Lessons From the Mats, Pt. 1: Being a Beginner


I started training Jiu-Jitsu in June of 2017 when my buddy, Jihone finally talked me into taking the plunge. It was after one of my first classes there that Teddy (the original owner of TwinTown and who was training with me at the time) told me that if I kept at it, it would make me a better coach. I believed him but didn’t really know what he meant by it at the time. Despite the fact that I still regularly feel like the biggest novice in the room when I go to class, these past two years have helped me understand a bit more about what Teddy was saying.

The learning process of most new endeavors involves a healthy serving of humility, for sure. But the parallels that I see between the embarrassment, frustrations, and confusion that I felt in my initial years in Jiu-Jitsu seem to perfectly mirror what I see in the new members I work with here at TwinTown. So, I wrote out a few of the lessons I’ve taken from the start of this journey so hopefully you can learn from them, and more importantly, so you know you’re not the only one who struggles with being a beginner!

“Hey, slow down! You’re not going to win.”

These are the words I was smacked in the face with one morning. I was training with a brown belt and was demonstrating the quintessential white belt/beginner move of trying to work as hard as humanly possible in an effort to pull one over on someone who had close to a decade more experience than I did. Anyone who’s been in my situation knows just how futile (and unproductive) that all-out exertion can be!

My training partner was by no means trying to be arrogant in what he said, but instead, just attempting to get me to practice what I urge so many of the people I work with to do: work the basics, trust the process, play the long game, and understand that you don’t need to “win” to be doing everything correctly when you’re starting out. There will come a time when working more quickly will surely be an advantage, but as you’re beginning, it couldn’t be more important that we remind ourselves of the importance in slowing down and building our skills on a solid foundation.

Whether you’re working to get your first pull-up or are just trying to not end up in an arm-bar within the first 10 seconds of every round, the principles are the same. We make progress gradually, not by trying to beat the people around us; and by working the tried and true methods that were passed down to us from the people who have already been where we are. Hard work is a vital piece of improving, but more goes into actually effectuating progress than just going as hard as possible.

“Some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail”

A classmate of mine responded with this after training a while back, and it has always stuck with me. He has a few years of experience on me and has had his share of successes in class, but the look on his face spelled out that he was undoubtedly referring to being the nail on that day.

No matter what it is that we’re pursuing—or how good at the feat we may feel or be perceived by others to be, being “the nail” is something we can all relate to. The win in this realization, though, is that having those days is just a part of the process. Didn’t lift as much weight as you had hoped? You still made it to the gym and worked out, right?! Success. Kept getting submitted in the same frustrating way, time after time? Soon—whether it feels like it now or not—you will start to guard against getting put in a position you don’t want to be in and will have learned from your experience.

It’s the days that we get beat (whether that be the perception of our performance or when we actually place behind someone else) that can make it seem like we’re doing everything wrong. Keeping in the front of our minds that no matter how frustrating a class, week, movement, etc. might feel, it’s realizing that overcoming the doubt and the urge to quit is where the battle is truly won. Learn from your mistakes, take the good days with the bad, and keep putting one foot in front of the other!

There are seemingly endless lessons I’m regularly pulling from my time training. More than the specifics of these lessons, though, has been the power I’m rediscovering in once again being at the bottom of the food chain as a complete beginner. If there was just one piece of advice I could pass along from my time on the mats so far, without a doubt it would be to step outside of your comfort zone and do what scares you. The takeaways you’ll gain from taking on what intimidates you far outweigh any initial discomforts you deal with in the process and will leave in your head the conviction that you are capable of seeing through what most people hide from.