Jiu Jitsu Make You Nervous?

Ever been nervous before a fight? Tight knot in your stomach, sweaty palms, wondering what you are doing and why you are here? Are you ready? Did you train hard enough? Are you out of your league? Are you going to get hurt? Are you going to look foolish?

It’s cool, almost cold. The sun is still an hour away from coming up as you finish breakfast and break camp. You feel the presence of the immense granite mountain, even though you can’t see it yet. As the light starts to penetrate the valley floor you see your goal for the first time today. A stone perch hovering 3000 feet above the ground. A world away and more than 1/2 a mile straight up. El Captain awaits.

You get ready to make your climb. No gear, just your fingers and a bag of chalk hung from your belt. You walk up to the face of the cliff and start. Wedging your hands into tiny rock fissures and then dangling from your fingertips as you grope upwards for the next handhold.

In 1958 a team of experienced adventure climbers became the first to successfully reach the top of El Captain in Yosemite Park. The used ropes and anchors of all kinds. They made the ascent in just 47 days. Today with modern equipment and the knowledge gained from thousands of ascents, good teams take an average of only 4-5 days to make the climb.

Alex Honnold does it in less than 6 hours.

The video First Ascent - Alone on the Wall features Honnold. While watching it (from the safety of my sofa) I heard my heart racing in my ears and felt an adrenaline dump that made my hands shake. I was amazed by the technical mastery of the climbing, but even more so by how calm Alex was.

Honnold started climbing as soon as he could walk. At 18 he dropped out of college and moved into his van so he could afford to climb all the time. Since then he has reached the absolute pinnacle of his sport. Alex does solo free climbing. No gear, no ropes, no harness, and no safety net. Using just his fingers and toes Alex can scale sheer granite walls thousands of feet high in a matter of hours.

Although a single lapse in concentration means certain death, Alex is remarkably calm. He is able to maintain an extreme focus for hours at a time while hanging by a thread a thousand feet off the ground. When he climbs he says he is in the ‘zone’ and has no doubt about any of his movements, or the successful outcome of the climb.

Honnold talks a lot about ‘committing’. The more committing a route or a climb is the more appealing it is to Alex. There seems to be some correlation with knowing that you can’t back out and his ability to reach the zone and climb with technical perfection. And technical perfection is required on these climbs, there is no way to muscle your way through it - you have to be precise.

In BJJ we only have to maintain our focus for a few minutes at a time. A mistake might cost us the match, but we are almost guaranteed to be able to get up and walk away, no matter how bad it gets. We’re not solo free climbing, it’s just Jiu-Jitsu. So, what are you afraid of?


 - Bill Thomas