Yes, you, the person wondering if you’re too fat to do jiu jitsu (spoiler: you’re not!). We don’t know each other, so you wouldn’t know it now, but I was really fat when I started jiu jitsu, and I’d like to have a heart to heart. I’m 5’4″ and when I started BJJ I was 205, which is down from my high weight of 231. I don’t know you and what your personal issues are, but everyone’s got baggage and I’d like to share some emotional landmines you might have to deal with if you start doing BJJ. Note: this is NOT a weight loss post. And although the examples and experiences are all BJJ specific, most of this could be applicable for any larger person beginning any athletic endeavor.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” ―Vincent van Gogh
You are NOT too fat to do jiu jitsu.
You DON’T need to lose weight to do jiu jitsu. You DON’T need to be in better shape to do jiu jitsu. Just start going. You will get in better shape. You will be starting your new, healthy lifestyle, and in the long run you will be glad that you started earlier rather than later. Just accept this and keep coming.
You WILL get better
It may take much longer than your peers, but it will eventually come. I promise. Just not any time soon. That tortoise and the hare – you’re the tortoise, and the inching along will pay off, but it may literally take years. But your story will be epic.
You need only to TRY, TAP, and KEEP COMING
This is the magic formula that will help you earn respect. I knew that I couldn’t make it through a whole warm up, but I did my best. My best was not nearly as good as that 21 year old athlete – I was an overweight 33 year old woman! But anyone who looked at me KNEW I was trying my best. Teammates will respect you when you’ve demonstrated you’re sticking around, that you’re not going to quit when things get rough, that you’re trying to the best of your ability, and that you have a good attitude. In fact, some will respect you more than they respect the young, fit athlete – simply because you’re trying harder and have a bigger battle in front of you.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” ― Michael Jordan
Accept your reality
Please note: not all of the following may be true. My suggestion is to accept them as your reality and truth, then be pleasantly surprised if they are NOT your reality. I’m giving you the harshest reality that you may face.
Accept that you will feel excluded
I felt like the ugly girl at a school dance when I started. It felt like no one wanted to be partnered with the fat girl. And maybe it’s true, but it’s also going to be true that they won’t want to partner with you because you suck. I’m not being unkind – white belts by definition suck. They also won’t want to partner with you because they don’t know how awesome you are and that you tell the best jokes and that you try hard – because they don’t know you. White belts wash out at an alarming rate, and many upper belts may not want to invest personal energy into you until they see you’re going to stay. Just accept this and keep coming.
Accept that you will feel even fatter than you do now
When I was fat, I enjoyed the company of fat people and lazy people and geeks. I was overweight, sure, but in Seattle amongst the geek crowd, I was not that much of an outlier. In jiu jitsu class, however, I was the biggest woman, period. Sometimes I was the biggest person, and not just by a little bit – these guys were lean and muscled, which emphasized in MY brain how NOT lean and NOT muscled I was. Just accept this and keep coming.
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~Dale Carnegie
Accept that you will look and feel foolish
These folks will be moving their bodies with ease, executing moves that look like magic, and you’ll feel like the kid eating paste in the classroom. The secret: nearly everyone feels foolish when they start BJJ, and even beyond. Every one of those folks started out with almost no ability in BJJ. Just accept this and keep coming.
Accept that you will feel uncomfortable
Jiu jitsu puts you in weird positions that you probably don’t do with strangers (or not – no judgment!). There’s an intimacy factor that can be off-putting at first. This is normal and it passes. You may also feel physically uncomfortable – jiu jitsu uses a lot of muscles you likely haven’t been using – like the tops of your feet. You’ll also be sweating a lot, which was really uncomfortable for me. Just accept this and keep coming.
Accept that you will be the worst
The cool thing is that you will have a shiny white belt around your waist. This is the “I SUCK” belt, and being a white belt means never having to say “I’m sorry I’m not good.” Please believe that absolutely no one expects that you can do anything the first class, the second class, the third, and so on. I decided early on Someone has to be the worst – it may as well be me! And I was happy in that position because it allowed me the mental freedom to stop worrying about it. Just accept this and keep coming.
Accept that you will have emotional aspects will catch you off guard
When I received my first highlander medal, it felt like I got a gold medal for being a fat girl, and I sobbed at home about it. When I started, if I heard someone make an OOF sound because I had too much weight on them, I would feel really embarrassed. In jiu jitsu, being heavy is a good thing – but that heaviness is less related to size than to leverage. I also hadn’t realized that I immediately dismissed good looking people as dumb jerks. Jiu Jitsu is full of smart people with great bodies and good personalities. I had to adjust my world view. Just accept this and keep coming.
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Only compare yourself to YOU
It’s crazy making to compare yourself with that athlete next to you. Instead, look back and marvel at how far you’ve come. Don’t just measure your progress by how awesome (or sucky) your jiu jitsu is or isn’t. Measure things like – your negative achievements, if movement is easier, if you were able to complete the warmup, or do a forward roll finally. Marvel at your accomplishments, don’t jealously envy those around you.
Make very small, reasonable goals
My goal was: go to class. If I did, I won. If I moved my body, I won. If I went to class, I won. The actual jiu jitsu was secondary to that. Even if I had a HORRIBLE time, I couldn’t do anything, I gassed out and had to sit out, and that blue belt just break-danced on my body, I still won because I’d gone to class. You should create wins for yourself so that you’re not overwhelmed by how bad your jiu jitsu is.
If you want to do jiu jitsu, DO IT! NOW!
No one says “Oh man, I’m glad I didn’t do that thing I really wanted to do, because then no one laughed at me.” Instead, they say “Oh man I wish I had done it. It’s SO STUPID that I didn’t do it out of fear people would laugh.” When you start pandering to your fears, they will overrun your life. They will hold you back from greatness. They will haunt you. Simply accept – okay – some people will laugh, and if they do, I’ll know they’re a shitty person.
Somebody should tell us…right at the start of our lives…that we are dying. Then we might live to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows. ~Michael Landon
I am SO THANKFUL I found jiu jitsu. I found a wonderful community, a new passion, thoughtful training partners, new friends, and a new relationship with my body. When I started jiu jitsu my attitude was: I have no effing clue what I’m doing – I suck, but I’m going to try, and I’m going to keep coming. My personal reality now is that I need a new attitude! I’m no longer a sucky newbie who has no clue! Sometimes I’m the person who knows the most in class. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN! Honestly, accepting that I DON’T suck is a lot harder for me than accepting that I DID suck.
Your path in jiu jitsu, as well as every other white belt’s, is a hard one. You have extra emotional crap you may have to deal with, but if you plan for it, I believe it will make for a better BJJ experience. Once you do, I hope you come back here and share your experience!
Jiu Jiu’s note: Were you fat or largely overweight when you started doing jiu jitsu, or any other sport for that matter? How did this affect your experience? What challenges were rough for you, and what words of encouragement do you have for larger folks starting BJJ or other sports?