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Grappling with Your Emotions
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Grappling with Your Emotions

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As a culture, we don’t handle our emotions well.

We don’t try to handle our emotions. And even if we did want to handle our emotions, we don’t know the right way to do it.

Usually, we do one of two things without emotions.  We let our emotions carry us away, completely losing control to them.  Or, we try to sit on them and squash them, hoping that they’ll go away.

Neither is a good strategy.  When we let an emotion like anger or fear take over, we can no longer think logically.  We can’t analyze a situation, so we can’t find a solution to a problem.

In Jiu Jitsu, this obviously leads to disaster.  When we’re getting smashed and panic, we completely forget all that valuable information that could get us out of a bad situation.  We don’t notice that our opponent is off balance and vulnerable to a sweep. We don’t really notice anything, because we’re not thinking.  We’re freaking out.  

On the other hand, denying our emotions just doesn’t work.  If we try to squash an emotion down, it won’t go away. In fact, the more we try to push it down, the more powerful it becomes.  It’s like when someone tells you “Don’t think about zebras!” The only thing that you can suddenly think about are zebras.

If you’re rolling for the first time or competing for the first time and you feel a sense of panic coming on, you can’t just pretend it’s not there.  That suppressed panic will roar to life at the worst possible time.

Most of us have dealt with a sense of panic at some point in the early years of our Jiu Jitsu journey.  Some people deal with it throughout their lives. The famous actor Sir Laurence Olivier had a terrible time with stage fright and would vomit prior to every performance.

While we have probably moved past that panic stage, our newer teammates might still be there.  And we can help them by acknowledging that it happened to us when we were new to the gentle art.  It’s important that they know there’s a way through their emotions.

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Through” is the key word when dealing with emotions.  Like Sir Laurence Olivier, we have to get through the emotion so that we can perform.  By moving through his emotions, he charted a stellar acting career for himself. Had he not forged ahead and through his panic, he would have never been knighted.  

Likewise, if we allow our emotions to take control and they chase us off the mat, we have to live with the fact that we were weaker than our fear.  We have to go through life always wondering what might have been. That’s a lousy way to live, if you ask me.

Psychologists insist that we need to acknowledge those feelings of panic, and we have to let our new teammates acknowledge their own anxieties.  Once they are out in the open, we can begin to deal with them.  

If we are able to recognize that this panic is just an emotion and if we can recognize how that emotion is coloring our view of the situation, we can begin to look past our panic and understand our situation logically.

Many of us probably do this automatically.  We might feel a burst of panic when we first get smashed, but we take a breath, realize that we can still breathe, and—almost on its own—our feelings of panic begin to subside.  And once those anxieties ebb away, we begin thinking our way out of the problem at hand.

For our new teammates, this process isn’t yet automatic.  And we can be good and helpful teammates by allowing them to work through their stress without feeling shame.  It won’t help to tell them not to panic. We need to guide them through their panic. Let them know that we’ve been there.  Then, slow the roll down and coach them through the situation. By slowing the roll and guiding them to a solution, we are teaching them to move through the emotion, to a point where they can remember their training.

A lot of Jiu Jiteros say that this ability to work through emotions has helped them outside of the dojo, as well.  When we bring this skill to our family lives and our workplace, we can improve in all aspects of our lives.  

But we all begin with those same feelings of panic and fear.  Once we move past them, things get better. And the best way to celebrate that breakthrough is to help our newer teammates get there, too.

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