Validation in BJJ: Improving, Not Proving Yourself

By: Joe Hannan

You are good enough and you belong here. Let’s start with that. Let it sink in.

Starting Jiu Jitsu, for many, is the most difficult part of the journey. Continuing past blue belt seems to be almost as difficult, given the number of grapplers who turn into faces on milk cartons once they earn the faixa azul. Why? I suspect validation is a leading contributor to blue belt disappearances.

Jiu Jitsu can be a fantastic way of improving yourself physically and mentally. But what about proving yourself? Let’s start with an examination of motivations. Why did you get into BJJ in the first place?

If validation isn’t in BJJ, I suspect it also isn’t in outworking your colleagues, out-earning your friends and writing the great American novel.

Was it that you wanted to show that you are crafty and cagy enough to be cool under pressure, setting up traps for your training partners that they can’t see? Was it that you wanted to prove that you are tough enough, absorbing more training and more punishment than anyone else? Is it that you wanted a black belt wrapped around your waist in record time? Some combination of all of the above?

If the answer is yes to these or any similar questions, then you may have gotten into BJJ for validation. I write this as someone who only recently came to this conclusion for myself. I’m hoping I can save you a great deal of trouble and turmoil because you won’t find validation here. Or anywhere.Validation in BJJ: Improving, Not Proving Yourself

If validation isn’t in BJJ, I suspect it also isn’t in outworking your colleagues, out-earning your friends and writing the great American novel. You and I won’t find validation in idle praise from coworkers, likes of Instagram photos, or laughs at jokes.

Validation seeking in jiu jitsu is just as futile as it is in life’s other arenas. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. The more convinced you are that it lies in mastering one thing or achieving another, the more it pops up, whack-a-mole style, in another place you hadn’t considered. The only way to stop chasing it is to call it what it is: an illusion.

There is a fine line between proving yourself and improving yourself. The virtuousness of improving yourself can be infected by the virus of validation-seeking behavior. Suddenly what appears wholesome on the surface is actually a harbinger of dissatisfaction. If you find yourself wondering why BJJ suddenly isn’t bringing you joy, as I did, a good place to begin your inquiry is by examining your motivations.

If your motivation is to prove yourself, then congratulations, you’ve already done it. You did it by showing up, putting on the gi, and continuing to show up. If you have the courage to put yourself on the mats, then please revisit the opening line of this post: You are good enough and you belong here.

Accepting that for a chronic validation-seeker is no easy task. Trust me, I wrote that sentence for both of us, so I know how difficult this is. But it’s true.

Now it’s time to go about the real work improving ourselves, not proving ourselves.

Joe Hannan is a journalist and writer. You can find more of his work here.

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