7 Highly Effective Habits for Jiu-Jitsu NEWBs

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“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless – like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be like water my friend.”– Bruce Lee


Drinking From a Fire Hose

You’ve probably heard the expression before.  Meaning, there is so much coming at you, you can’t possibly absorb it all. But the best possible way to absorb water when you’re starting your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) journey? Be a sponge.

As you start out, you’ll be exposed to many new things:

  • Unique body movements
  • Wearing a heavy Gi or a rash guard for the first time
  • “Grips”
  • Unique positions (e.g., the Guard and it’s many, many variations)
  • Basic and advanced techniques (all of which will seem advanced at the beginning)
  • Different instructors and instruction methods
  • BJJ theories and application (i.e., sport vs. self-defense)
  • A myriad of different body movements (e.g., shrimping, bridging)
  • Joint pain
  • Being choked
  • Taped fingers and other body parts
  • Different training partners (all shapes, sizes, and……smells)
  • Physical and mental stimulus
  • Aches and pains (hello mat burn)

And that’s just inside the Academy!

By the way, ALL of this is GOOD STUFF!

But the journey within and around these things is like floating around the ocean without navigation. It can feel like you’re drowning while you’re just trying to doggy paddle around the sharks.


In order to make the beginning of your journey more productive and give it structure, I decided to share a VERY POWERFUL resource I’ve found successful in tackling my personal and professional life, and correlate it to BJJ.

Practice Makes Habits

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has basic, clear advice for people to implement in their lives. A framework for personal effectiveness.

It focuses on 7 primary habits you can develop to have effective human interaction.  One of the more popular phrases people use such as “Win-Win” stems from the writings in this book. (Editor’s Note: People misuse “Win-Win” all the time. Keep reading).

I decided to review the 7 habits and correlate them to the Jiu-Jitsu journey.  There are a lot of details behind each habit, so visit the link above to learn more.

  1. Be Proactive – We’re in charge. We chooseExcuses the scripts by which to live our lives. This means not blaming your surroundings, genetics, job, or dog for reasons you’re not able to train, or get better from training. You control your journey. Don’t fall into the trap that life happens to you – YOU make it happen. A solid article related to this habit was recently published at White Belt BJJ.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – Start with a clear destination in mind (set goals). All things are created twice: a mental creSlogan_BCAation and a physical creation. In BJJ, your goals should be to improve yourself everyday. Being a certain belt doesn’t mean the end of your journey. You should be learning and setting goals in a continual loop. Have you ever heard when someone gets their black belt, they say that they are just now beginning to learn? That’s your mindset. In BJJ, there is no end, only milestones of achievement.
  3. Put First Things First – Make training a priority. Responsibilities and your life will get in the way of even the most organized person. Make it a priowhite belt shrimprity to train. If you can’t train, you should be thinking about problems and how to solve them. Do your research by reading books or watching videos. Also, contextually, it could mean focusing the majority of your training on the Jiu-Jitsu building blocks and less on the esoteric or advanced movements. The old axiom, “you need to walk before you can run” will serve you well in the long run.
  4. Think Win-Win – Just to clarify, a “Win-Win” is when both people win. In business, this means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties.  When you train, it should be a mutually beneficial experience for you and your training partner.  HOWEVER, I AM NOT ADVOCATING A 100% WIN-WIN MINDSET!  I think for competition purposes, we need to adopt a “Win-Lose” mindset as well. Clearly, if you compete, your goal is not to make your opponent look good. Also, in a self-defense scenario, if negotiations fail, you MUST win to survive. That’s your mindset. In the Academy, you should find training partners that share this perspective. (Note: There are 4 other scenarios of winning and losing, but these are the most applicable to BJJ).cavaca-little-rock-leg-lock-bjj
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – In BJJ, you should do what you can to understand the art you are studying.  Use a notebook to capture notes, review them, and come back to the next class with a deeper understanding.  When you improve your understanding, you’ll be able to ask more insightful questions that are more meaningful to developing your understanding of BJJ.
  6. Synergize – This is the “two heads are better than one” idea. You should use the Academy and your training partners to create synergies. Like a laboratory, you should be dissecting, hypothesizing, and testing out theories to make them part of your learning. Some great resources for this I’ve found are the Creative Jiu Jitsu Facebook Group, and White Belt BJJ.
  7. Sharpen the Saw – To be effective, we must devote the time to renewing ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. This means making the most out of your time outside the Academy to renew your spirits and energies for BJJ. Pursue other interests, spend time with friends and family, read a book, watch TV, anything that will help you sharpen your saw.

Final Thoughts

Building habits takes time, patience, and practice. Being open to new things means you need to create the mindset of absorbing everything, keeping what is useful and discarding the rest. Being in a self-reflective state at all times will improve your on and off the mat flow. Like water.  But before you can be like water, be like the sponge.



Be like a sponge when it comes to each new experience. If you want to be able to express it well, you must first be able to absorb it well.” – Jim Rohn


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