invited her to put pen to paper and share her perspective with us. She is currently studying under black belts William Stevens and Casey Van Brookhoven at Stevens Martial Arts in New Jersey, USA.

When Stephan Kesting asked if I’d consider writing a guest post for from the beginner’s perspective. I immediately balked at the idea. What could I speak to as a white belt? Not much! But I do know that one of the single biggest things jiu jitsu has taught me so far is to have patience…

Patience in the journey. Jiu jitsu differs from so many things in life that provide immediate results or short-term satisfaction. Committing to training as a white belt requires placing trust in the process—especially during the many “this is kicking my butt” moments.

Patience in the technique. This is a big one. We all know jiu jitsu was developed as a set of techniques based on leverage and momentum that are ideal for a smaller, weaker person to apply to a larger, stronger person. I’m often outweighed by 50+ pounds in class and not as strong as even my smallest male training partner. Rolling almost exclusively with larger, stronger partners can be challenging, but it forces solid technique.

Patience in learning to relax. When first starting out, it’s difficult to grasp that you don’t need to constantly move when the burden is on the other person to complete a technique. Initially, being told to relax and breathe felt so bizarre. How can I relax when someone is trying to fight me? I’m learning that staying calm allows you to conserve energy, focus on your position, and avoid being “that spazzy white belt.”

Patience in seeing progress. A few months ago, I didn’t know which end was up while rolling. I struggled with positions and flow. I had no clue which submission my partner was applying. Now I can sometimes follow his movements and identify what’s being applied, and, even cooler, I’m starting to defend against things. I also feel like I’m putting more of my body weight into moves.

Patience in rolling. My black belt instructor Casey Van Brookhoven explained it best, “Most people want to be challenged when they roll so going with lower ranks or new people isn’t their first choice. But everyone has been the “new” guy at some point so don’t let it get to you. Everyone has felt like that before. The feeling of apologizing for not giving someone a better roll has crossed everyone’s mind. Perseverance is all you need. You will get better and give people better rolls. Keep doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Patience in “getting it” conceptually. I commented once that I felt like jiu jitsu required a lot of thinking, but my instructor Casey said it’s actually the opposite at times. “You have to not think, to not limit yourself based on where you are and just identify submission scenarios no matter which position you’re in – top, bottom, side. A triangle is a triangle. An armbar is an armbar. BJJ is three dimensional.

Patience with uncomfortable moments. The moment in class when we pair up to drill a new technique always brings me back to gym class when one kid is left after teams have been picked. My classmates are great and would never say anything, but I always feel bad for the guy who “gets stuck” drilling techniques with me as a new female white belt. Much to my relief, partners are often assigned, but I look forward to the time (as far off as it may be) when I no longer feel like the last pick.

Patience with uncomfortable positions. The close contact of BJJ can’t be overlooked. It took time to become desensitized, but arms and legs are now just arms and legs. One day I emailed a friend, “I learned triangles this morning. I get triangled, but I don’t try going for them that often. Maybe I should. I’m almost over the whole it’s-a-little-weird-to wrap-my-legs-around-a-guy’s-neck feeling.” He quickly wrote back, “Really? Try being a guy trapping another guy in between your legs.” Point well taken.

Laurie Berenson BJJ SparringPatience in general. It’s hard not to compare yourself to classmates, yet it’s hard to compare yourself. While many of these body movements and techniques come easily to my classmates who wrestled in high school and college, I’m learning them for the first time at the age of 40. On the bright side, I’m also learning to appreciate my flexibility and smaller frame. My progress is mine alone — which brings me back to where we started: having patience in the journey.

Finally, I’m not the first person to write about the importance of patience on the mats. Katie of A Skirt on the Mat and Julia of Jiu Jiu’s BJJ Blog both recently wrote great posts about similar topics.  I guess there’s more than one person who’s learning this lesson from BJJ…

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
― Aristotle