Being competent at things is one way of creating confidence, and my experience is the more things we can be competent in, the more solid one’s confidence. That is not to say it will not shake, but when the entirety of one’s confidence is built on a single thing, this is littered with problems. I learnt this the hard way after going ‘all in’ and consequently failing in the attempt to chase my competitive dreams in Thai Boxing over a decade ago. I trained with the sole intent of winning and this left me with a traumatic brain injury, depressed and full of angst. Digesting those few years made me believe there must be another way and that is ‘finding fun in challenge’. My vision with sport is about the value of competition and training for the vast majority of us that are not destined to become world champions because I believe the evolution and personal growth that happens as a by product can truly make lives better. I also believe in the ‘sharing’ as opposed to the ‘possession’ of knowledge, because this is better for everybody.
My personal backdrop of my experience explains why the ‘fight to win’ mentality doesn’t motivate me but it is also my reason for wanting to refamiliarize myself with this mindset from years past. I felt ready to see what I can learn again, but this time with the intent of seeing the world through fresh eyes. So…. in I went for full on immersion in a fighters gym.
I came to Brazil by myself with no Portuguese and a total of 2 months of Jiu Jitsu experience. I have spent the last 3 months training in two gyms in Florianopolis, Brazil; one is a social jiu jitsu non profit project which takes place in a school sports hall in one of the Favela’s and the other is a very machismo gym in the centre of town with a strong influx of Brazilian UFC fighters. Both have a very strong ‘train to fight’ and ‘fight to win’ mentality. Training is not for fitness; it is preparation for competition and creating champions. With the Favela project especially, this is not run with the typical commercial business model of pleasing customers, this is about generating medals and champions because this safeguards the success of the project. There are also no other free classes for kids, so it creates the perfect catchment – because there are limited choices for them.
I will not sugar coat the facts here; it has probably been 3 of the toughest months I have ever experienced. I’m not a particularly shouty loud person, so getting accustomed to being shouted at and criticised daily has taken a bit of getting used to. This however is standard Brazilian mannerism – it does’t mean anything; it’s just my British sensitivities needed to acclimatise a bit! Unfortunately, I’m not of the ‘I don’t care what people think’ camp of thought. I do care and I care deeply, far more than I should. Desensitising to opinion has therefore been hard, but very good for me and thank goodness for British tea and a sense of humour.
The paradox of this situation is whilst I’m sore and tired beyond belief and whilst training has not always been fun – I am improving and quickly. It therefore clearly fulfils part of the criteria on my list for success, which was to learn. So yes, I am better at Jiu Jitsu compared to when I arrived in Brazil. Here we also delve a bit deeper into the complexity of using ‘winning’ as motivation which I started to explain in a previous post ‘Why Medals matter’. The consistent theme on the Favela is the kids have fairly scarce access to money, education or family support. The upside of this is it creates a sense of community because people start pulling resources. Medals create status and respect in the community and so you can start to see how ‘winning’ can be a powerful motivator, because there is a lot more at stake for these kids. Training in Jiu Jitsu is a very good way for them to create competence and confidence because they are not going to get it elsewhere. The manner of teaching also needs to harsh because they need a lot of discipline.
I last wrote about this at the beginning of my trip as an observer of this system of creating champions, but I am now entrenched into it as a student and participant. Whilst I don’t always enjoy the mannerism of the class, because I’m not an unruly adolescent! it does earn medals and create champions for others. Even for me, I managed to earn two stripes (sub ranks) on my very white belt. I’m not good, but I am undoubtedly better at Jiu Jitsu. In my particular gyms, it is standard to remain as a white belt (lowest rank) for anywhere between 3-5 years and just to put this into context; the gym I trained at in Thailand, ran a white to Blue belt (the next rank) progression course over 3 months which would be unheard of here.
Next week I will compete at the South American Championships in Sao Paulo and ‘pragmatic realism’ is probably the best bit of advice I can give myself because I will have significantly less experience than the other girls. In the words of one of my teachers ‘Most likely you’ll get submitted (joint locked or choked)’. He’s not being cruel, he’s just being very honest, because there is more truth to this than not, which frees me up to go and enjoy the experience.
My training for this competition is almost done now and this is where I have to detach from the ethos of my gyms which values winning, because in the end we all walk our own paths and mine is a different one. ‘Training to win’ despite all the pitfalls, has taken me a long way this time round and I can undoubtedly see the value of this for others. Training methods are very much a product of economic, social and cultural issues. I am lucky, I have choice over how I train and how I choose to be trained. At the moment, I’m making weight for my competition, I’m tired and I have no idea what is to come in my experience of the tournament – so it’s really difficult to have any kind of definitive conclusion about how well this method has faired for me but I’m really excited to have the opportunity to compete. Whilst I am extremely sore, I am beyond grateful to have got to the start line of the tournament in a relatively fit and uninjured state and to have experienced what I have, because it really has changed my opinion in a number of ways.