Pressure Bursts Pipes: Handling Pressure in Jiu-jitsu

A recent training session had me feeling all sorts of beaten down. This was one of my last training sessions as a brown belt. The Professor involved knew it was coming so he put it on me more than usual. The beatdown was so bad that I thought it was personal until I saw him do the same thing to one of my purple belts. I texted my professor asking him “WTF did you tell him??? He just beat the living $#!+ out of me! ” His reply was “nothing. Lol”

After that round was over, I volunteered another round. I got my ass handed to me again. I got up, fixed my uniform and thanked him for the training as I do with all of my training partners. He smiled and said “Pressure makes diamonds”.

“Or it bursts pipes”, I replied.

Of Diamonds and Pipes

I would argue that pressure is much more capable of bursting a pipe than creating a diamond. The reason why people do not make it very far in jiu-jitsu is because of the pressure it puts on all practitioners. Even now, as a black belt, I feel a lot of pressure: The pressure to get better, to train harder, to always stay a few steps ahead of my students while also, being of service to them above and beyond my instruction. The pressure has not been lifted but it has changed. To get to black belt, perhaps is akin to a diamond being made as opposed to a pipe being burst.

Handling the Pressure

For me, oddly enough, the lightest this “burden” has ever felt was when I was a white belt. It was easy to compartmentalize my feelings about training versus my expectations of myself because I knew that as a white belt, nobody expected anything from me. As a white belt, as long as I showed up, I was doing better than most other people who didn’t. As a white belt, all I wanted to do was learn. So learn I did despite the ass-kickings I took.

As I went through the ranks, I noticed the target grew larger on my back. The pressure to perform better got bigger with every belt. As a blue belt, suddenly, I could not get submitted by white belts for fear of humiliation. Also, as a blue belt, the pressure to try and outperform purple belts emerged. These were thoughts and ideas I imposed on myself, but at the end of the day, I would base my performance on how I fared against others.

Over the years, this psychological barrier continued to grow. I put more and more pressure on myself everyday to be better than everyone else. I was always humble enough to know my place, but competitive enough to beat myself up over my short-comings. The pressure may have come to a head just a few days before receiving my belt, one short week after the annihilation I received.

In many ways, I am happy about this beating I took just two weeks before my black belt promotion. It represented to me that no matter how close I felt to the top, I still had much further to go. I knew that my black belt was close and this was exactly the beatdown I needed to keep me humble and remind me that the belt would only cover “3cm of my ass” –the rest I would have to “cover myself”. So it goes, taking the advice from the words of Master Renzo, I received my belt and pledged to continue to work hard and always know my place, thus always covering my own ass.

Being a Diamond

You will face a lot of pressure, mentally and physically. The real and imagined pressure will both drive you into the ground and create quite a few burst pipes in process. Most of your peers will choose to abandon it after some time, suggesting that “life got in the way”. This may be true for some, but the reality is, the pressure to perform, to be consistent and to continue showing up becomes unsustainable. At a certain point, leaving jiu-jitsu alleviates the pressure, allowing them to return to normal life. The true diamonds are made from the practitioners that stick it out, regardless of life’s circumstances.

The immense pressure of jiu-jitsu can burst pipes or it can make diamonds. If you continue to learn and always improve yourself over the person you were before, you have a much better shot than forsaking knowledge in order to compare yourself to others. Practice humility and always remember that no matter how good you get, you still don’t know shit. Handle the pressure with grace and the rest will take care of itself.

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