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Posted on November 4, 2021
It’s no secret that training BJJ is a difficult task.
Few who start BJJ will reach their first belt rank, and even fewer make it to black belt.
But what is it about BJJ that makes it so hard?
In this article, we break down the top 5 reasons BJJ is so hard.
If you train BJJ, you can relate.
If you do not currently train, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect on the arduous journey towards BJJ mastery.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is at its core an aerobically challenging activity.
During live rolling, hard drilling, and certainly during competition, you will be exerting large amounts of energy as you attempt your moves against a resisting opponent – or at least at a very high pace during drilling.
This cardiovascular exertion in BJJ is as challenging as any other intense aerobic exercise.
You will feel the burn in your forearms from hand fighting, gasping for breath after battling for position, and the deep fatigue and exhaustion after the finish bell rings and you lie on the floor mentally preparing for the next round.
Although this level of exertion is beneficial for aerobic health and mental toughness, there is no denying that the aerobic requirement for live BJJ training is a difficult aspect of participating in the gentle art.
Aerobic exercise aside, Jiu Jitsu is physically painful from an impact and injury standpoint.
Full contact grappling causes many impacts on the floor from different areas of your body, such as knees and elbows.
These impacts add up over time, resulting in bruising, mat burn, and sometimes swelling and bursitis.
Additionally, the pressure your opponent places on you during rolling results in similar bruising and poses a risk for torso injuries from compression, such as when you are under a knee on belly or mounted by your gym’s heavyweights.
During high paced rolling, your partner will often try to control you at the head and neck. This can add strain and other injuries to that area.
If you look at the course of a grappler’s training journey, you can expect at least one injury to the lower extremities, upper extremities, and neck by the time they reach advanced rank.
These injuries range from mild to severe depending on the circumstances and may be acute traumatic injuries or longer-term overuse injuries.
You can mitigate the injury risk to some extent by focusing on technical rolls and choosing safe training partners.
Nevertheless, there is still only so much you can do to avoid being injured by the inevitable impact in BJJ.
Finally, the random and chaotic nature of live grappling results in unpredictable injuries such as a fingers in the eye or other accidents.
This risk is inherent to the nature of contact grappling.
Of course, the submissions themselves in BJJ can be devastating when fully executed, so be sure to tap early and tap often to dodge the worst potential injuries.
Even a cursory understanding of BJJ reveals the depth of the overall art.
You can be a master in certain sequences while having only a basic understanding of other battles – for example, being a great guard passer but having less leg lock knowledge.
BJJ is an ever-evolving art, and as such, few players can claim complete mastery for any length of time.
At some point in your Jiu Jitsu journey, it will dawn on you that it’s virtually impossible to have complete knowledge of the art.
While this excites and intrigues some individuals, it requires a mindset shift for 99 percent of BJJ players who must decide to continue training BJJ even though complete mastery of BJJ is not in the cards for them.
This mentally and psychologically difficult aspect of BJJ is another element that makes training BJJ, especially long term, exceptionally difficult.
While mastery may be a fleeting goal, improvement in BJJ is possible for almost everyone.
The thing is, getting better at BJJ takes a lot of time.
A minimum of three days per week of training is a good baseline for most people to see steady improvement. In general, the more you are able to train, the better you will get in a given timeframe.
However, the time commitment goes beyond the typical 90 minute BJJ class.
You must consider getting prepared, driving to the gym, coming home and showering, re-grouping, and probably slamming a late dinner before bed.
While an evening training class may only last 1-2 hours, you must consider that your entire evening will revolve around going to the gym and returning from the gym on the nights that you go to class.
The immense commitment required for real long-term improvement becomes much more apparent the older you get and more life responsibilities you have.
For many people, carving out that time on most weeks of every year for the next 15-20 years is just not worth getting better at grappling.
The time requirement is a big reason why BJJ is so hard. However, if you can find the time to train, you will improve.
The final and perhaps most cliché difficult aspect of BJJ is the constant testing of your ego.
From day one you get smashed by people a fraction of your size – a humbling experience for anyone.
However, the real ego test begins a few years in – perhaps high blue to purple belt level.
This is when you are good enough to easily beat newer or lower ranked grapplers.
You are also now good enough to know exactly how bad you are.
Here is the thing…
Most advanced jiu-jitsu only ‘works’ against someone who knows enough BJJ to have real threatening attacks and proper defense.
The ‘counter-to-the-counter-to-the-counter’ only happens in BJJ when your opponent actually knows the first counter.
As you reach the intermediate and advanced ranks, you will see that the moves you’ve honed so well, perhaps even used in competition, still do not work against more advanced or elite students.
As a white belt, your passing and subs probably don’t work most of the time – so it’s not a shock when you can’t pass a brown belt’s guard.
After all, you can’t pass a blue belt’s guard, so why would you be able to pass a brown belt’s guard?
But what happens when you slice through the blue belt’s guard like butter, yet get swept and submitted when attempting the same pass on a brown or black belt.
That is the next level of ego testing.
At this point, you’ve put in years of mat time and are still getting submitted by people.
It’s easy to write off losses as a beginner…
But as you get better, the ego testing gets more severe, not less.
BJJ is hard because regardless of your current level, your ego will be tested, and you must learn to let go of attachments to winning and being better and simply embrace the art for what it is.
Regardless of your athletic gifts and propensity to learn, training BJJ is very hard.
Ultimately, there are no real shortcuts or ways to avoid this discomfort and challenge.
In fact, the difficult nature of BJJ is the very thing that makes training this art so rewarding.
So do not look for shortcuts, embrace the suck, and go hit those mats!
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