Stubborn as a G.O.A.T.

As a guy, you’ve probably been told more than once in your life that you’re stubborn. What does that mean, exactly? Often it means that someone is trying to communicate something to you, but you aren’t listening in a way that convinces them that you’re actually getting it. This happened to me today in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class.

I’m a 51-year-old white belt. A few times a week I show up to the BJJ studio at 6am; learn some technique from my teacher (a purple belt); drill the moves with a partner; then roll with a fellow white belt for consecutive 5-minute sparring sessions. The guys I’m rolling with are in their late 20’s to early 30’s, and have been training for a few years; whereas I just started training this January.

Last week, for the first time, I unlocked a new achievement level — I got a guy to tap. This was overshadowed, however, by having then been rag-dolled all over the mat by a dude who stands around 6′ 1″, weighs 265 pounds, and has surprising cardio for a bigger guy. I feel shame remembering it. I sprawled around like a bitch ninny, mouth-breathing, absolutely gassed, tapping desperately, with my coach yelling, “Nah D, don’t quit, stay in there and SURVIVE this situation!”…. which I did not do. Instead I begged for mercy, whined that I couldn’t breathe, and looked like anything but the leader of an organization called “Man-UP! Life Coaching“.

To make matters worse, I missed my Wednesday session. Totally bailed on it. I have my reasons, they’re valid, but bottom line is that you’re either there or you aren’t; and I wasn’t. So today when I came to class, I was praying that the big dude I rolled with last time would be there. And he WAS! I thought, “Awesome, I get a shot at redemption.” And guess what happened today?

One: I apparently demonstrated that I was slow to learning a new technique the coach was teaching us. He politely suggested that when receiving instruction, I might want to just listen and “intervene less.” Nice way of saying shut the fuck up, I’m trying to teach you something you don’t know, and you can’t learn if you’re talking. So that sucked.

Two: I then rolled with big homie again, and YET AGAIN I freaking cracked under the pressure and tapped like a hoe wimp, and this time with all the upper-belts coming in for a REAL class. A whole audience of advanced BJJ guys watching me at my absolute weakest. It seriously sucked ass. It was made worse by my coach saying the thing about me not listening, even though he did compliment me on doing better than I had last time…. meaning that I survived longer, and showed at least some technique. Yeah great, thanks.

So let’s get back to being stubborn. Here are the ways in which I believe my stubbornness hurt me:

• I over-talked my coach, when I should’ve been listening. In fairness, there’s an argument for why I was “intervening”, but the bottomline is that my job is to learn the technique, drill the technique, and execute the technique. I shouldn’t be talking, except maybe to ask a question or two; but when in doubt, zip it.

• I tapped because I was gassed, and I was gassed because I was trying to use brute strength rather than technique. By now I should know better. In fact, I should probably have just sparred with the intention of lasting the 5 minutes, even if that meant spending the whole time conserving energy in a defensive position. After all, what I’m really battling with here is the fear of being compressed; so rolling with this bigger dude is an opportunity to practice surviving off my back, while keeping my breathing and heart rate relaxed.

This said, NOW let’s take a look at the ways in which my stubbornness is helping me:

• No matter how much shame I feel for missing a session, I won’t miss two in a row. I won’t be the guy who lets the voices in his head talk him out of continuing to train. I made a commitment, and even though my attendance hasn’t been optimal, I’m hard-headed and I keep showing up. This means that over the course of the year, my cumulative effort could still average out to a significant amount of mat-time, especially if I do pick-up sessions on weekends at some point.

• I will continue to roll with this big dude until I can do it easily. Right now it’s Friday, my next class is Wednesday, and at the end of class I got a verbal confirmation that he’d be there next week. I wish it were tomorrow. I’m dying to try again. And again. And again. I’m gonna haunt this kid. I’m not giving up until I can offer him a fair challenge.

• I really don’t like feeling like my coach is characterizing me as someone who doesn’t listen, or is any way difficult to train. This said, I can either choose to make excuses and blame him for being an inadequate instructor, or I can suck it up and get back in there and find a way to streamline this learning process. He thinks I talk too much? Cool. I won’t say a goddamn word. But one way or another, I will master these techniques.

As someone with a Jewish mother and Italian father, I tend to jokingly describe myself as “Jewish enough to know better, and Italian enough to do it anyway.” In fact, much of my heritage is rooted in Reggio Calabria, which is notorious for producing some of the most extremely stubborn (albeit passionate) Italians. Don’t believe me? Mention to an Italian that someone is Calabrese, and they will knock their head with their fist…. like knocking on a block of wood. And just like Southerners in the US, Italians from the South of Italy take a certain amount of pride in this identification.

Yes, I’m hard-headed. I may be slow to learn, and I may be an enormous pain in the ass along the way; but I will NEVER give up. You can bank on my tenacity. And if you think about it, anyone who has ever earned the title of G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) has this quality. This stubbornness. This refusal to quit, no matter how high the bar is raised. No matter how many times they fail. No matter how many times they are told that they suck. That they are inadequate.

Don’t be ashamed of your stubbornness. Instead, practice learning how to use it to your advantage. That’s the takeaway here.

– Dennis