The start of your jiu-jitsu journey is electric. Every time you come to class you will feel as though you’ve learned something brand new. After every session, you will feel more confident and more capable of defending yourself. If you are taking classes to also get back into shape, you will feel yourself getting leaner and stronger. You will recognize that you have more endurance. The rapid rate of change is intoxicating.
However, as the novelty of jiu-jitsu begins to wear off, you will begin to notice your rate of progress is slowing down. This is the tough lesson of mastery. As you become more skilled, you stop growing in leaps and bounds and instead begin to see more subtle improvements, and it can be difficult to come to class with the same level of excitement you did when you were just starting out and every move seemed so fresh. However, if you want to develop the skills you need to go from intermediate to expert, you need to be ready for the long haul.
The 10,000-Hour Rule
Mastery takes experience and experience necessarily takes time to acquire. This is true in athletics, martial arts, creative arts, or culinary arts. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, mastery comes after approximately 10,000 hours of practice. Unsurprisingly, Gladwell calls this the 10,000-hour rule.
That number of hours sounds enormous, but it translates into around 20 hours per week or between two and three hours per day. If one factors in the amount of time that most students spend not only going to class, but thinking about strategy, conditioning, and drilling at home, 20 hours per week becomes a lot more manageable.
The Seinfeld Method
Similar to the 10,000-rule is a method developed by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. According to software developer, writer, and aspiring comedian Brad Isaac, he met Seinfeld several years ago and asked him if he had any advice for a young comedian. Seinfeld evidently told him that the goal to becoming a better comedian is to keep putting in the work.
As Isaac later recounted in a Lifehacker article, “[Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.’”
The same is true for jiu-jitsu or any skill. Developing a routine means being persistent and putting in the hours. Eventually, your goal becomes not only developing a skill but staying true to the routine.
As coach Firas Zahabi of Tristar Gym in Montreal notes in the below video, it’s hard to stay motivated about something if you don’t have passion for it. True, anyone who has taken a few jiu-jitsu classes and liked it will probably have a passion for it, but the same is not true for conditioning. Even for someone with the dedication of Firas, certain forms of cardio workouts can be boring, and it can be tough to get excited about running on a treadmill or spending half an hour on an exercise bike.
Firas’ recommendation is to not feel as though you have to do certain kinds of conditioning if it feels like a chore. Rather than distance running by yourself, join an amateur soccer league or go to a nearby park and play a game of pickup basketball. Playing sports will help you stay fit and consistently be active, which will help with your conditioning. “Whatever sport you enjoy, do it,” he says.
More importantly, Firas notes that fitness helps create a positive cycle. “The more fit you are, the more energy you have, so the more you want to train,” he says. Conversely, it’s a vicious cycle if you aren’t constantly conditioning and you aren’t fit. You will have less energy, you’ll be less motivated, and you will end up struggling in jiu-jitsu class. This will make it significantly harder to be persistent and put in your 10,000 hours.
As Firas concludes, training is for life. If you’re going to do it, you need to enjoy it.