Tonight, my drilling partner was a six month white belt. It was a rare opportunity to compare myself against someone other than an experienced blue belt. The two main things I noticed were that, in contrast to more experienced jiu jitsu practitioners, he felt far more tense and left a lot more space for me to potentially escape, had I wanted. Interestingly, I was able to verify these initial drilling impressions during sparring. It reminded me of when I first started coming to advanced classes as a six month white belt, and being destroyed by more experienced grapplers. I submitted him with an arm triangle, a kimura, and an arm lock. I also caught him twice in an omoplata sweep, and took his back at least once. I actually didn’t like the idea of so completely dominating an opponent, even though it gets frequently done to me. I sometimes find that my desire to win is in direct conflict with my sense of fairness. If I’m submitting my opponent too often, I feel the urge to hold back, and let them try to win some. Even more interesting is the psychology of grappling with upper belts. Most of the time, the reason I lose to an upper belt is that the upper belt has superior technique. Lately, I have been finding that my technical abilities are not that far off from many of the blue belts. For example, tonight, I passed the guard of a blue belt, threatened him with an arm bar, then mounted him. Here’s where my sense of fairness undermined my efforts to finish him off. This is a person that has demolished me on a number of occasions. Now that I had the upper hand, part of me felt a bit of cognitive dissonance. This is a fancy way of saying that part of me, at least in that moment, felt it would be selfish of me to win. Winning against him might cause him to loose face, or cause him to start to doubt his abilities. What’s more, he will be competing in the world jiu jitsu championship in a few weeks, and I didn’t want him to loose confidence on account of a lucky win on my part. As a result, once I got the mount, I didn’t fight all that hard to keep it. Rather than trying 100% to submit him, it’s almost as if I wanted to let him off the hook. This is the mental aspect of jiu jitsu. In addition to perfecting my techniques, I also need to learn how to give myself permission to win…even against upper belts. Not only will it allow me to take my jiu jitsu to the next level, it will also help my opponents to get better, since they will have to fight that much harder to stay ahead of me.

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