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Updated: Apr 3, 2023

We’ve all been there before in life. We’ve reached that breaking point where we want to give up or say, “I quit,'' or more relatable in the Jiu-Jitsu world, utter the word, “tap.”

But, we don’t realize that at that very moment, we say, “tap,” surprisingly, we are inviting the chance for growth and development to occur. In everyday life, we tend to think that tapping out means we quit or we are a failure. Tapping out can also mean we’ve reached a point where we can’t go any further. We have reached our maximum threshold—the moment, however, where major change can occur.

If we look from a half-glass-full rather than a half-glass empty lens, not being able to move any further does not automatically mean we’ve reached a dead-end point (a.k.a. one’s breaking point). But instead, we have reached a chance to find another way, another road map to arrive at our destination. Atomic Habits author James Clear states that failures are simply “data points.” He means that for every failure we have, he urges us to use that “failing” moment as important information and a stepping-stone for improvement, a chance to revise the plan. A popular saying in the martial arts world is, “You either win, or you learn.” This saying speaks to the choice (as James Clear would agree) we all have when we are at our lowest points. We can give up, or we can get up and keep going. Motivational speaker Les Brown once said, “If you’re going to fall, fall on your back. If you can look up, you can get up.”

As a psychologist treating people struggling with mental health and substance addiction as well as actively competing in sports Jiu-Jitsu on both the local and master world levels, I have heard many stories and personally experienced the challenges of fighting through failures, our “rock bottom” points. What I have found is that what separates those who climb up from their lowest points and continue to make forward progress compared to those who stay stuck in the same place boils down to—how one thinks. Whether it be someone battling through anxiety or depression, a person struggling to get sober, or working to earn the top spot on the tournament podium, the process in which a person reflects on a setback or failure is a major gauge of how successful they will be at becoming a better version of themselves as a result of the failure. In other words, it is finding, in any loss, the silver lining—the knowledge that rises above the darkness of defeat. I can honestly say some of my most important life lessons on and off the Jiu-Jitsu mat have emerged following a loss, setback, or failure.

Moreover, to move towards the best version of ourselves in any arena of our lives, we must embrace the words that TV evangelist TD Jakes advises to a person struggling to succeed— “Master Your Breaking Point!” He means that we must fight past that point where our self-defeating mindset can make us believe that we have maxed out on our potential. Essentially, telling us to take off the gloves and give up. For many of us, when something hurts or is uncomfortable, we falsely conclude that it is our endpoint. In fact, it is in those times when we need to “tap into” our reserves and push beyond our outermost limits.

When Bruce Lee was asked by a reporter how many push-ups he does, Master Lee replied, “I don’t start counting until it starts hurting.” Another saying I discovered related to the push beyond our discomfort was when I came across a picture frame in my co-worker’s office that wisely said, “Life begins where our comfort zone ends.” Lastly, suppose you have bench pressed or performed a challenging exercise movement with someone pushing you a few extra times when you can’t do any more on your own. In that case, we know that those last few repetitions we completed beyond our thresholds counted the most and made the most difference. Physically, they were the ones that tore down our deepest muscle fibers to make way for growth. Mentally, they were the ones which we proved to ourselves that we still had more in our mental gas tank.

This lesson of moving towards and not away from what makes us feel uncomfortable is present in all our lives, most obvious in the areas where we thrive. For instance, if a person is a successful math student, that person needs to go the extra mile, do additional math problems, stay up a little later, or read the extra books to excel—all activities that push the limits of that person’s comfort level. My patients who want to succeed in their social anxiety need to face the situations and not run away from them altogether, which means continually putting themselves in social situations and not avoiding them as they will reach a level of increasing comfort over time. For Jiu-Jitsu students to reach a new level of progress in their Jiu-Jitsu game, they must be willing to put themselves in bad positions to find comfort in discomfort so that those positions will no longer be points of failure. For instance, if getting fully mounted is your worst fear, and where you get finished most easily, in training or sparring, that is where you ask your partner to start. Doing whatever you can to not get mounted is not feasible. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in that position (often in specific training by a super-fast, flexible 15-year-old orange belt). Each time you survive to the point where you can escape more easily, these moments of success will happen only if you put yourself in those situations to begin with. I see it all too often, whereby people avoid their weaknesses, fears, or discomforts. At the worst moment, those areas they avoided often find themselves on center stage in the unluckiest times (e.g., not practicing how to escape a triangle choke). This same model (a.k.a. In Vivo Exposure Therapy) of facing our fears and discomforts can be used for nearly anything (e.g., fear of dogs, fear of heights, fear of planes, fear of competitions, etc.).

I, too, need to listen to my own advice and remember to push past my breaking points. Attending the competition class every weekend at GB Headquarters reminds me weekly about my max points. After an hour and a half of intense training and sparring (90 minutes has been my usual endpoint), my muscles begin to tighten, my asthma flares, and I am mentally drained. I then bring out my acupressure gun and sit on the bench, watching my peers fight for the last thirty minutes of class–pushing themselves to a higher max point. I often then ask myself if I am genuinely maxing my potential. Typically, taking off your gi top, belt, and safety gear puts you in the “safe zone” and no longer a candidate for sparring—not for Professor Philipe Della Monica. Several times, I will hear in the near distance, Eddie Bravo (my assigned nickname due to what I have been told by Professor Philipe, a striking facial resemblance similar to the legendary Jiu-Jitsu fighter and teacher), Let’s Go! Like a kid getting caught taking a nap in the classroom, I get up quickly, put back on my soaking-wet kimono, strap on my headgear, take one last puff of my rescue inhaler, and fist bump my next partner—all failed attempts at stalling. Professor patiently waits and smiles until I finish the shenanigans before resetting the clock to 8 minutes. What Professor is doing is pushing me beyond my standard endpoint—the time when my mindset tells me, “You’re Done.” Modestly, I sense that Professor believes in my potential and knows there is still more in my untapped Jiu-Jitsu gas tank. And as a competitor, I need to push myself to greater levels because my opponents are most likely training harder than me, maximizing their breaking points. Not surprisingly, this constant push is why he has a coaching resume inked with the names of several Jiu-Jitsu and MMA world champions. And, believe it or not, this extra push has humbly led me to find myself several times on the coveted podium block with a “1” painted in front of it.

So, the next time you are thinking about giving up or ending up tapping in life or on the mat, instead of mentally beating yourself up thinking a failure has taken place, view the moment as a path to tap into deeper self-exploration and a doorway to improve your blueprint—the strategy for a better you. We are all our architects and have to be experts on ourselves or “captains of our own ships.” One way you can continue to progress and successfully master your breaking point is by becoming comfortable with discomfort. Move towards, not away from it. Embrace it. Soon enough, conquer it to break through your former “giving up” point and move onto the next level in your Jiu-Jitsu game and life overall.

Blog written by Brian F. Licuanan, a Gracie Barra Purple Belt

1 Comment

Carrie Sylvain
Carrie Sylvain
Mar 30, 2023

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