Staying on the Jiu Jitsu Train

With Jiu Jitsu, it is hard to objectively measure your progress, because everyone is progressing alongside you.

The same people that I struggled with when I first started at John Donehue Jiu Jitsu and MMA are the same people that I struggle with now. I still can’t pass Patty’s guard, Nikki still runs rings around me, and Ash still catches me with sneaky submissions from nowhere.

I know that I am improving, that my technical skills and conceptual understanding is growing, but compared to my training partners, it is hard to notice it. This is because we are all on the Jiu Jitsu train – we are all growing and improving together. Since we regularly roll with each other, any new tricks, positions and submissions are quickly spotted and adapted to.

Regrettably life sometimes gets in the way of training. Injury and illness can take us off the mat for extended periods of time or people’s interests may come and go. It is only when a training partner takes an extended break from Jiu Jitsu do I ever see an objective measure of my learning. When they return from that break, I can compare how I used to perform against them, with how I perform now and judge my learning from that.

I have spoken with many people about their concerns about their perceived lack of improvement. They wonder why, despite training so much, that they are not catching up to the higher ranks. It is because those higher ranks are also training and improving at the same time. Fact is, if everyone keeps training, they may never catch up. This doesn’t mean that they are not improving however.

I hope that in the future, technology will exist that will enable us to roll with our past selves. Tapping past Zac would be highly satisfying and would confirm just how far I have come. Until then, stay on the Jiu Jitsu train! Just keep rolling and you will improve. If you begin to doubt your learning, ask your coach for some words of encouragement, he or she will have seen it happening in real time.

See you on the mats,

Zachary Phillips

In addition to being one of the kids martial arts instructors at John Donehue Jiu Jitsu & MMA, Zachary is also a teacher, writer and mental health advocate, you can see more of his work at