At some point you will encounter fear. If you get involved in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Fear in BJJ will be a frequent visitor. Maybe it sets in when you are going into a BJJ tournament; Maybe fear locks you up when it’s time for live rolling. In any case, you are not alone. We all feel this emotion at some point. Let’s take a moment to establish the basics on overcoming fear.
What is Fear in BJJ?
There is a theory that ability to fear is part of our genetics. Hundreds of thousands of years ago human beings lived in small tribes and they lived short and uncertain lives. Humans genetically developed certain features that made the environment easier to survive in. This is evolution. These new features assisted us in staying alive.
Biological features like:
- binocular vision
- opposable thumbs
- a tool making brain
- increased endurance
All of these features served a purpose and so does fear. It keeps us clear from dangerous situations.
Without the genetics, humans were not afraid of natural predators. That ultra brave (or stupid) genetics were quickly removed from the small tribe gene pools. So in this context, a fear of large predators was a sensible thing.
My bungee jumping experience
I have an intense fear of heights. If I am in a high rise building, I cannot get near the glass windows. In fact, fuck everything about that. Just thinking about it causes me some anxiety. Taking the southern highway in Lake Tahoe (which is cut into a cliffside) causes me absolute dread. But one time when I was about 18 years old I tried bungee jumping from a crane. When I was on the ground I could feel a small amount of anxiety build up in my gut. I put on the harness and triple checked all the webbing. The technician connected both carabiners to my ankle harnesses.
As the crane lifted me, I could feel the fight or flight response set in. The ground looked dangerously far away. Stomach muscles clenched. My grip on the jumping platform tightened. Feet where positioned right on the edge of the jumping platform. My mind started to make reasons for not jumping. I remember clearly thinking “Why the fuck am I trying to jump off this perfectly good platform”, “What is wrong with me?” My mind was actively engaging ‘Flight’.
Then I became aware how stupid the justifications were.
“I am safe. Stop thinking and jump.”
I said to myself. I jumped. My stomach launched into my chest. I fell for what felt like 10 seconds. The adrenaline shot into my heart and brain. I felt the bungee slow my descent down to a comfortable slowing speed. As they lowered me onto the massive air mattress (like the type that stuntmen use in movies) the adrenaline felt great. In this moment, I could see the whole situation very clearly.
Here is what I learned from facing my fear of bungee jumping. Fear is an acronym that stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real”. I first heard this from Gary Busey back in the nineties. I’m making a joke but there is some truth here. Your mind is making up shit to make you stop engaging in a potentially dangerous event. This is the ‘Flight’ in the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. When fear sets your mind will give you two possible options. You can run from the problem or take it head on. The negative consequences are an opinion made up by your subconscious to get your conscious mind onboard.
To put this back in the context of Fear in BJJ, in the time of small tribes of people confrontation was most likely a dread inducing activity. Not winning in a confrontation in the small tribes most likely resulted in exclusion from the tribe.
Now what people actually fear is a learned or conditioned behavior. Not all people will share the phobia of being in a BJJ tournament match. It does not mean that they do not have fear. In this day and age, fear or warning biology is not as useful. And this is why there is such a negative connotation associated with fear.
Fear in BJJ: The Solution
Let’s step back to the modern day BJJ match. You are prepping for your match. Adrenaline is racing through your veins. This is your subconscious mind is prompting your body with fight or flight response. Irrational thoughts race through your head. A voice in your head is saying something to the effect that this is a real fight and the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. That voice is looking for some way out of this. We all get this emotional response. What you do in that moment defines who you are.
Face your fear, head on. I didn’t say this would be an easy solution. This is act of building character. This standing up to your fear is better known as bravery. Through the practice of fight over flight you can build up a resistance. By doing more and more matches you dull that negative voice. By engaging in BJJ match after match you come to the realization that your fears have no logical basis. The matches are not dangerous and you are actually quite safe.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on the subject:
“Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. And that is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
Fear-Jitsu. I had to say it.