Sitting outside on my deck… being quarantined doesn’t seem so bad. The sun is shining. the sky is blue, it’s warm outside, but it’s a bit breezy. It doesn’t seem like the world has ground to a virtual halt since it’s such a beautiful day outside.

I’m holding it together. I’m grateful that I’m still employed. I’m exercising every day, roughly structuring parts of my workouts like: upper body push, upper body pull, lower body quad dominant, lower body hamstring dominant, then conditioning with kettlebell swings.

I feel stronger already, but there’s a monotony to only getting better at the “physical attributes” of my body, which is only one part of my overall goal of being the best grappler I can be. There’s also the monotony of having to watch technique videos, but no real way to apply the techniques learned right away. You can’t simply “mentally train” your way to great jiu-jitsu, you have to be able to apply it at the right time on an opponent who is trying to do the same thing to you. Maybe that’s why it feels incomplete. The joy of rolling (sparring) is the intersection between these two elements: the physical and the mental.

It would behoove me to prepare more of the mental side… I’ve been slacking. It really is one half of the game. The difference between me at purple belt and me at white belt are not physical attributes. The difference is the application of the techniques I have learned over time. I would probably do to white belt Mike that I felt the receiving end of when I first started. For 6 months, I walked into triangles and armbars since I pressured in so much. It was a habit from wrestling that died hard. Some white belt competition videos from 7 years ago came up in my “Facebook memories” feed, and I can now confirm this.

A happy medium for me seems to be watching my competition footage. It is part analyzing technique, and it is also part narcissism because it is me in the video that is actually trying to perform the technique. There’s something to trying to work out what I remember experiencing at the time, as well as trying to see other opportunities or details that I may have missed in the heat of the match. Watching film of my matches is also relevant because the guy in the film plays the exact same game that I do! I watched a number of matches that I lost over the last year and found mistakes in each one of those matches (obviously). I never felt strictly outclassed technique-wise by people my belt rank; I have always been competitive in each of my matches.

It’s interesting that in training, I feel more of a technical challenge than in competition. In training, you’re mixed in with a variety of belt ranks. When I was a white belt, anybody blue and above could destroy me. Now, almost 8 years later, I compete and do well at purple belt, I give brown belts a good roll but they still have a step ahead on me, and Black belts can still do whatever they want to me. That’s the humbling part. I’ve come this far, but I still have so far to go. I think that’s the growth curve of jiu-jitsu and why it’s so hard: it is exponential growth.

Each belt promotion may represent “25%” of your path to black belt (white to blue, blue to purple, purple to brown, brown to black), but the technical development between each promotion is much more than the previous one. You learn how to learn better and you grow your established game over time. As an upper belt, it is easier to add on a technique to your game if you already know the 6-10 techniques that lead up to it. It’s just one step off your beaten path. At white belt, you’re trying to grasp at disjoint techniques that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, and for the technique you don’t know, you fill in with energy and physical attributes.

Which brings me back to physical attributes. In order to apply technique effectively, you need a baseline of physical attributes. Your body must be able to do certain things in order to perform the techniques correctly. This baseline raises higher and higher as you progress up the belt ranks, and especially when you’re a competitor, you never want to be weaker than your opponent, it just sometimes works out that way. As the famous powerlifter Mark Bell says, “strength is never a weakness”. So in this way, the quarantine is forcing me to raise my baseline of physical attributes, which have probably been lacking since I’ve been focusing so much on technique and getting to purple belt. The physical attributes and more importantly, habits that I develop during this time will allow me to chart a course for the physical demands that are required of me for the next belt and level of competition.