Dear Newbie: You’re Going To Be Okay

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Photo Source: Issys Calderon Photography

Congratulations! You’ve just put on the most important belt you’ll ever wear in jiu-jitsu: the white one.

You’ve attended your first few classes, you have a vague idea of what a closed guard is and how to pass it, and you only tapped out thirty times during your most recent training session.

Things are going great, right?

Well, maybe “great” is a bit of an overstatement. Starting jiu-jitsu actually sucks. You’re using your body in ways it’s never been used before, and it’s a bit confusing. You used to only have to know your left from right to hold a pencil in the correct hand or follow your GPS’ directions, but it’s a lot harder when you have to pay attention to where you’re putting your hands and feet in relation to someone else’s hands and feet. It’s like playing Twister, but the game is trying to attack you.

I bet you thought you were in pretty good shape, too. Maybe you were awesome at lifting weights, so you probably thought lifting people wouldn’t be too much harder. Perhaps at the very least, you were able to make it up a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing, so you figured rolling around the floor for a while wouldn’t be too difficult. Or maybe that was just me when I started.

You’ve found out by now that being in shape and being in shape for jiu-jitsu are two very different things. I know you’re sore in places you’ve never been sore before. How are those forearms feeling, by the way? Are you sick of gripping things yet? I don’t mean to worry you, but if you think it’s bad now, just wait until tomorrow. I hope you don’t have to do anything that involves getting out of bed.

Then of course, there’s the other type of pain. You don’t have to roll up your sleeve – I know your bicep is covered in bruises left by your new teammates’ fingertips. And if you think those callouses forming on your knuckles are bad now, just thank your lucky stars you didn’t have to learn spider guard during your first week. I wish I could tell you that the dull ache in your elbows gets better with time, but a more accurate statement would be that you learn to live with it.

This type of pain is different from the straight-up torture you’re experiencing when you live roll, though. It’s crazy how a 115-pound girl can feel like she’s 200 pounds when her knee is at just the right spot on your abdomen. Have you rolled with the guy who smashes your face with his shoulder when he’s got you in side control yet? Don’t worry, he’s doing things right, and once you get more comfortable here, you’ll be doing the same thing right back to him.

Let’s not forget about the part of you that’s taken the greatest beating of all: your ego. Whether or not you strolled into the gym thinking all that grappling they do in the UFC doesn’t look that hard, you’ve realized by now that it’s definitely tougher than it looks. If you haven’t already, you’re soon going to get beat up not only by the people who look like they could beat you up, but also by the students who are fatter, skinnier, smaller, everything-er than you are. And yep, that absolutely includes the women.

I know that right now, all of this seems overwhelming. Even terrifying. But I want you to listen (or rather, read) carefully:

It gets better.

Kind of, at least.

If you keep this up, you’re always going to be covered in bruises, and you’ll wake up just about every day wondering why that body part is hurting so much. Even after your muscles get used to the hellish, insane workout you’re putting them through when you train, you’re still going to have days in which it hurts to walk or lift a gallon of milk. You’re still going to have training sessions that mostly involve you getting destroyed by everyone you bump fists with.

But really, it gets better.

After a while, you get used to it all. Your pain tolerance will go up, and your fear of tapping out will go down. Best of all, you’ll start to see progress. There will come a day in which you’re the person making the new guy question why on Earth he’s putting himself through this. You’ll start tapping other people more than they tap you. You’ll be able to see a submission coming long before it actually happens, and discomfort alone won’t be nearly enough to make you give up.

I feel confident in telling you this because I’ve been exactly where you are right now. We all have. What you’re going through right now – the pain, the confusion, the frustration – is nothing unique. Jiu-jitsu is a long, hard road, and the beginning of it is particularly bumpy. But if you stick with it, it’s going to be one of the most worthwhile journeys you’ll ever take.

For now, though, embrace the suckiness. One day, when it all sucks less, you’re going to see another sparkly new white belt step onto the mat for the first time and watch as he goes through the same pain you’re experiencing right now. You’re going to smile to yourself, remembering what it was like to feel like you were drowning in your own sweat and misery. You’re going to introduce yourself and make him feel just as welcome and encouraged as your gym family made you feel when you first started. And then you’re going to destroy him the same way they destroyed you.

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