I had my first ever Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) class on January 1 2020.

One of my New Year Resolutions that year was to get out of my comfort zone.

I remember almost having a panic attack on the way to the gym. Fighting scared the hell out of me.

I would never have imagined that within a few classes I would be obsessed with it.

A popular meme doing the rounds lately sums it up perfectly:

“Friend: What’s BJJ like?

Me: It’s like Fight Club but you talk about it all the time.”

For the uninitiated, BJJ is a martial art based on grappling, ground fighting, and submission holds.

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You’re probably thinking “so what does this have to do with being an entrepreneur?”.

Building a business is HARD. You need to take risks, learn from your mistakes, battle with competitors and have the energy to keep pushing when things get tough.

The beauty of BJJ is that it allows you to build these skills and attributes in a fun and low risk environment.

Here are some of the ways BJJ can make you a better entrepreneur:

  • Will make you comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Teaches you to recognise patterns and look for solutions.
  • You’ll learn to view failure as a learning experience.
  • Gives you an outlet to step away from work related thinking and stress.
  • Teaches you to enjoy the challenging path over the easy route.

I’ll go through each of these points, explain how BJJ can teach these lessons and how you can apply them to your own life.

Let’s get into it!

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

Discomfort and uncertainty are everywhere.

Whether it’s hiring your first employee, launching a new product or acquiring a competitor.

It’s so easy to stick to the things we know and stay in our comfort zone (sometimes this isn’t a bad thing).

But if we want to make progress and achieve the goals we set for ourselves we’re going to have to get uncomfortable.

We’ve all heard this before. But what does it look like in action?

This is where BJJ can help. For the final 15 minutes of each class everyone needs to wrestle or “roll” for three 5 minute rounds.

You end up going up against whoever you make eye contact with (who doesn’t already have a partner). It’s not uncommon to go up against someone double your size or with way more experience than you.

Over time you’ll be going out of your way to go up against tougher opponents.

Going through these rounds forces you into uncomfortable situations where there’s nowhere to hide.

Doing this can also help you realise the things you normally fear or stress about aren’t actually that bad.

By the end of it you feel like you’ve been through a meat grinder. But you also walk away feeling a little more comfortable being uncomfortable.

Learn how to notice problems

Good ideas are hard to find.

One of the key ingredients of a good idea is whether it solves a painful problem people are willing to spend money (ideally a lot of money) to solve.

Courtland Allen the founder of Indie Hackers wrote an epic post  how to find good ideas.

One of the points he touches on is learning to notice the problems that you find yourself or the people around you trying to solve.

Sounds simple right? It’s surprisingly difficult.

Great entrepreneurs are really good at noticing problems.

It’s so easy to go about our day and completely miss billion dollar opportunities staring us right in the face.

I guarantee most people who ordered a cab before Uber or stayed in a hotel before Airbnb wouldn’t have asked themselves “is there a better way to do this?”.

Getting good at noticing bottlenecks, headaches or hassles that you or your customers experience will give you a never ending stream of valuable problems to solve.

BJJ is great at helping you build your “problem noticing” muscles.

Losing sucks. When it happens we normally work out why it happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

One of the best ways to improve in Jiu Jitsu is to notice the situations where you end up in a bad position or lose the match.

Once you notice where things are going wrong you can start to figure out how to avoid or prevent it from happening.

This perspective will quickly become second nature. You can then easily apply it when looking for valuable problems to solve.

Failure is the first step to progress

I know we’ve heard it all before.

“Fail fast and break things”

“It’s not whether you fall down but whether you get back up.”

“Every failure is a lesson”

We hear these sayings so often that sometimes we can’t help but cringe.

Sometimes they can be inspiring but they’re usually vague and not that useful.

BJJ is a great way to permanently change the way we look at failure. Let me explain.

The main way to win a BJJ match is to make your opponent submit or “tap out”.

This means you’re both fighting to get the other to a point where they submit. If they don’t they’ll either pass out or end up with a broken bone.

Every time someone submits you it’s an opportunity to learn. You can choose to focus on preventing yourself getting in that position in the first place. Or you can even use the same move on someone else for your own advantage.

Each time you’re submitted (a.k.a fail) you’re given another chance to see what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find yourself thanking your partner for beating you - because they gave you a chance to become better.

This is one of the main reasons I go out of my way to go up against people that are stronger than me or have more experience.

Being an entrepreneur means you’re going to run into failure at some point.

Using this mindset takes a huge weight off your shoulders. How many times haven’t we avoided taking action out of fear of failure? Or worse, we don’t start at all because we don’t want to make mistakes.

BJJ is great at making you look at failure as another chance to improve.

A chance to press the reset button

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Loss of motivation

Sound familiar? I just described some of the symptoms of burnout.

Burnout is surprisingly common.

The Workplace Burnout Survey from Deloitte found that out of 1000 respondents 77% of them experienced burnout.

It doesn’t help when most of the content on social media are people virtue signalling how much they “hustle”.

It’s very easy to start thinking “grinding 24/7” and “eating sh*t for 10 years” is the only way to become successful.

Being able to step away from our daily worries and stresses is a superpower.

A typical BJJ class is broken into two parts. Learning a new technique by practising with a partner and wrestling with other people in the class for a few rounds.

Both parts of the class can be demanding for your body and mind. You need to be conscious of your breath to stay level headed. You need to remember how to perform different techniques. Plus read your opponent to defend and launch your own attacks.

Over time this gets easier and becomes more automatic. Regardless of what level of experience you have, BJJ isn’t something you can do passively. You can’t worry about your latest marketing experiment or product launch when your partner is trying to get you into a rear naked choke.

BJJ gives you a chance to press pause and fully immerse yourself into the moment. It’s sort of like meditation but on steroids.

It can help you:

  • Be more creative
  • Feel more calm
  • Improve your problem solving skills
  • Achieve greater mental clarity

By training BJJ a couple times a week you give yourself plenty of opportunity to reap these benefits.

Sometimes the hard way is the best way

Our brains naturally look for the easiest path possible.

This is why we normally take the same route home from work or brush our teeth in the bathroom.

It’s part of the reason why we lean towards things we’re comfortable and familiar with and resist things that seem difficult or unfamiliar.

We can run into issues though when we let our brains take this approach for trickier things like pitching to a new client or developing an effective marketing strategy.

If we want to improve at something or learn a new skill it’s going to get difficult and unfamiliar.

By now we know that failure is the first step to progress. Taking the hard path sets the direction to progress.

So what does the hard way look like?

The hard way means going just outside of your skill set or experience to unlock new growth.

In BJJ the hard way could mean wrestling with someone that has 6 months more experience or weighs 10kg more than you.

The hard way doesn’t mean trying to beat a black belt on your first day.

Over time the hard way doesn’t feel so hard and you can look for new ways to challenge yourself.

BJJ is great at helping you enjoy doing things the hard way. You’ll notice by going out of your way to make things difficult your confidence and skill levels are fast tracked.

Someone who always wants to go up against the newbies or people that aren’t as strong as them might win in the short term. But in the long term they are robbing themselves of any progress.

Applying this mindset to business, fitness and education skyrockets your chances for success.

Conclusion

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the best things you can do to become a better entrepreneur.

It helps you become more comfortable tackling challenges and noticing recurring problems.

It also helps you view failure as something useful and perfectly normal. It teaches you that doing things the hard way works in your favour. It also gives you the time and space to step outside of your normal thinking and bring you into the moment.

I hope you found some of these ideas and lessons valuable! If you’re interested in staying up to date on topics like self-improvement, business, and technology subscribe to my newsletter here.