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Expect the Unexpected
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Expect the Unexpected

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As we continue our studies of Jiu Jitsu—along with this thing called life—there are any number of people we can look to for sage advice: Bernardo Faria, John Danaher, Tom DeBlass, Batman.

Yep, Batman.  I’ve always admired his approach to dealing with his arch-nemesis, the Joker.  Defeating the Clown Prince of Crime requires Batman to “Expect the unexpected.”

It’s good advice in life—and in Jiu Jitsu.

Too often in life, we lock ourselves into a single reality because of our expectations.  And, just as often, we find ourselves disappointed in life because we expected a certain result and got something different.  

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For a long time, I didn’t consider myself “athletic.”  I wasn’t really big enough for football, and I definitely wasn’t tall enough for basketball.  Plus, my generally spastic nature meant that, when I threw a baseball, there was no telling where that sucker was going to go.

So, I wrote off athletics.  The result: I wasn’t athletic.  I assumed that my ill-fit for the Big Three team sports meant that I would never be athletic.  And I missed out…on the thrill of competition, the camaraderie between athletes, and a healthier lifestyle.

By setting my expectations, I put myself on a path that didn’t change until life gave me a swift kick in the backside and I decided I needed to try something new.

Our expectations can also poison the well when it comes to our experiences.  A television show’s perfectly-fine series finale can be ruined if we expected something else to happen.  Think about all of the trolls who spend their time griping because a tv show or movie didn’t follow the plot points they imagined it would.

Those shows and movies get praised by reviewers, but the troll can’t enjoy them because he expected something else.

Indeed, our expectations can be our worst enemies when it comes to our happiness.

Better to follow Batman’s advice and manage our expectations.  

This mean, first of all, recognizing that our expectations are just that: expectations.  And they are only expectations.  Reality is under absolutely no obligation to follow the script that we’ve mapped out in our minds.  And, trust me, reality won’t follow your script.

By recognizing that our expectations impose no obligation on anyone or anything else, we can begin to recognize that we are hoping to control a world that is uncontrollable.  If we’re realistic, we should understand that some things are simply outside of our control.

We can also begin to recognize the emotions that we are attaching to particular outcomes.  

The important thing here, is to detach ourselves from our expectations and keep ourselves open to other possibilities.

This applies equally well to Jiu Jitsu.  While lower belts will often telegraph their moves, higher belts will often use a bait-and-switch approach to their game.  If they’re hunting for a choke, they’ll first attack your arm, making you worry about armbars or kimuras. Then, when you’re not expecting it, they’ve suddenly locked down on your carotids.  If only—like Batman—you had expected the unexpected…

We can also miss out on victories because our expectations blind us to them.  If we walk into open mat with the expectation that we’ll get 5 submission that day, but, instead, we learn a valuable escape that raises our defense to a new level, are we going to consider that a bad day just because we didn’t tally 5 taps?  Sometimes, we do exactly that, just because our expectations dominate our vision. We can completely miss our own victories because we’re locked in to certain expectations.

A final danger of expectations is the way they can limit our abilities.  Lower belts can often hit walls in their training because of their expectations.  How many white belts never attempt triangle chokes because they expect to be unsuccessful.  They probably tried to execute a triangle once or twice during an open mat, didn’t succeed, and so wrote the technique off as one that “doesn’t work for me.”

Since they expect their attempts at triangle to fail, they stop attempting triangles and never develop skill with this basic submission.  Their expectation of failure has led to failure.

We need to manage our expectations on the mat and in life so that we can maintain the open minds necessary to learn more quickly and to control our emotions in the face of the unexpected.


John Danher is one of the few people to have athletes be successful at the highest levels in both Professional Grappling as well as MMA. He has systemized his approach to teaching,learning,and APPLYING his Jiu-Jitsu. Enter the System with John Danaher!

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