BJJ makes you tougher because it’s a difficult activity that challenges you physically, mentally and emotionally.
At first, when you’re getting slaughtered by a 2 stripe white belt, escaping from mount seems impossible. Yet a few years later, fighting your way out of the bottom of mount, passing the guard, and finishing with an armbar is just another day at the office.
Over time your body adapts to the stresses you’re putting on it and becomes stronger. You learn new techniques and strategies, including the ability to keep thinking while you’re rolling. And situations that used to bother you – getting squished by someone heavier for example – start feeling a little bit more normal.
But the critical ingredient in all of this is progressive challenge. You don’t go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye.
Did any BJJ world champion go directly from training at the gym to winning the Mundials without first competing at other tournaments?
Instead the greats climbed a stepladder of progressively greater challenges, with each step being difficult, but achievable.
First they started by sparring at their club (remember, sparring is a form of competition too)…
Then they competed at local tournaments…
Then kept on going to bigger tournaments, learning more each time and testing themselves against progressively tougher opponents until, one day, they medaled at the biggest BJJ show of all.
— StephanKesting (@StephanKesting) March 1, 2017
This is true in just about every field of human endeavour…
If a middle aged and slightly overweight man decides that he wants to become a runner, does he leave his desk at lunchtime, buy a pair of running shoes, and then successfully run a marathon that evening?
No, what happens is that he buys those shoes and first jogs around the block…
Then, after casual jogging for a few months, he tries to run 5 km without stopping…
Then he might enter and train for a 10 km race and do a couple of those…
And then, after months and months of training, he might finally run a full marathon.
Each step, each escalation, ramps up the difficulty level a little bit more, allowing his body and his mind time to adapt.
If the challenges aren’t difficult enough – if there isn’t a real risk of failure – then improvement is going to be super-slow and you’re also not getting mentally tougher. But if the steps on the ladder are too extreme and you fail every single time you try something then you’re going to destroy both your body and your confidence.
So you have to walk the fine line: your challenges have to be both difficult and achievable.
Keep on pushing yourself intelligently. Make it a habit to take on difficult things and you’ll be amazed at what you achieve.
I leave the last words to Seneca from ancient Rome:
“In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.”