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5 Hard Lessons On Confidence From Jiu-Jitsu
Confidence is earned, not given.
I’ve been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for 7 and a half years. Before that, I wrestled for 6 years.
All in all, I’ve been involved in combat sports for nearly 14 years. At 25, that is more than half of my life.
When I started martial arts, I was like many people are when they start them — I was shy, timid, and unconfident. My insecurities determined my identity more than my conscious efforts.
But you’ve probably read a story like this before.
You’ve read a “martial arts made me confident” article before.
Unfortunately, however, the reality is more complicated than that.
Martial arts are a powerful vehicle for building confidence, but most people do not actually become confident through martial arts. Most martial artists aren’t that confident. Most people aren’t that confident.
Here are 5 habits I learned from martial arts training that helped me learn to become more confident.
You can’t be confident if you’re lying to yourself.
There’s no striking in Jiu-Jitsu, so sparring doesn’t put you at great risk for brain injuries.
This is why one of the best parts about training Jiu-Jitsu is that you can test yourself in sparring nearly every single day.
However, at the same time, one of the toughest parts about training Jiu-Jitsu is that you are kind of supposed to test yourself in sparring nearly every single day.
This is a lot of tests.
Sure, it’s great to test yourself and learn your limits, test your abilities, and figure out what you need to learn to reach the next level, but the problem for many people becomes that this gets exhausting. It’s exhausting to constantly put your ego on trial in the training room.
It’s easier to sit back and rest on your laurels.
It’s easier to take a round off than it is to fight tired.
The problem is, the more removed you become from actually challenging yourself, the more false your sense of security and confidence becomes.
Before you know it, you’re lying to yourself about how good you really are.
Habit one: stop lying to yourself.
Once you’ve sorted out your relationship with your ego, you have to practice skill development without it holding you back.
Once per week, my Jiu-Jitsu training partners and I do a training session we call “leg day”, where we do specific rounds from basically every leg-locking position.
To give you some perspective, leg locks are considered to be one of the more dangerous submissions in BJJ because if done well, they can render your opponent physically unable to walk.
Yet still, my training partners and I do a whole training session every week where we just try to break each other’s legs.
There is a lot of tapping that occurs on leg day, but I can’t think of a single time someone has been injured.
This is because, during this session, everyone (both attackers and defenders) sacrifices their ego in order to train their techniques without injuring their partners. It’s a highly effective way to learn, and over time, you become more confident in your attack and defense because you learn your limits and develop new abilities.
By practicing without your ego holding you back, you’re able to figure out how much you really know and don’t know. From this, you can build true skill, and true skill leads to true confidence.
Habit two: start testing yourself in mildly risky environments.
Test your skills on bigger stages.
If I got a dollar every time someone I know told me they think they’d be good at writing online, I’d have enough money to clear out the snack aisle at my local convenience store.
This isn’t a knock on anyone, in particular, it’s just an observation.
Difficult things, like winning Jiu-Jitsu matches, writing well online, or running a business are much more easily talked about than they are done.
The problem isn’t that people lack the discipline to follow through on their big goals. I understand that life happens and sometimes you’re unable to do exactly what you say you’re going to do.
As someone with ADHD, one of the biggest problems in my life has been starting too many projects at once and then abandoning the ones that I didn’t see early success.
The problem is that every time you give up on a goal and refuse to push yourself, the trajectory of your confidence stagnates. If you do this enough, you will lose confidence.
There’s an easy solution: test yourself.
Try to do what you say you’re trying to do.
Habit three: put your skills on trial for everyone to see.
Teach other people what you’ve learned.
Teaching is a lot of fun for me because this is how the process of learning goes full circle.
In the training room, I go and learn new ways to execute more effective Jiu-Jitsu. After I master these techniques in the training room, I head off to the high-stakes, high-pressure environment of the competition and I try to execute my moves there.
It’s relatively easy to translate a technique or skill from drilling to live training, but it’s much harder to do this under pressure.
Once I’m able to do that, I am able to teach others how I do it. The reward for good execution is teaching.
Teaching also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Writing is actually a similar process.
Through writing, I’m examining the things I do in my life, and I’m explaining to both myself and the reader how I do them.
This helps both of us understand what we’re doing just a bit better and more confidently.
Habit four: share your knowledge.
This seems like a paradox, but in reality, “seeking failure” is the ultimate way to cement confidence in yourself.
Seeking failure implies that you are confident in your abilities and want to test them to the maximal level.
For a writer, this could mean something as big as submitting your first novel to a publishing house or as small as publishing your first blog post.
For an athlete, it could be as big as taking on the biggest match of your life or as small as pushing yourself in the gym to do that extra set — despite total exhaustion.
The important thing here is that if you haven’t failed, then you haven’t actually successfully found what you were seeking. Seeking failure is a way of looking for your limits.
Doing this gives you a very grounded perspective of where you really are in your skill development, and this gives you a true sense of security with your abilities.
This makes it easier to know the best way for you to continue growing.
Habit five: test your limits.
It sounds corny and it’s on every damn motivation poster at this point, but if you cannot do things confidently, it is very difficult to do them when there is any deal of resistance present.
Success requires confidence. Happiness requires confidence. Peace requires confidence.
Constructing your ultimate reality requires confidence.
Training martial arts taught me a great deal about building confidence — but it didn’t start out that way. At first, martial arts made me feel very insecure and vulnerable because it exposed how little I knew about defending myself and standing my ground.
These 5 habits helped me overcome that.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.” — Henry David Thoreau
In other news:
This weekend, I’ll be competing in the Submission-Only Series 185-pound championship in downtown Los Angeles. If you’re in LA, there are still tickets available for the event.
If not, you can catch it live on Flograppling. First match will be at 2pm Pacific Time.
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