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13 Lessons From 13 Years of Combat Sports
My grappling career is almost a high schooler.
In late October 2009, I tried out for my middle school’s basketball team.
I didn’t make the first cut. Basketball was never my sport.
A few weeks later, at my mom’s suggestion, I went to my first wrestling practice. I honestly had no idea what to expect, and I didn’t like wrestling at first.
Wrestling was hard and uncomfortable, and I was terrible at it. Pretty much everyone is terrible when they start wrestling.
Wrestling was my first combat sport — 13 years ago. After 6 seasons on the wrestling mat, I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in April 2015.
Since then, I’ve been around the US (and now the world) competing, training, and teaching grappling.
I’ve learned a lot in that time, both about grappling and life. I’m 25 now, and I grapple for a living.
Here are 13 essential life lessons from my last 13 years on the mat:
Sacrifice is an essential part of improvement.
The first thing I learned on the mat was that I had no idea what “sacrifice” really was.
I was very “soft”, and it showed when I tried to wrestle. I didn’t have the grit, discipline, or intensity to thrive on the mat.
I had to sacrifice my former self to become the person I am today.
Wrestling forced me to give up all the habits that were not serving me and replace them with better ones.
How to “grind”.
I think the cultural obsession with “hustle” is odd and a bit short-sighted, but if you want to succeed at anything, you must learn to put your head down and grind a bit.
People today are insanely worried about looking good for the camera (thanks, social media), but the work that separates you from your competition rarely looks pretty.
That’s “the grind”.
It’s okay to be terrible at something.
In my first year of wrestling, I was 4–14. In my second year, I was 4–28.
I tell this to everyone I meet, but I was atrociously bad.
Competing was miserable for me in the early days. Over several years, I learned that it’s okay to not be the best right now.
It’s not okay to quit.
Going from terrible at competing (4–28, remember?) to where I am now gives me the confidence that I can at least become competent at whatever I put my mind to.
How to win with humility.
The picture at the top of this post is from the first pin I ever got in wrestling.
It was against the same kid who pinned me in my first match ever. He was devastated, and I was ecstatic.
Still, I didn’t celebrate after getting “revenge” because I didn’t want to rub it in. Victory alone is pretty sweet.
Don’t act like a clown when you succeed.
Learning goes beyond the classroom.
I wasn’t a great student in school.
I have ADHD. I have a lifetime’s worth of stories on how that made school suck, but the main reason it sucked was that everyone — my parents, teachers, etc. — thought I was lazy in the classroom and an underperformer.
In reality, I just couldn’t hold my attention for very long.
The mat gave me a new place to learn where I wasn’t scolded or given detention for fucking up. It made me enjoy learning.
Most of life is easier than fighting.
“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” — Dan Gable
I use “fighting” broadly here.
Whether it’s wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, or any other martial art, most things in your life will be easier than trying to be great on the mat.
Even if they aren’t, training and fighting give you the strength to face most problems in your life.
You probably aren’t “built different”.
People always say “wrestlers are built different”.
This is bullshit.
What makes grapplers tough is nothing inherent in their psychology.
“Toughness” is built through training and rigid discipline. Don’t undermine your own hard work.
Anxiety is normal. Learn to deal with it.
I get anxious all the time.
Before every match. Before every seminar. In my daily life.
This is normal.
Anxiety is part of my life. Combat sports taught me to get really good at dealing with my anxiety.
How to balance.
If I just obsessed over training and competing as much as I wanted to, I wouldn’t be a champion. I wouldn’t reach my goals.
I’d be a neurotic dude who never slept and was chronically overtrained.
Hell, sometimes I still am that dude.
If I want a long career, I have to have some balance. Overworking and overtraining in these difficult sports taught me how to balance.
I guess that’s what eventually led me to write.
Being coachable is essential for success.
I wasn’t a super coachable wrestler. I didn’t do the things my coach said to do. I was a high school kid who thought he was invincible.
When I started Jiu-Jitsu, I felt like I had a second chance at being an athlete.
I decided to listen to my coach — intently. If you have a good coach, listening to them can change your life.
How to balance the ego.
If you have no ego, you won’t have the confidence to go out on the mat and win.
But if you have too much ego, that’s bad too.
Competing in grappling taught me the basics of balancing my ego. It taught me self-awareness, confidence, and humility, and how to use these traits to build a stronger mind.
No one owes you anything.
I used to get super mad if I’d train my hardest and not win. I thought hard work alone would give me victories.
This was an entitled way of thinking.
You must work hard to have a fighting chance, but you also must perform on gameday to win or succeed. That last part is what separates good from great.
When it’s all done, you remember the experiences more than the results.
It’s corny but true.
I’m 25. I probably have 5–10 years left of competing left if I manage to stay healthy.
My favorite moments aren’t necessarily the wins. My favorite moments are the moments where I’m pushing myself, going on adventures with friends, and giving back what I’ve learned.
My grappling career just became a high schooler.
When I started wrestling way back when, I was 12, a little chubby, very socially anxious, and most of all, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Hell, as I said, I started wrestling because my mom convinced me to after I got cut from basketball. 13 years later, martial arts are my job.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned over the years.
Other things to read:
This week’s premium article written by one of my Twitter friends—Ashlee Stoeppler.
Last weekend’s technical analysis, written by meeeee:
The next premium article will be out tomorrow morning!
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Have a great day 😊