When I was 14 years old my grandfather passed away, leaving me his guitar. I had always wanted to learn to play and now had my grandfather’s instrument and blessing. As I began to learn about playing guitar, I was given a lesson that I’ve carried through my life and apply to anything that really matters to me. My instructor said “I can teach you how to play some chords and perhaps how to finger pick some songs very quickly. However, if you’re goal is to actually learn to play the guitar…really play it, you’re going to have to immerse your life into it.”
As I continued with my lessons, he began to explain further. Going to classes was good, but not good enough. I would need to surround myself with influences of guitar. Of course I had to do the basic scales, committing them to memory, but I also needed to explore and create as often as possible. I had to develop friendships with people that played guitar, so that I could play with others and learn from them. I was encouraged to seek out the instruction of many different people, so as to have the broadest exposure possible. I was taken to many concerts, so that I could witness first hand the true masters of music. Finally, I was challenged to play in front of people so that I could learn to handle that stress.
I still play guitar to this day, though life never turned into more than something I share with friends or during the occasional musical that I’m asked to play in for various organizations. Regardless, it became a permanent part of my life (and now the life of my children) and it all started with immersion.
Now, in the middle stages of my life (37), I’ve been blessed to discover Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, currently holding a blue belt under Rodrigo Vaghi. With running my own business, tending my own herd of alpaca and taking care of two young children, I do not have the time that youth once offered. Even still, I approach BJJ in the same manner as I did guitar.
Going to class is paramount. There is no doubt about that. Without the life blood of constant technical improvements, drilling basics and learning new and more interesting things, none of us would remain in BJJ. That being said, BJJ has to intersect at more points of your life, if you want to truly master it. You need to watch instructional videos, read books about BJJ and watch competition footage (if not live events). You need to become friends with people that are into BJJ, doing things outside of class. That way, people will know and actually care when you are gone from training. You need to seek out instruction at other locations (after speaking with your instructor), while on vacation. I love dropping in on other schools to fellowship with the brotherhood of BJJ. Finally, and this is not an absolute, I think people should compete at least once in order to find out if competition is for them. I think too many people assume that it is not and miss out on a another great intersection that BJJ has to offer.
Ultimately, it was this immersion mentality that has helped BJJ to become a fixture in my life. A few years ago, I injured myself and, if not for this immersion, I very easily could have quit BJJ. However, the art was intersecting so many different parts of my life by that time that I still felt connected, even when I couldn’t be on the mat. As a result, I was hungry to come back and took the time to study old competition tapes and really break down some of my weaknesses, so that I’d have a full agenda when I returned. As this immersion continues, it can encourage you to change other parts of your life, like health and nutrition. I’ve actually gone from around 280 to 210 lbs since starting BJJ, just from the encouragement that the BJJ community has offered me. My children are also becoming involved and that has been a great bonding experience between us.
Admittedly, this is the opinion of a blue belt, not long in the game. That being said, if you look around at the higher belts around you, you’ll likely find (as I do) that they have engaged and are engaging in the exact same immersion activities that I’ve mentioned here.
The author: Allen Tate