Business and Leadership Lessons From the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mats

In 2007, I was introduced to the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).  That introduction was humbling, to say the least, but my journey with BJJ has continued to teach me about life, business, and leadership over the last 15 years.

In the summer of 2007, I was driving to the Loveland Gold’s Gym for an afternoon workout.  As I drove to the gym, I passed a local mixed martial arts and jiu jitsu gym.  I had made this drive hundreds of times, but on this day, I decided I would stop by after my workout to see what this gym was all about.  I had no intention or interest in trying a BJJ class, nor did I know much about BJJ when I stepped in the doors; I just happened to arrive 10 minutes before one of their BJJ classes was about to begin.

As I walked through the doors, I was greeted by a young man named Noah. I told him I was interested in training, and he replied by telling me to jump on the mats and try a jiu jitsu class.  A little background, I was 27 at the time, filled with ego and attitude, and 200 plus pounds of muscle.   As I stepped onto the mats, Noah directed me to go and partner up with a young kid who looked to be half my age and was most certainly half my size.  Noah told me to go easy on him and gave me a firm pat on the back. 

Without much direction or instruction, this young kid told me we would begin the class by lightly grappling.  He told me that the goal is for one of us to take the other person to the ground, control them, and get them to submit by tapping out (this is where you tap your hand a couple of times on your opponent’s body, signaling that you are calling it quits). He reminded me multiple times that if any time during our match I wanted to quit, I just had to tap out. 

Sounded easy enough.  As I looked at this young kid, I figured it would be easy to manhandle him and put him to the ground and accomplish my goal of submitting him.  He and I slapped hands, bumped knuckles and I immediately attacked him.  I drove forward and grabbed him with all my force and strength.  As I did so, he fell to his back and elevated my body into the air, making me go upside down then land on my back.  He was now mounted on top of me, and I had no idea how this happened. All I knew is I had to escape.  I began to flail and flop my body around trying to escape.  I then pushed him off me in a bench press like motion.  He grabbed my arm, spun around the side of me, landed on his back and arm locked me.  As he continued to put pressure on my arm, I was forced to tap out, submit, and say “uncle”.

Eyes wide and mouth open, I was in shock.  How did this happen?  My shock turned to frustration and aggression as we slapped hands and bumped knuckles again.  This time, I attacked him with more speed, force, and strength.  I ended up on my back again with him on top of me.  I continued to try and shake him off me and this time I turned to my stomach.  As I did so, he wrapped his skinny little arms around my neck and choked me. As my world began to close in, I was forced to tap out again.

This experience was one of the most humbling ones of my life.  Believe it or not, I fell in love with BJJ that day, and continued coming back to train.  I have spent the last 15 years training, and the last 10 teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to adults and children.  Over my years of training, I have competed in many tournaments, and even have had to use jiu jitsu off the mats a couple of times to defend myself and my family. In 2019, my longtime friend and training partner, Troy Pettyjohn, and I founded NOCO Jiu Jitsu.

Jiu jitsu has taught me many lessons about life, business, and leadership, and I would love to share some with you in this blog. 

But Before we get into the lessons, here is a quick introduction/recap as to what jiu jitsu is.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art where a practitioner uses timing, technique, and leverage to outmaneuver their opponent.  A practitioner’s goal is to get their opponent to the ground, control them, take away their ability to move and escape, and ultimately make them give up (tap out) from a joint lock or a choke.  An opponent not tapping out would render them unconscious or with broken bones.  The idea of using timing, technique and leverage allows a much smaller and weaker trained opponent to ultimately control and submit a larger and stronger opponent.  For any of you that watch mixed martial arts and UFC, BJJ is what happens between opponents when the fight goes to the ground.  Think of it as a human chess match where your goal is to check mate your opponent.

 

Here are some of the lessons I have learned over my years of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:

 

  • Just like your jiu jitsu journey, your business and leadership is a journey that begins with taking a first step. You may have zero experience with business and leadership.  Just take the first step! It will be scary, it will be uncomfortable, but taking that first step is necessary.
  • The journey will be very humbling at the beginning. My first year of jiu jitsu I felt like a I was thrown into a swimming pool, not knowing how to swim, and had opponents trying to drown me.  I was just trying to survive.  I would come home night after night, beat up, humiliated, embarrassed, and ultimately shown how much I didn’t know.  Leadership and business will operate very much the same way.  As you step into this space, your lack of knowledge, your weaknesses, and your inexperience will show.  Understand that this will happen, and it’s ok! This is a learning process, and you will get better over time.
  • Consistency and frequency of training is important. As I trained over the years, I saw many people come and go on and off the mats.  Some would be sporadic in their training, and some eventually quit.  Getting consistent reps in on the jiu jitsu mats and in the leadership and business space is your key to growth.
  • You will be both the student and the teacher. Remember, there will always be somebody further along than you are. Ask them for help and learn from them.  Many times, they will be more than willing to show you what they know.  Also remember that as you grow and advance, it is your duty to show others what you have learned and help them progress.
  • Never compare your journey to somebody else’s. Make sure you focus on comparing your journey to your journey, and that you are always making progress and improvements.
  • You will hit plateaus in your learning and growth. Stay patient, keep training and pushing through them.  It is important here to try new things, ask new questions and look at your journey through a different lens.  As you do this you will experience breakthroughs in the plateaus.
  • BJJ teaches you how to handle insane amounts of physical and mental pressure, while remaining patient and calm in doing so. Life, leadership, and business are also filled with many pressures.  Being able to have a way to relax under pressure, and make the right decisions with the appropriate timing, is key.
  • The comradery built on the BJJ mats and in the business and leadership space is very similar. Quality people in the business and leadership space want to see others win.  They encourage, support, and help others along their path to ensure they win.  This is very much the same on the BJJ mats.
  • Remember the last and most important lesson. Your journey is never ending.  Once you arrive to the top of a mountain, there will be another one in front of you to climb.  Always take time to look back and celebrate what you accomplished. So many times, we are onto the next goal, the next mountain, and the next challenge, and we forget to appreciate how far we have come.

I hope this blog inspired and encouraged you to continue your business and leadership journey.  Please know I am cheering you on all the way!

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