When I posted about being able to physically do more in BJJ now that I’ve lost weight, Jean, a white belt, posted this comment:

To be honest, I still don’t know if 1) I really am unable to do it, 2) I don’t understand how exactly it’s performed, 3) I’m not trying hard enough.

I remember going to Ray Elbe’s seminar and he used the truism “If you don’t work on it, you can’t get better.”

I was watching Roy Dean’s “White to Black” video on his White Belt Bible app. Wow it was cool – I am so shocked when I watch black belts show off – they are like magicians – seriously amazing. I hope one day I can do that, because I certainly am not there now.

This morning I came across this picture:

Trusim? Platitude? Motivation?

This is where life gets interesting to the less physically gifted. How many people are cutting themselves short because they think they’re being “realistic?” How many people don’t even try because they look at something and make the blanket statement “I can’t.”How many of your “I can’t’s” are actually “I won’t’s”?

There are some things I will never be able to do, and there are some things I can’t do NOW. For example – I can now do 4 chinups. I can’t YET do 5. However, I will never be able to do a single pull up – it is an impossibility based on a physical limitation I have. When I was in 4th grade I broke my arm and now I don’t have full range of motion in my left arm.

I’m TRYING to turn my left arm so it is parallel to the ground, not perpendicular.

Up until I started doing Jiu Jitsu and weight lifting, this didn’t affect me in the slightest, save for having to chicken wing out my arm when I type. In weight lifting, it means I will physically always be unable to do pull ups, close grip work with barbells, and snatches. In jiu jitsu it means that I can’t defend some things the way I’m “supposed” to.

Nope, can’t fully defend on my left side.

Sometimes physical limitation is easy to see. I’m 5’4″ and if my partner is 6’2″ I can’t put my shoulder in his neck and reach his knee–my arms literally can’t reach that far. When I take someone’s back, I cannot control their left hand with my left. At best I can make a fist and push it away, but I can’t physically grab it because I lack the range of motion.

Unfortunately, it’s not always so clear to see. When I was a white belt, I couldn’t close a triangle – my legs were short, fat, and trying to stick another person’s head and shoulders through that tiny space – I just flat out couldn’t do it. It was so frustrating – trying to follow what people are telling me to do, having people physically move my body and STILL be unable to do it. But I kept plugging away at it, hoping something magical would happen – and it did! The magic of weight loss allowed me to close my triangles!

I think it’s easy for people to give up and say “I can’t do that” or “I’ll never be able to do that” when in actuality what they mean is: “I can’t do that NOW.” And if you never work on it, you’ll never get better. That’s a simple fact.

I started doing BJJ in my 30’s after 15 years of earning black belts in tv-watching, couch-sitting, and Tivo. After that much inactivity, the amount of things I couldn’t do THEN outweighed the number of things I could do. But I kept coming back, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve progressed, even if it’s not at the same rate or speed as my teammates.

My suggestion to all new people – keep doing your best. Try it out, keep working at it, and do your best not to feel too frustrated. If you’re doing it wrong, at some point you’ll figure it out. If it’s something you’re just not trying hard enough to do – well, you can eventually get that. Until you know for certain that something is a physical impossibility, you are only hurting your learning by not trying. This guy never gave up:

You can always ask someone to observe you and see if they can identify what element you’re doing wrong. Or in the case of my having a super tall partner and being unable to reach both his neck and knee simultaneously – I ask my instructor how to modify the technique for my size/ability.

I’d love to hear some of your stories – something you can do now that you were convinced you couldn’t ever do. Or of a real limitation you’ve learned how to work around, or of something you’ve learned to do.