Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Surfing: The Practice of Humility & the Art of Learning from Failure

Featured on The Beach Break Surf Camp Blog 


If you’ve ever surfed or if you’ve ever set foot in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym, you have failed before. Undoubtedly, you have gotten caught inside during a large swell, you’ve been slammed to the matt with incredible force, you’ve paddled out without catching a single wave, and you’ve been submitted by a variety of different pain educing maneuvers. Failure, however, presents the opportunity for growth. In surfing and in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is necessary to stay humble and learn from your failures in order to progress.


You know the feeling, the surf is perfect: offshore wind, big swell, nice and hollow. But you keep blowing the drop. No matter how many times you try, you still cannot manage to stick that late take off on a steep face. Over and over, you find yourself skipping down the face of the wave on your back, rather than nailing the drop in. Steep takeoffs are tricky, and they are a clear step in surf progression that every surfer must achieve through failure. Only after you’ve attempted dozens of different take-off techniques can you conclude that you need to angle your board to reduce the steepness of the drop.


Similarly, in Jiu-Jitsu you might find yourself attempting the same submission against the same sparring partner over and over. Constantly making just one single mistake that allows your opponent to escape, or even worse tap you out. This might happen one hundred times. You may begin to feel like you’ll never master a simple armbar or the more complex kimura. But eventually, after learning hundreds of ways not to submit your sparring partner, you’ll find the small hip extension required, or you’ll learn to extend your grip further down his collar and you will submit your opponent.


Often, in surfing, you’ll find that you spend 90% of your time either paddling back and forth chasing peaks or bobbing up and down in the water waiting for a set. To many, this might seem frustrating, but most surfers simply accept it as part of the process and are thankful for the waves that do come. Comparably in BJJ, fighters spend an enormous amount of time on their backs, in their guard, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. To a novice, this may seem equally as frustrating as waiting for waves, but the frustration is compounded with the stress of having to defend oneself against an opponent.


Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu have vast differences, but their few similarities bind them together in practice and in mindset. In both surfing and Jiu-Jitsu, frustration is the enemy of progress. There is a saying in the Jiu-Jitsu community, “You never lose, you just get better.” And the same can be applied to surfing. Every time we enter the water or step on the matt if we have an open mindset and accept failure as the catalyst to progression then progress in inevitable.


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