GB Motivation: “There Is No Losing In Jiu-Jitsu”

This week on GB Blog we talk about one of the oldest and most shared quotes in the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu.
“There is no losing in jiu-jitsu. You either win or you learn.”
Attributed to Grandmaster Carlos Gracie, Sr.
What does this mean for the average Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu student?
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The primary philosophy contained in this short but profound sentence is about how we should look at the tapping or match losses that are part of the journey of jiu-jitsu.
All of us at one time or another – especially when you first start training and everyone knows more than you – experience periods where we are getting tapped and dominated by our training partners. And the feeling is even more acute after a loss in a competition match.
Self-doubt and discouragement enter into our thinking and can make us privately think that we have failed in our jiu-jitsu. That we aren’t getting any better. That everyone else is better than we are. That we feel like quitting training out of pure discouragement. These are private thoughts that most of us have from time to time.
However, as Grandmaster Carlos Gracie Sr. suggests, we can shift our perspective and look at “losing” or getting tapped as a natural part of our department in jiu-jitsu. EVERYONE who has trained jiu-jitsu has rolled with practitioners of a higher level and gotten humbled. And if it is not happening to you in your training, you need to challenge yourself more!
In fact, high-level combat sports athletes will proactively seek out training rooms where they will get tapped. They will move locations (often to a larger city) to a school or gym with a number of high-level training partners to push them beyond what they have so far experienced. Because they know that you are only as good as the people that you are rolling with.
Most of us have heard the biblical quote: Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”. We NEED those training partners who will push us further than we ever could have gone in a more comfortable environment. And in Jiu-Jitsu that means tapping a whole lot.
Looking at tapping in training as “losing” is a negative and self-defeating way of looking at an inevitable part of rolling.
Because it interferes with the most important objective that we want out of rolling – to improve our jiu-jitsu!
When we are afraid of tapping it stunts our growth. We tighten up in rolling for fear that if we try something new, we might very well fail and end up getting tapped. Thus, our experimentation and exploration of different positions are limited. And our growth is stifled.
For example, let’s say you learned Single Leg X-guard this week in class. You like the position and feel like it’s a good fit for your game. But when you try to work it in live rolling you get smashed and tapped several times. It is very easy to get frustrated and say ‘to heck with this!’ and go back to your comfort zone. Of course, whenever you try new moves you will mostly be unsuccessful at first. After trial and error, you will refine your technique and it will start to work.
But you need to “lose” before you can get good at that position and “win”. And this is hard on our ego. No one WANTS to go to class and get repeatedly tapped. But if we accept that the error part of trial and error is an indispensable part of training, these failures are much easier to take.
Look instead at your taps in training as experiments to see what works – and as importantly – does NOT work as central to the learning process.
How many times have you heard an interview with a professional athlete looking back at a tough loss say “In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me”? They say that because it identified an area of their skills that needed improvement. The loss also provided a powerful form of motivation. They promise themselves that they will NEVER be caught unprepared again.
So when you are the proverbial nail instead of the hammer, try to heed the advice of Grandmaster Carlos and look at it as a natural part of your learning journey.
Try new positions. Get tapped. Learn from your mistakes and try again. Grow in your jiu-jitsu.
See also on GB Blog: GB Student Question: “What do I look for in choosing a jiu-jitsu school?”
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt