Jiu-Jitsu, Life, and Failure: the Progression of Success


When I was a kid, my father used to tell me…”Son, I don’t care what you do in life…just be the best there is at it”! I used to think, and I am sure he did too, that he was gifting me with the freedom and unconditional love to pursue anything I wanted out of life. And maybe that came through. In reality, however, I spent a good deal of my life afraid to try all those things that this freedom should have brought me because the idea of not being the “best there is” at it scared me to death. I had this idea that not being the best at something would be a complete failure. That “syndrome” haunts me, even today.

Hmmm...Might be a little heavy for an 8 year old....

Hmmm…Might be a little heavy for an 8 year old….

As of writing this piece, I have done a lot of things. I have written and recorded an album (sorry, CD for you youngsters) worth of alt. rock music, a piece for piano and flute in G minor, and a piece for string orchestra. I never looked for a publisher because I figured they weren’t that good. I wrote a book of poetry / short stories but never got up the courage to send it to a publisher. I quite playing competitive chess around the time I realized (or believed) I was never going to make 1700. I guess the moral is: I have quit a lot of things for fear that I wouldn’t be well received or that my efforts might have been seen as “less than perfect.”

Then came Jiu-Jitsu. When I first started training, back in 1996, I had the same mindset I have always had: be the best! Back then, a good night at the gym versus a bad night at the gym was determined by whether or not I submitted people more times than I tapped.

You don't have to be the best...Just get started!

You don’t have to be the best…Just get started!

I would love to say that there was a magical transformation and that BJJ “snapped” me into a new world where you “Win or you Learn”…but it didn’t. No, for about a year my happiness was determined by whether or not I was tapping guys on the mats.

Then, I took a break. A very LONG break! My daughter was born, I started working a REAL job, took two extra jobs to put her through private school and just didn’t have time for BJJ. Honestly, I didn’t mind it. I had something more important going on in raising my daughter. But then, one day…she was grown. Not only was she grown (mostly…she was about 16 at the time and had that magic wand known as a “driver’s license”) but she didn’t really want to spend much, if any, time with dear ole’ dad…she had more exciting things to do. I was divorced from my first wife by that point and had remarried about a year before. So there I was, with a steady career, a good salary, and nothing to do in my free time.

Enter Jiu-Jitsu. I thought, “Hey, why not get back into BJJ”? When I had stopped thirteen years earlier it had been my goal to test my self in the cage!

So I started training again and, in no time at all, I was tapping dudes again. It felt good! Except, sometimes I would come home bent out of shape and frustrated.

“What’s the matter”? my wife would ask, to which I would respond….

“I suck at Jiu-Jitsu, that’s what’s wrong”, I would say. My wife, of course, was helpless to respond to this sort of thing…hahaha, I laugh thinking of how crazy I must have sounded!

The realization that "failure" is empowering will set you free!

The realization that “failure” is empowering will set you free!

Flash forward to NOW. Six years later, I’ve quit my job, sold my four bedroom house, my GTI, my hot tub, my designer clothes and I am sitting in an apartment in Rio De Janeiro where I am living for four months to train Jiu-Jitsu under Mestre Ricardo De La Riva.

I am chatting with MY Professor via facebook saying, “BTW…my Jiu-Jitsu sucks”!

Hahaha…I laugh at myself now, but I was going in circles! As I said, the “syndrome” still haunts me today.

But in reality, when I look at where I came from and where I am at now, I realize how drastically Jiu-Jitsu has changed my life.

Just six years ago I was a calculator, an analyzer, the guy who wouldn’t make a decision until I was sure it was the BEST thing to do. In some ways that was good. People would say…”Man, Eric you don’t make mistakes, do you”? Sure, that kind of attention felt good, but the truth was, I was accomplishing so little, of course I was getting it right. And that is a very safe and comfortable way to do things. Bravo to me. (sarcasm intentional).

Flash forward: years on the mat have taught me that, no matter your efforts, no matter your preparation, analyses, calculation, the best plans WILL go astray. It is ALWAYS a possibility. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan, and prepare for certain situations, etc…but it has helped me to understand that learning through failure can lead to MUCH faster understandings and progression! It has also led me to this conclusion: Are you ready for this?

Edison's constant failures with the first electric light-bulb is a great example of the "Progression of Success".

Edison’s constant failures with the first electric light-bulb is a great example of the “Progression of Success”.

Failure is a poorly defined term! Failure is interpreted as meaning that you have tried something and did not succeed, which I guess in itself might be fine if we didn’t have such a short-sighted idea of the time-frame involved in this definition. You see, going for an armbar, missing it and getting side-controlled because of it isn’t a failure. Well, yes it is, but yet it really isn’t. It is part of the progression of success. This is what BJJ teaches us! As long as you try that armbar again, and again, and again, until it works then everything was a piece of the progression of success that you achieved! The only time failure ever truly exists is when we stop trying. When we stop trying, we BREAK the “progression of success” and that is when we fail.

This is the root of what I was thinking when I “tag-lined” my company, YoloBJJ, with the motto “Open Up and Play”. It was an effort to help people to understand that they truly had NOTHING to lose for the effort, both in BJJ and in life.  The true path to success is through effort!

I still surprise myself with the occasional frustrating night on the mats. Those nights where it just feels like you can’t do anything right. But after I get done face-palming myself and groaning through my teeth, I just have to look around see where I am, what I have been doing over the past year, think of the places I have been, the things I have done, and the great people I have met and I just have to realize that this is no failure. This is life! And it’s a great life! I really am living the dream! How did I do it? I just stopped being afraid of failure and started my own personal progression of success.

That’s what Jiu-Jitsu can teach you if you just let it. If you simply tell yourself: “Dammit, I am just gonna try this and get started on my progression of success!

That’s what Jiu-Jitsu has taught me (So far) 🙂

Open up and Play!

Oss, see you on the mats! I’ll be the one getting swept again as I try that De La Riva pass…again!





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