BJJ / Grappling Tips: Comparing Your Skill To Peers. The Danger of Small Samples

Is the earth big or small?

Do you compare your grappling ability to that of your peers on the BJJ mat? Have you ever felt like you (or someone else) are not really worthy of your belt / achievement (irrespective of whether you felt you deserve more or less)?

Spending the last week observing maths teaching at a high school inspired this post. If you are trying to learn a skill and hence dedicated 2-5 hours / week to learning it and the teacher gave you a pop quiz at any random time and you scored say 18 or more out of 30 then you can smile and rest assured that you are learning enough to pass*.

It would be rude of me to come up to you and say that you are not really worthy of your grade or that you should be moved down to a lower-ability group.

Now look at the groups below.  These groups are theoretical representations of how 10 pupils may fare at a test with the maximum result of 30. This means that by most standards a score of 15 is a pass.
How would you feel if you scored 18 and happened to be in group A? How about in group B or C?

Nothing in your own performance has changed. You are still you, the curriculum is still the same, your score is the same and the test is still the same. The only difference is the score of others**.

If you score 18 in group A and compare yourself to others you would probably think that you are the bees-knees. Top three in your class and all that jazz. A proverbial “big” fish in a “small” pond. Meanwhile, an 18 score would probably make you feel like an average student in group C and, ironically, scraping by in group B.

The fact of the matter is that you are learning your chosen skill just fine. There is much danger in comparing yourself to others and, in all honesty, it’s kind of rude. The example above shows that your performance doesn’t change so you are, in essence, simple expressing envy at the success of your peers.

Just like in a classroom where all marking and assessment is done by your teacher, progress assessment in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should be left to your head instructor. He or she has seen it all. Most good BJJ / grappling instructors have been around and seen a wide variety of students so when they grade*** you they are doing it against the backdrop of a big sea of blues, purples, browns and ultimately black belts.

I understand that it's only human to do this. I am simply suggesting that you catch yourself the next time you do it. Simply smile at yourself and acknowledge what you are doing****.

*we are talking about passing here and not peak performance. An average purple belt and an elite purple belt competitor are two different animals
**if all three groups have the same instructor / teacher, there are questions that can be asked but that’s outside the scope of this article
***or simply give you advice about your performance. Motive for training and personal goals change the game! More on that in a future post
****something I learnt from mindfulness meditation so if you see me smiling on the mat after I get a proper beating you'll now know why


Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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SerenityNow! said...

Thank you for the insight.

Megan said...

So easy to forget...thanks for the post!

Liam H Wandi said...

Many thanks Serenity and Meg. I totally agree. This is so programmed in that we seldom catch ourselves doing it!