We all have the potential to be great. We all can — with practice, patience, and belief — do amazing things. Not alone, but together. It’s easy to focus on individual goals. What do I have to do to get better? However, if you concentrate only on yourself, you will miss the most important idea in Jiu Jitsu. The more we work together, for mutual benefit, the more likely everybody is to reach their greatest potential.
The first step in Jiu Jitsu is learning technique. The second step is to refine your ability through sparring with teammates. You start to develop your potential through competition. We compete with each other to learn what works and what needs improvement. This element of competition is essential to success.
There is more to competition, however, than winning. In fact, competition has not always had the connotation of winning and losing like it does now. In Latin, competition means “striving together.”
In striving together, both participants benefit. By helping your teammates get better, you also increase your opportunities for improvement.This is the most important idea in Jiu Jitsu.
Judo founder Jigoro Kano called the idea Jita Kyoei—mutual welfare and benefit. We use it at Zenyo Jiu Jitsu as the basis for our training.
The goal is for everyone to benefit together. A selfish pursuit of success is harmful to team chemistry. It’s also harmful to achievement. Research shows that by helping others, we feel happier, work harder and actually perform better. You develop your own potential to the fullest by helping others.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
That, actually, might not be the best advice.
New research shows that we do much better together, not alone. Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor writes about this in his book Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness and Well-Being.
“By helping those around you improve their creativity, their productivity, their abilities, their performance, and more,” Achor writes, “you are not only helping the group become better; you are exponentially increasing your own potential for success.”
Big Potential details a study to measure perception of difficulty for a hill climb. Researchers found that if you look at a hill and judge how steep it is, the presence of others around you changes how you see the hill. A friend by your side makes the hill seem 10 to 20 percent less steep.
A stunning finding, Achor calls it.
“Perception of your objective, physical world is transformed by including others in your pursuit of achievement,” he writes. “Mentally and physically, mountains seem more climbable, successes more achievable, and obstacles more surmountable with others beside us.”
We all climb the hill of Jiu Jitsu together. It becomes much more likely you will go far and continue the long climb toward black belt if you work to establish group connections and help your partners improve. Then they will be more likely to help you. We climb better together.
Jiu Jitsu is a bit like the challenge of college. Many students begin, but not all graduate. In 20 years of Jiu Jitsu, I’ve seen lots of athletes come and go. It’s difficult to determine who will be successful early on. Usually, it’s not the hardest driving, the most enthusiastic or those who pick things up quickly. Many of those who seem like they might be great drop out in a couple of years.
Big Potential relates a study of 80,000 college students. Researchers tried to determine what predicted success. They found that “the most successful had the most social connections and shared more information in more ways.” They acted with more of a group mindset. Those who focused only on their individual accomplishments, and had fewer social connections, struggled more and were ultimately less successful.
The same seems to be true in Jiu Jitsu. Those who focus more on helping their teammates, and less on getting the tap, eventually become the best students. By helping others, they help themselves.
“As the research begins to emerge, we seem to be learning that almost every attribute of your potential — from intelligence to creativity to leadership to personality and engagement — is interconnected with others,” Achor writes.
“To truly thrive… we need to change our pursuit of potential: We need to stop trying to be faster alone, and start working to become stronger together.”