You ever have one of those experiences that you go into just to try something new and end up leaving with enough life lessons to write a book about? That’s what happened to me the other day.  Mark, A friend of mine, invited me to try out a Brazilian Jiujitsu class up at Allen Jiujitsu Club.  The closest thing I’ve ever come to Martial Arts is watching UFC or playing Street Fighter on Super Nintendo.

But it seemed fun, so I decided to give it a shot – especially since they told me they had a Gi (that traditional martial arts uniform that you see in movies) for me and a belt.  I had considered ordering a Blackbelt on Amazon Prime, lucky for me I didn’t.

I got there not knowing the first thing about the difference in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) versus any other martial arts.  In my mind, I was picturing round house kicks and breaking boards.  In my mind, I was going to be the next Black Bruce Lee.  It turns out BJJ is the exact opposite of that.  Rather than showy kicks and punches that look cool, it’s about grappling and using leverage and momentum to protect yourself and defeat your opponent.

Through my Hour and a half workout (that seemed like 100 hours because of how tired I was), I learned some valuable lessons.  Here are the four most important lessons I learned from BJJ that you can apply to your life.

Perspective is Deceiving

The first thing that struck me as odd was that in training when learning new moves, someone always starts with their back on the ground.  Common sense says that if you’re back is on the ground, you’re losing.  But BJJ thinks differently.  Mark explained that in 87% of fights in real life, the fight goes to the ground. Anyone can get sucker punched and end up on the ground, but what you can do with your back on the ground is powerful.  They helped me see that legs are stronger and longer than arms so though you may be on the ground and someone may be standing over you, you can still have an advantage.

That’s important to me because too often in life we think our “back’s against the wall,” or “we don’t’ have this or that,” or all of the reasons we believe we’re at a disadvantage.  But what if we learned that no matter the position we’re in, we have an opportunity and an advantage.  Train your mind to start searching for the opportunity.  If you’re a small company, you can change direction faster than a large company.  If you don’t have any money, harness the power of broke and remain resourceful to get what you need.  NO matter how “bad” you think life is, there’s always an advantage in being in your position.

Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight, it’s the experience of the fight in the Dog

In life, bigger may seem better, but it’s not.  Though I’m 6’4 tall, 245 lbs., it didn’t matter there.  Everyone was eager to “roll” aka spar with me because they knew something I didn’t – how to get the position they needed to get to win.  I may have more strength than most, but they knew how to use my weight and momentum to their favor and advantage.  I got a chance to train with 5-time world Champion Brazilian Jiujitsu, Joao Pedro, who happened to be training for a fight at the gym.  He weighs more than 100 pounds less than me and is about a foot shorter.  If you were a betting man, you’d pick me ten times out of 10 if you saw us and didn’t know how skilled he was.

They told me to grab him which seemed easy enough since I had a reach advantage.  As soon as I lunged for him, I don’t’ know what happened, but in a split-second I went from trying to grab him, to him falling back, pulling me on top of him and holding me in the air to the amusement of all at the gym.

Was I stronger? Yes.  Was I bigger and more intimidating looking? Absolutely.  Did it matter? No, because he knew what he was doing.  Experience beats genetics.  Training beats strength.  Knowledge beats brute force.  You may not be the richest, smartest, or most connected person in life, but you can always become a master of your craft and defeat the competition in any facet of life.

Life can Change Quickly

Before my class began, I was watching the young kids roll with each other.  At one point a kid was on top of the other one, clearly winning.  I glanced over for about 1 second and looked back and the situation had reversed itself. The kid who was getting beat, or so I thought, now had the other kid in an armbar choke hold type maneuver.

I didn’t see what happened, so I didn’t pay much attention until I got a chance to roll.  Several times I went from standing up to being in a compromised “tap out” position in literally less than one second.  Watching other fighters, I saw similar situations.  Some were in great positions but made one small costly error and the momentum and victory shifted to the opponent.

The lesson here is that you should never count yourself out just because you’re down.  Earlier we talked about training and knowledge.  When life gets hectic you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your training so train hard, study hard, practice hard.  When you become a master of your craft, you spot the opportunity, and more importantly, you know when to strike on that opportunity.

Create Opportunity for Yourself

Speaking of opportunity, Joao Pedro, or “Somalia” as he’s known due to the fact he was skinny and lanky when growing up in Brazil and looked like a Somalian, has such an inspiring story.  He’s here training for his next big fight, but I got a chance to talk to him and learn about him.

First, he’s not a big guy, maybe 5’5 135 lbs. if I had to guess.  He’s no Lebron James; I’ll put it that way. He wasn’t going to make it to professional sports via genetics and size.  But that didn’t stop him from finding an opportunity for himself.

If you watched the Rio Olympics then you know doubt heard about the “Favelas,” which were the equivalent of the worst hoods in America.  He grew up just a step above those.  Rather than participate in the violence, gang activity or drugs that his friends, (whom he said he count on one hand the number of friends he grew up with that are still alive), he rode his bicycle 7 miles to the BJJ gym every day.

Disciplined training and commitment afforded him access to fight outside of Brazil.  He turned that access to opportunity and began winning world championships and parlayed that opportunity into a career as a pro fighter, which is why he’s able to be here now.

In the same way, you can utilize your strengths in life and turn them into access to a better life, opportunity for a better future, and ultimately a career doing what you love.

Somalia does it, and you can too.  We may never be world championship fighters with Black Belts, but we can take the same discipline to our craft and create opportunities from it.  But we must truly commit.  We must live it; we must breathe it, it must be in our DNA.  As Somalia told me in his cool, thick Brazilian accent, “you have to be an example to someone.  Everything you say, you need to be first.”

Wise words from a world champion.


PS, Check out the Allen JiuJitsu Club and learn about how you can grant scholarships to kids to help fight bullying.

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