Breaking Down in Martial Arts

Breaking down in the martial arts is not uncommon. Screaming, swearing, crying, storming off… I’ve seen it all.

In this short video, I’ll tell you why breaking down is actually a reason to be proud, not embarrassed. For a few more thoughts, take a look at the article below.

Keep crying! 🙂

Breaking Down and Losing Control in Martial Arts

Last week in BJJ class, a student stopped, walked outside, and threw up in the parking lot. No big deal! That’s just one example of how someone training hard might lose control during a martial arts class.

I also recently worked out with a white belt who was very aggressive. He charged at me hard, thrashing around like a drowning man.

I gave him room to exhaust himself and eventually pinned him down. He was trapped.

That’s when it happened–


He screamed. A primal mix of anger, frustration, and fear.

I smiled to myself. I recognized what was happening.

This was a breakdown. A martial arts breakdown. And it’s a beautiful moment to behold.

I say beautiful because a breakdown only happens when you push past a limit. When your old tricks don’t work. When your best isn’t good enough. When you realize you’re not special.

If only every student tried as hard as this white belt!

After class, I saw the white belt sitting alone in a dark corner, getting his head together. I walked over to let him know he was on the right track. He told me—

“I felt like I wanted to cry.”

Wow. Wanting to cry is not what surprised me—I do it all the time! It was just surprising to hear one dude admit it to another dude in a martial arts class. My respect for this young man doubled instantly.

For the record, I’ve experienced my share of breakdowns during training, but my ego is usually too big to let anyone see or hear them. Most of my screaming happens inside my head and most of my crying happens inside my car.

If that makes me sound like a big baby, so be it. I am a big baby! And proud of it!

Here’s why…

Try Until You Cry!When a baby screams and cries, it’s admitting that it needs food or attention. It’s admitting that it needs help.

Same for you. When you scream and cry, you’re admitting that you need information and direction. You’re admitting that you need help.

Your breakdown is proof that you’re breaking out of your comfort zone. You’re stepping into new territory. You’re challenging your identity.

Your breakdown is proof that you’re learning!

That’s why breaking down should be a moment of celebration, not humiliation!

Why did you sign up for martial arts classes in the first place? Wasn’t your goal to learn something new? To build a better you? You didn’t sign up to be the same, did you?

NO! You signed up to be braver, tougher, stronger, and wiser. Well, for any of that to happen, you have to push to and through your limits. Which means, you have to feel uncomfortable sometimes.

Lose Control

It’s not a breakdown… it’s a breakthrough!

Think about it. If you go to class and you’re always comfortable, always get away with doing the same things, the same way, over and over, then what’s the point of even training?

Why are you paying for classes? Why are you driving across town?

What’s the point of changing into your uniform if you’re not willing to change yourself?

To be clear, the whole point of training is to reveal your weaknesses so you can strengthen them. To reveal your bad habits, so you can replace them with good habits. But to do that, you’ve got to put yourself under pressure. You’ve got to make yourself uncomfortable.

Like it to not, learning doesn’t always feel good. That’s why they’re called growing pains.

But wait! You might be thinking, “What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never screamed in class. I’ve never cried in my car.”

Thanks for sharing.

Now, please allow me to suggest that you might be holding back in your training. You might not be getting everything you could be out of your workouts. I say—

If you’re not crying, you’re not trying!

Push harder. Find bigger challenges. Practice until your spirit spins like a hurricane and explodes out of your chest in a wild wave of emotions.

When all the screaming and crying is over, you will find peace. A calm after the storm. Then you’ll be ready to learn.

There are two steps to becoming the best you can be…

Step 1: Push until you lose control.

Step 2: When you lose control, take control.

How do you take control? By making a choice.

While the tears are still dripping off your cheekbones, you will need to make a decision that separates winners from losers. Professionals from amateurs. Masters from posers.

Do I run away and quit… or face my fears and get back to work?

If you choose to quit, that’s okay. But take this one piece of advice on your way out— be honest with yourself about why.

Don’t blame other people. Don’t make excuses or dream up conspiracy theories of why things didn’t work out.

If something scared you, say it. If something was too difficult, say it. If you realized you weren’t smart enough, tough enough, or patient enough, say it.

Don’t lie about the why.

There is no shame in reaching your limit… but there is plenty of shame in lying about it!

If, on the other hand, you choose to move forward through your breakdown, congratulations! Get back to work!

  • Ask questions.
  • Try new moves.
  • Try old moves in new ways.
  • Find new training partners.
  • Record your workouts, then sit down and analyze the footage.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also have a good teacher standing behind you to push you forward. If you’ve very lucky, your teacher will always be standing ahead of you to guide you to the experiences you will need to keep learning.

A good teacher will help sweep away the ruins of the old you and provide the materials you need to build a better you.

But good teachers are hard to find. And no one has a teacher to guide them through every area of their life. That’s why it’s ultimately your responsibility to keep poking and prodding yourself outside your comfort zone.

Look to teachers to help you learn, but stay dedicated to exploring and experimenting on your own, too.

So, let me ask you…

Have you had a good cry lately? Have you thrown up all over your training partner recently?

If not, I challenge you to train a little harder. Push yourself until you lose control.

Work until you lose the old you. Try until you cry.

Then get back to work. That’s how you move from breaking down to breaking through.