5 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Training Brazilian Jiujitsu

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

I achieved a goal last week that I’ve been chasing for close to a decade.
After eight years of training off and on, 600+ hours of mat time, five competitions, and three different academies, I finally achieved my blue belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu.
And what’s really meaningful is that I was given the belt by my professor, Marcelo Garcia, considered by many to be the greatest practitioner ever.
See Marcelo’s video here.
See, I’m a small and unathletic nerd.
This hasn’t been an easy journey.
I’ve been crushed by guys who outweighed me by 50 lbs more times than I can count. I’ve had my ego bruised from being tapped out by women and teenagers. I’ve lost way more competitions than I’ve won.
Not to mention that I took six years off of training and had to start over from scratch.
Despite the difficulties, I kept going.
This is one of the proudest achievements of my life.
If you’re not familiar with Brazilian Jiujitsu, here’s a video to give you a sense of what it is.
See the 2017 IBJJF World Championship here.
It’s a grappling-based martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. The goal is to control and submit your opponent.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to fight.
Every Asian boy dreams of being like Bruce Lee. My little brother and I would always get in trouble for practicing fighting moves on each other that we saw in the movies.
I begged my parents to let me train, but it was out of the question. They each worked two jobs and there just wasn’t enough time or money for me to take classes.
When I turned 25, I realized there was finally nothing holding me back!
So I started with Muay Thai (I’m pretty sure I was hyped from watching Ong Bak).
One day I was sparring and I got hit pretty hard in the head (accidentally). Nothing major happened, but that’s when I realized that I shouldn’t be putting myself at risk of concussions. Can’t damage the money maker.
I started researching other martial arts.
I was a huge fan of UFC, so I kinda knew that Kung fu, Aikido, Hapkido, and Wing Chun, weren’t effective. If was going to invest a ton of time in learning something, I wanted to make sure it worked in a real life self-defense situation.
That’s when I decided to try out Brazilian Jiujitsu.
I’m around 5’6 and 140 lbs.
I was attracted to BJJ because the whole system was created as a way for smaller people to have a chance against bigger opponents.
I’ve always believed that success leaves clues and that the best skill in life is learning how to learn.
I love problem-solving, and I love learning. Brazilian Jiujitsu gives me an outlet to sharpen my mental skills outside of business and marketing.
I want to share with you some practical lessons I’ve learned over the years from BJJ, that you can apply to your own life.
Most of these concepts aren’t new to me, but applying the principles in a different context from business makes the lessons stronger.

1. Focus on What You Can Control

I remember sparring a few years ago.

(Sparring is where you grapple against a person for around 5 minutes at the end of class. This is what makes BJJ effective compared to a lot of other traditional martial arts. You get to practice what you learn against a resisting opponent)

I’d been training for a close to a year and a newer guy came in. He’d only done a few classes and outweighed me by a solid 50lbs.
We started grappling and he destroyed me.
What the fuck?
I’ve been training for over a year and got destroyed by someone who has only taken a few classes. I wasn’t happy and started thinking about how much it sucks to be a smaller guy.
I sat out the next round and watched him go against someone else. She was a blue belt who was smaller than me.
For the next five minutes, I watched her steamroll him. She was using some of the SAME techniques that I was, except she actually choked and submitted him a few times.
That opened my eyes. I got destroyed because I sucked. Simple as that. I needed to sharpen my techniques.
It sucks to fail, and it sucks to lose. We’re too quick to come up with excuses for why we lose in order to protect our ego.
I’ve learned that it’s useless to think about the things that we can’t control. Instead, I like to focus on what I can control.
In the context of Jiu Jitsu, this means:

  • I can show up to class more often.
  • If I’m exhausted and tempted to sit out a round of sparring, I can push myself to do that extra round.
  • We get to select our partners when we spar at my academy.

It’s tempting to pick on the newer guys so we can destroy them. But if I choose the person who’s more experienced, I’m going to end up getting better.

These are all in my control.

It’s a waste of energy to think about factors outside of my control.
These same things apply to affiliate marketing and business.
Don’t waste energy thinking about the things that you can’t change.

They say things like, “Man, affiliate marketing was so much easier 10 years ago. If only I started back then.” Unless there’s a time machine out there, I don’t see what’s the point of complaining.
I remember talking to someone in class a few months ago.
I told him, man I wish I started when I was 18. He’s 50 years old. He told me “Man, I wish I was training at your age.”
It’s all perspective.

2. What’s The One Thing?

There are so many paths to success.
In Jiujitsu you can spend a ton of money on DVDs. You can lift weights. You can practice moves at home. You can do Yoga.
All those help.
But 95% of success is just showing up to class. It’s that simple. If you keep showing up to class you’ll improve.
That’s the ONE thing.
I’ve always preached the power of:

  • Figuring out the ONE thing that produces the most results
  • Figuring out how to do the one thing more

So, how do I show up to class more? How can I eliminate the things that prevent me from doing that?
When I trained in Miami, I only went to class twice a week. It took me 40 minutes to drive to the academy and class was 7:30 – 9 pm.
Basically, if I wanted to train I had to give up my 6:30 pm – 10 pm.
When I moved to NYC I found an academy with classes throughout the day, and I moved next to my academy.
I can train 5 days a week without an issue, whereas I struggled with training 2x a week in Miami.
I’m not training more because I’m more motivated. I’m training more because the behavior is 10x easier.

  • In affiliate marketing, you need to launch more campaigns.
  • Building a YouTube channel? Launch more videos.
  • Want to become an actor? Go to more auditions.

Find the 80 / 20 of the 80 / 20.

3. Laser Focus On Your Sticking Points

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you’re learning something.
How do you know what to focus on when you suck at everything?
The easiest way is to focus on “sticking points.” Yes you suck at everything, but what’s the one thing that’s really holding you back?
Imagine that there are fires everywhere in your home and you’re trying to put them out.
How effective would it be if you sprayed a little bit of water on a small fire and then switched to another fire before the original one was extinguished?
It’s a much better to find the BIGGEST fire, and focus EVERYTHING on extinguishing that one first. Then you move on to the next biggest one.
When I first started, I sucked at a lot of things in BJJ. It was tempting to work on everything at the same time. Instead, I focused on my biggest sticking point.
I would get stuck in the bottom of a position called “side control”  (the guy in the blue gi).

That was my sticking point.
So for an entire month, I wanted to fix my sticking point. I took a private lesson on it, and I watched a ton of YouTube videos on it.
I used the concept of deliberate practice.
I would have my training partners put me in that horrible position and then I’d do my best to escape. Once I escaped, we’d start all over again.
I’m not going to say I’m a pro at escaping that position, but that one month of concentration gave me a lot of insights that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Everyone wants to “grow their business” but that’s too vague. Figure out what’s the biggest hole in your business, and put all your resources towards it.

4. “You Fucked Up a Long Time Ago”

See Kurt Osiander’s Move of the Week here.
This is popular saying by black belt Kurt Osiander.
In BJJ, white belts want to learn how to escape from horrible positions. The problem? They don’t start reacting until they’re literally in the worst position possible.
Imagine trying to escape when there’s a 200lb guy on you. It’s possible but you have to use a ton of energy. By the time you’ve escaped, you’re gassed.
Instead, think about what happened at the beginning.
He’s on top of you because you let him establish grips on you, which he then used to pass your legs and get on top of you.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

If you’re in a bad position, you fucked up a long time ago. It’s way easier to prevent a bad situation from happening in the first place.
Here are some real-life examples:

  • Your employees are quitting. This isn’t the employees’ fault – it means you fucked up a long time ago. It’s such a pain in the ass hiring and training new employees, so you didn’t put in the necessary time.

You could have prevented the problem with some 1-on-1 meetings each month, listening to their problems, and solving the issues before they got bigger.

  • A lot of people don’t take care of their teeth. Later on, they have to deal with a lot of pain and $$$ to get them fixed. Man, you fucked up a long time ago. It’s way easier to brush your teeth daily.

Everyone is busy putting out fires.
It’s much better to build systems that prevent fires from happening.
Testing your sprinkler system is a lot easier than rebuilding your house that burned down.

5. Leave the Ego at the Door

Having an ego in Jiujitsu can hold you back.
A ton.
Sometimes I’ll get to spar against someone that has WAY less experience than me. I could completely smash the person over the next 5-minutes, but neither of us would really improve. Instead, I use it as an opportunity to work on moves that I suck at. I’ll let them get a dominant position on me and then work on my B game.
I’ve seen guys who got injured because they refused to tap. Why did they refuse to tap? Because of ego. They didn’t want to “lose.” The problem is that now they’re out for a few months and are missing out on a ton of progress.
A lot of my white belt teammates don’t compete. They want to “wait” until they’re better. What they’re really saying is they don’t want to lose, and that they’d rather wait until they get more experience so they have a better chance of winning.
But competition is a skill in and of itself. You need experience dealing with the adrenaline rush, the nerves, and maybe even cutting weight.
They wait too long and now they’re blue belts who have never competed. They still haven’t competed because the pressure is too high.
No one likes to feel uncomfortable, but that’s where growth happens.
Watch the ego…it doesn’t want to be challenged.

Why I Train BJJ

I spend 6 to 8 hours a week training. That’s a lot of time and dedication that I could be spending elsewhere.
Why do I spend so much time on this?
The first reason is self-defense.
I think part of being a man is the ability to defend yourself and your loved ones. I’ve never been in a fight before, and I hope that I never get into one in my life. But I know if it ever happens that I’m much better prepared.
I face a lot of stress every day, and BJJ is the best form of stress relief I know. We’re the descendants of warriors. Our ancestors used to team up and hunt wooly mammoths. We’re not designed to sit around all day, and it definitely creates stress. I use BJJ to release that stress.
It’s also a mental workout. I’m problem-solving every time I spar.
That guy keeps passing my guard? I need to evaluate the situation, brainstorm solutions, and test them. Oh man, nothing feels better than tapping out a guy who’s had your number for the past year.
And leaving BJJ class gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement that a typical workout at a gym can’t give.

Next Up: Purple, Brown, and Black

Last week I made a decision last week that I want my Black belt one day.
My life’s a little unpredictable. I’ve lived in 5 different cities in the past 7 years.
I have no idea if I’ll be married, if I’ll have kids, what my career will be, or where I’ll live. There’s a lot of uncertainty in my life.
But it is a little comforting to know that I’ll be pursuing this hobby. Like I said, focus on the things you can control.
If any of you guys are in NYC, stop by my academy. I’d love to train with you.

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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