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Why Jiu-Jitsu? (Part 3: Growth through Failure)

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Why Jiu-Jitsu? (Part 3: Growth through Failure)

Why Jiu-Jitsu?

(Part 3: Growth through Failure)

By Ted Chittenden 2/24/2022


Growth through failure


Failure is just part of life, but it is critical for our growth and development both in Jiu-Jitsu and in our personal lives. The most important element of failure is that you first had to have tried. Just trying, especially something new, is a victory in and of itself. It is a demonstration of your courage and desire to grow. This should be something we celebrate, not used as a deterrent from trying again and trying other things. The second benefit of failing, is that we can learn something, ask the question – why did this not work?


"I have not failed 10,000 times.
I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work”.
- Thomas Edison
“Failure is success in progress,”
- Albert Einstein
Jiu-Jitsu takes time to learn, and even more time to develop the cognitive and neuromuscular abilities to do jiu-jitsu fluidly without too much thought. The first time we attempt an arm lock against a resistant opponent, there is a good chance it will not work. Do we just give up and say, “this doesn’t work”? No, we think about what we attempted and where we may have missed a detail or timing. Maybe we seek the assistance of our instructor to help us see what we missed. Then we practice it, and then practice it some more.  Then we will start to catch people with the arm lock. Then do we stop and say I have this mastered? No, we start to apply it against better opponents, and the cycle continues. This is a normal process in the study of Jiu-Jitsu. It helps us to accept that failure is part of the process and gives us an opportunity for growth and development. It isn’t a very complex process, and it works for jiu-jitsu if you follow it, why wouldn’t we apply it to other areas of our lives?


Fear of Failure

One of the major reasons people struggle to grow, learn new skills, and try new things is a phenomenon called fear of failure (FoF) or in clinical terms, it’s called atychiphobia.  FoF is an illogical and enduring fear of failing, that surfaces in certain situations, and in some cases, it could be a result of some other mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. This surfacing of fear can result in increased anxiety, avoidance, the feeling of loss of control, feelings of helplessness, or powerlessness. Left unaddressed can cause the individual to develop low self-esteem, lack of motivation, become self-sabotaging, or even feelings of shame. All of which are counter to individual development, and overall health.


Fortunately, Jiu-Jitsu can help us overcome this fear and set us up for enduring growth both on and off the mat. In cases of significant mental health issues certainly visit a qualified health care provider, but Jiu-Jitsu may still help even the most extreme of cases and will certainly help the typical person who has mild FoF. Jiu-Jitsu helps the individual learn that failure is not the end, it is just a step along the path to greatness.  This development will build tremendous confidence and resiliency. The good news is we practice and re-enforce this process every time we step on the mat.  There is a common saying in Jiu-Jitsu, that there is no losing, you either win or you learn. Although a lot of people say this, I don’t know if they give it the due diligence it deserves.  This is a critical aspect and/or approach to learning Jiu-Jitsu, but also towards life in general. Embracing this concept, and reinforcing it through regular practice, can transcend all aspects of your life.


FoF can be identified by:


-       Reason 1: Thinking you do not have the skills or knowledge to succeed.

The good news is you didn’t know anything about Jiu-Jitsu when you started but were able to accept that and start your journey; you can do that in other parts of your life as well.  Jiu-Jitsu gave you the blueprint to do this.

-        Reason 2: Procrastinating so much that you don’t perform well and finish things on time.

When you practice Jiu-Jitsu regularly and, on a schedule, you support the development of self-discipline. Through Jiu-Jitsu, you see in a short amount of time how that discipline yields positive results, you learn that new move, you catch your training partner, you get promoted, etc. If you take these lessons into the rest of your life you will help to eradicate procrastination in your life, and your productivity will skyrocket.

-       Reason 3: Telling people that you will probably fail setting low expectations.

As your Jiu-Jitsu journey continues, you will have small wins all the time, plus you will have small failures. You will learn to embrace the wins and learn from the failures.  You will see that your potential to learn jiu-jitsu is limitless.  You can apply this to every part of your life and achieve things far beyond what you have ever imagined.

Reason 4: Worrying that imperfections will disappoint others or make them less of you.

Jiu-Jitsu will grow tremendous amounts of confidence, which will be supported by your teammates. Sure, this feeling might surface if you lose a tournament match, but that is where your coach and teammates come in, they are there to support you. We all have imperfections; it makes us who we are. Just like we learn to apply and adapt our Jiu-Jitsu to different body types, we can learn to overcome any of our imperfections through adaptation and experimentation (and sure while we are figuring it out we might fail – but we will learn).


Fear generating growth


1. Failure creates remarkable change. If we chose to learn from our shortcomings and seize the opportunity to grow and improve. It is easy to lose motivation, but if we use it as a tool to re-set our perspective, then we will have substantial improvement, on and off the mat.

2. Failure builds resilience.  The more we learn to change our mindset about failure the stronger we become.  Start with the little things, such as “that armlock didn’t work”. We know it needs improvement, we make changes, and it gets better.  These small victories will better prepare us for when life gives us a bigger challenge.

3. Failure keeps us humble. Jiu-Jitsu will humble us all; in a short time we learn just how “not so tough we are”. We accept it but are reminded every time we train with someone better than ourselves. We get to the point we seek those who are better than us. Same goes for you personal life. Failing reminds us, that we have areas of potential growth. Often if we avoid new things and only do the things, we are good at, we build false confidence and possibly an inflated ego. People with inflated egos have difficulty connecting and building relationships with other people. How valuable will you be to your organization, if all your co-workers dislike you?

4. Failure is illuminating. When we try to solve complicated problems, it is difficult at first.  Sometimes we step away from it for a moment and suddenly the solution presents itself. The answer just comes out of nowhere.  In Jiu-Jitsu we are presented with complex problems all the time and add to it they are presented under pressure (literal pressure). We learn to stay calm and find a solution, maybe we learn this after being in that position multiple times and trying multiple things. No compare how easy that problem is at work in relation to trying to solve an equally hard problem on the mat, while someone is crushing your head. That work problem isn’t so bad, is it?

5. Failure accelerates growth and development.  Failure prepares us for the unknown things that lay ahead. We have developed confidence, resilience, interpersonal skills, and complex problem-solving skills through failing at some small part of Jiu-Jitsu every day. These skills help us remain agile to all the things life puts in front of us, good, bad, and everything in-between.


So let’s go train, learn new things and bring those concepts with you out into the world and make your life better as you maximize your potential.




Check back for part 4: Community and emotional intelligence.





Previous additions:


Check out:

1) “Why Jiu-Jitsu” Part 1 (Self-defense perspectives) https://madsciencejudoandjiujitsu.com/blog/131659/Why-Jiu-Jitsu-Part-1-Self-Defense-Perspective- 


2) “Why Jiu-Jitsu” Part 2 (Beyond Fighting)


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