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BJJ and Life Lessons: Solving Problems

I would like to share with you some things that I learned in jiu-jitsu, and how these things can be applied in life. These are life lessons I learned through BJJ. One of the most important things I learned as a BJJ practitioner is how to deal with all of life’s problems, big and small.

Problems Come in All Sizes

Before we can solve a problem, first we must understand the size of our problem. Most of the time we think that our problems are too big, but that is never the case. We just have different levels of problems. Just like in jiu-jitsu, sometimes you might have to fight against high level black belts, and sometimes you will fight against people with less experience than you. You will always have different levels of opponents in jiu-jitsu, just as you will always have both big problems and small problems.

Think of your “small” problems as the preparation for the bigger problems… just like your “small” Jiu-Jitsu battles against lower belts help prepare you for your big battles against higher belts. However, big or small you must pay attention to both. Just like you can never underestimate an opponent, you can’t underestimate a problem. No matter who you’re dealing with, you must always have some respect for him/her. No matter how big is your problem you must solve it.

Every day we have many small problems in life. Think about all the very small problems you have daily and you’re able to solve even without thinking about it. Even though those problems are super small, if we don’t solve them, they can turn into bigger problems later. For example, if I eat and don’t brush my teeth afterward, I can get cavities. If I still don’t do anything about it, maybe I’ll lose my teeth one day. And do you know that poor dental health can lead to heart disease? You must solve the small problems right away, or they can become much bigger problems that are much harder to solve.

Preparation is Key

Another thing that you must understand is that you have to prepare yourself for your life battles. With anything – jiu-jitsu, school, your job, anything – without preparation, you can’t be successful! It’s that simple. Why do you go to college? It’s to prepare you for your next job. Studying is preparing you for when the real situation comes… it is like training for a competition! But just studying is not enough. You must pass through experiences, because experiences are what will give you the feeling of timing, and help you take action at the right moment in order to solve the problem.

What about when a problem happens that I’m not prepared for? What do I do? This is just like when you’re a white or blue belt and a black belt world champ calls you out for a roll. There will be times you have to deal with a partner (or a big problem) that you’re not prepared for. But after that, you will think about what you did wrong. And maybe you did so many things wrong during that roll that you got smashed and you tapped. Later, you’ll will have the opportunity to ask someone with more experience to help you see and analyze how to solve those problems in the future. So you must think that without those very hard rolls, you won’t be able to grow.

In life, it is the same way. You will have problems that you might not be able to solve by yourself, and you will need to have those with more experience than you to guide you. Can you learn by yourself from your mistakes? Yes, you can, but it is much easier with help. Imagine a white belt trying to learn things by his him or herself.

You see what I’m trying to say? I want to show you that we are all white belts in certain situations in life, and sometimes we must to ask for help. It is hard for people with too much pride to do it. If your ego is too big, you’ll be in trouble a lot, because you will commit the same error over and over again, and this will slow your progress.

Communicate to Control Your Problem

In Jiu-Jitsu, if you don’t control the fight from the beginning, if you don’t solve the small problem right away, it will turn into a bigger problem later on. It is important to start with the small things: having a good stance, making correct grips, controlling the grips, simple hip escapes, technical stand ups, break falls, etc.! For example, if you don’t have a good stance, even before you touch your opponent, you are setting yourself up to get completely dominated. Or if you lose a grip or let your opponent make a grip, or if you don’t know how to push and pull and use that grip, it can cost you the fight. At the end of the day, whoever is controlling the grips better, is controlling the fight.

In life, we must face our problems, and try to understand them in order to control them better. It’s like when I try to know all I can about my opponent, it helps me control him easier. Then, during the scramble I won’t be surprised by his attacks.

Sometimes our problems can happen simply because we lack control over the situation. This is common when we lack experience with the situation, or we don’t understand it well enough. For example, if your problem is with a person, the way to “control” the situation and solve it is through communication. Sometimes we judge others by their appearance, or assume what they are thinking, even without knowing for sure. Then that causes problems between you and him/her. I believe this is one thing that we struggle with the most. Our lack of communication with others, or misunderstanding (because of a lack of communication) can cause serious problems. So, it’s important that if you deal with people in life, you must always try to keep good contact and good communication.

In Jiu-Jitsu, good communication is important to avoid making mistakes during your rolls or fights. You need good communication with your coach, you have to be engaged during classes, and you need to pay attention to the details. If you have a question you need to communicate with those who have more experience than you. This helps you to understand the situations better when you are rolling live. Also, the fight itself is a type of communication between you and your opponent. You must be “listening” to what your opponent is doing or trying to do, so that you can anticipate the attack and defend.

Problems are Opportunities

It’s important to think of problems as great opportunities to learn and grow in different aspects of life. I see problems as ways of getting better and learning, of knowing more about myself. I see them as opportunities to become a better version of myself. The way problems can become opportunities is that they can help you recognize your failures.

If I don’t recognize my mistakes I wouldn’t be able to solve my problems, neither in jiu-jitsu nor in life. As soon as you understand that a problem happened because you did something wrong, intentionally or unintentionally, you need to recognize that you made that mistake, accept it, and learn from it.

Most of our problems happen because of pride. Sometimes we think that we are always right, or that we did nothing wrong. Our ego won’t help us solve our mistakes and keep them from happening. For example, if you’re fighting and someone armbars you. You need to recognize you made a mistake and “give up” (tap) right there. If you don’t, and you let your ego get in the way, your arm will be stretched and hurt badly, or it might even get broken. In jiu-jitsu, when you don’t recognize your mistake you can get hurt really badly.

In all areas of your life, you need to recognize when it’s no one’s fault and that it happened because you did something wrong. That’s an opportunity for you to grow, to look inside and figure out the mistake you made. You can’t have an ego and blame that mistake on other people or things, or you won’t grow. Or worse, you’ll create even more problems for yourself.

Problems Prepare You for the Future

What about when my problem is out of your control, like a health problem or a car accident?

Let’s say you have a health problem. First, you will need to analyze if you got this problem because you were doing something you were not supposed to do, or abusing your body in some way. Let’s say you have a heart problem. You need to ask yourself if it is something hereditary or because you were eating crap. If is the second option, you have to recognize that you must to change your lifestyle. But if it is hereditary, then you have to follow the doctor’s advice, and keep moving forward and do what needs to be done so you can keep living life. In this case, your doctor is like your coach in jiu-jitsu. You will need to have the discipline to listen to him/her and do your best to make sure to do what he/she says.

What about if it is a family problem? Maybe it is something like: “my father used to abuse me, that’s why I don’t trust anyone.” You have to recognize that you are judging everyone because of an experience you had with someone close to you, someone who should have given you love. You can’t blame others because of an experience you had with one person. You have to recognize that this is not good for you. You have to see that if you don’t take that problem off your shoulders, you won’t be able to move forward in life.

You have to understand that a problem you had is in the past, and, in a way, it has prepared you for the future. Even though it was a bad experience, it can prepare you to never do that same thing to anyone else. Or maybe you can even use it to help others to learn how to keep living life. Trust me, you are more prepared for life if you can forgive and move forward. Understand that this problem was kind of like a tough training session. Even though it was tough and you are sore now, it is preparing you to be a better jiu-jitsu player in the future. Forgiving is kind of like tapping. No one likes to tap during training or fighting (especially if you’re competitive), but you will need to just take it out of your heart and “tap out”. Know that it won’t hurt you; instead, it will heal you.

Never Turn Your Back on Your Problems

Jiu-Jitsu is the only grappling fight that teaches us to never turn our back towards our opponent. Sometimes you will have people attacking your back simply because you decided to face your back towards your opponent. If that happens you must be patient, defend it, escape and get back to facing your opponent face-to-face. When you turn your back in jiu-jitsu, you have to understand there’s a risk that you will probably get attacked. Maybe your opponent can choke your or squeeze your belly with a very strong body triangle. When that happens, you will suffer the pain. Or you might go to sleep if you don’t tap to a choke, for example.

Just like in life, if you turn your back towards your problems, you can get choked out. That problem will become so big that you can’t fight it, and it will hurt you. Just like you must always try to face your opponent, you must always try to face your problems. If one day you turn your back to a problem, you will always have it on your mind, and maybe the problem will come back and start choking you. If you need someone to help you, don’t be afraid to ask for it! It’s like your coach telling you what to do with an outside perspective while you’re fighting. Just do your best to follow their guidance.

Maintain a Good Mindset

During a problem situation, you can be on the better side of it or the worse side… Just like during a fight. At any time, you must remain calm and patient, but at the same time aggressive about tackling your problems. If you don’t take the action right away, the opportunity can pass. Also, some problems take a little longer to be solved. But no matter how long it takes, you must keep pushing to solve them. Problems solved always lead to a better life!

Also, in jiu-jitsu, you are focused on finishing the fight by submission. That is your number one goal. You must have that same mindset in life: always try to submit your problems. And when you do it, always move forward. Just like in training, when you tap your partner, you shake his/her hand and start over again. After solving one problem, another one will come. Always continue on, keep moving forward.

Finally, you must always have fun. We do jiu-jitsu because it’s fun, and we enjoy training or competing. Just like in jiu-jitsu, we find joy in submitting or tapping our opponent, we should also feel joy in solving our problem. The joy comes naturally because of the feeling of achievement. It’s like if you hate answering emails. You can hate it, and be unhappy during the day, or you can love it… because you feel like you are moving forward solving problems. Each problem solved should be a reason for joy! So, when you finish solving a problem, reward yourself. Remember: a problem is not a problem but an opportunity to grow!  

Learn more about Andre Galvao’s Journey HERE.

Listen to Andre Galvao’s Pro Tips HERE.