Jiu-Jitsu Letter


John Danaher spoke about quitting jiu-jitsu due to boredom:

There are two ways you can leave in a gym. You can leave from adversity, where it’s too tough, or you can leave from boredom. Everyone talks about the first, no one talks about the second. Most people, when they get to black belt, they get bored. They know what their game is. They know what they’re good at and know what they’re not good at.

When they compete, they stick with what they’re good at and they avoid what they’re not good at. And they get bored. They reach a plateau. And that’s it.

My whole thing is to make sure it’s not so tough at the start that they leave because of adversity and then for the rest of their career to make sure it’s not boring so they leave because of boredom.

This is from an older Lex Fridman episode. I’d actually made notes about his thoughts on persistence, and how that’s the one virtue that’s indispensable, more than courage, strength, etc. (Go here for the full clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktuw6Ow4sd0&t=4923s)

But in reviewing it, his take on boredom making quitters was something I didn’t really think about the first time I watched the interview.

I think about some of the black belts I train with, and it’s true that most of them stick to what they know. It’s true of partners from blue to black, actually.

Recently, I was discussing with a friend how our teachers have probably forgotten more than we’ve even learned. But that got me thinking about how much I’ve forgotten. Some techniques that I used to use all the time just fell out of my game. And then when a lesson would come up about one of them, I’d think, “That was a good one! Why aren’t I using that anymore?”

And I think part of it is I almost want to forget (temporarily, anyway), so that I go on to something else. That keeps jiu-jitsu fun and challenging. I do have a couple of go-to’s, but maybe it’s a good idea to consciously put them on hold.

I understand why someone would not change their game. It’s because if they do, they go back a couple steps. But how is that not boring after a while? There are guys I train with that are so good at one technique that even though I know what’s coming, I can’t stop them. But I’m getting closer. And eventually, I will. Unless they change. But some of them, I’ve known for several years, and they haven’t changed. So I don’t expect them to. I only hope that when finally I catch up, they’re not so bored that they’ve quit.

In thinking about boredom and restarting, I was reminded of Louis CK’s tribute to George Carlin. Louis CK used to perform the same act for fifteen years and got nowhere, and then he learned that Carlin would start over every year.

So I was doing a Chinese restaurant called the Kow Loon in Boston, in Saugus, Massachusetts. And I was sitting in my car after the show, just feeling like this is, this was all a big mistake. I’m not good enough.

And I hate, I was, I felt like my jokes were a trap, and I listened to a CD of George, um, talking about comedy and, uh, the workshopping it and talking about it seriously. And the thing that blew me away about this fellow was that he just kept putting out specials. Every year, there’d be a new George Carlin special, a new George Carlin album. They just kept coming and each one was deeper than the next.

And I just thought, how can he do that? It made me literally cry that I could never do that. I was telling the same jokes for 15 years. So I’m listening and they asked him, how’d you, how’d you, how do you do all this material? And I’m like, yeah.

And I, and I hear him and he says, well, I just decided every year I’d be working on that year’s special. And I do the special, and then I just chuck out the material and I’d start again with nothing.

And I thought, that’s crazy. How do you throw away? It took me 15 years to build this shitty hour. If I throw it away, I got nothing. But I, he gave me this, the courage to try—and also I was desperate, what the fuck else was I going to do?—this idea that you throw everything away and you start over again.

There are more quitters at white and blue belt, and we typically don’t know a lot of quitting black belts, and I’m pretty sure 99% of quitters at white and blue are quitting due to adversity. But if you’re actually considering quitting because you’re bored, maybe just throw away your game and start over.

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