“A crucible is a container that can withstand very high temperatures and is used for metal, glass, and pigment production”

Let me put it bluntly: grappling sparring when you have no skill is unpleasant. So unpleasant that last week I lost a little of my initial motivation. My toe was bruised and then my elbow got hyperextended while practicing armbars, and then I accidentally got hit in the eye and the chin, and then a knee got dropped on my ribcage and well…not fun.

My enthusiasm started to wane. Suddenly instead of being exhilarated at learning something new I was just a guy trapped under some dude’s sweaty arm waiting for the inevitable pressure squeeze my carotid arteries shut.

My learning thus far has been incremental. It’s not the teaching, I’ve had excellent instructors, but the technical nature of the art means that it can be incredibly difficult to build a solid base quickly.

So no, I’ve had no great revelations about the noble art of Jiu-Jitsu, no grand epiphanies, just small little breadcrumbs that I’m following with the express purpose of not getting tapped out immediately. Which when you’ve got a 90kg guy kneeling on your sternum is reason enough, trust me.

I keep going because I know that I’m learning, even if the learning is glacially slow. The steps forward are small, tiny, but they’re meaningful. I passed someone’s guard properly for the first time. It wasn’t elegant, it wasn’t technically precise. But I did it.

On the whole I’ve learnt to become a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve learnt to breathe when I’m in trouble and think about to how to extricate myself, and I try to stop the blind flailing around that allows my opponent to go for a quick submission. I’ve learnt to relax a little better, I’ve learnt to think in terms of position rather than in terms of submissions.

Yes, sparring is unpleasant but it’s the crucible of the art; it heats all the techniques you’ve learned thus far up to the point where their cracks start to show. Then it blasts them apart.

That’s what makes Jiu-Jitsu different.Without it you could spend years working on technique without knowing whether you’ve really got it. In sparring you only need a few minutes to know if you’re doing something right.

I’m more of a writer than a fighter and words have always helped me. To keep me going I look at the words graffitied on the Renzo Gracie gym wall: “A black belt is just a white belt that never quits.” OK then.  Let’s roll.