Black Belt Journal – Less is More

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber


I just got back from an 11-day trip. I didn’t pack a gi. I didn’t train. It was great.

There was a stretch of several years where all of my travel was devoted to Jiu-Jitsu. Anyone who has been to the Pan American or World Championships in California can relate to the story of coming home and having to explain that your California “vacation” was spent having no idea if the sun was shining or not inside of a college gymnasium time warp. You can’t enjoy the sun because it will drain you for the competition. You can’t leave the gym because your friends are competing or you want to see the fights and have your mind blown. If you won, you’re elated, if you didn’t, you’re busy crashing down and trying to find a bottom you can regain your mental footing on. Either way, all you can think about is food and what you’re going to eat next from where. In short, your trip is consumed with all things Jiu-Jitsu.

But what else is out there?

Jiu-Jitsu is awesome. It has afforded me many things, including the privilege of writing this article. But it’s not everything. When I was a more serious competitor my self-worth was wrapped up in my week-to-week performance. I cried, I had tantrums, I learned better. I started to burn out. I have two basic things I learned from that period of my life:

  1. “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” can very much be “turn something you love into a job and hate it as much as any obligation.”
  2. The less I need something, the more I love it.

Now I believe that nothing, no matter how passionate I am about it, determines my value. I choose to put my all into something because life deserves commitment and full intent, not for fear of regret or the loss of my worth in any way.

Does true greatness require an obsession that may dance along lines of insanity? I don’t know. I am not a truly great competitor and may never be because I’m not sure I want it enough to put the time in. I do know that many great coaches encourage people to try less in order to achieve more1, so maybe there is something to letting go for everyone. I’ve watched too many of my friends crumble for weeks after a bad tournament performance. I’ve had too many nights in a locker room staring at my knees and wondering if I’ll ever be good enough. It doesn’t matter. What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. Commitment to whatever present there is in front of me will yield the greatest results. Learning from the past does not mean ever confining myself to it.

Once I stopped seeing Jiu-Jitsu as my identity my relationship with the sport matured from jealous lover to supportive friend. Doing it via compulsion or because it was simply “what I do” had put it on a passionless autopilot. It was nice to take a step back and only go because I wanted to. That positive momentum has continued. I train 4-6 days per week. Training is a huge part of my life.

But now I let myself go on vacation without training once in a while. I did pack my belt. And a couple of rashguards. And I knew the friend I was visiting had a gi my size. I hedged my bets because while I didn’t feel like I HAD to train I wanted to give myself the option if I WANTED to.

And man, you can pack so much more stuff when you don’t bring a gi.

1 – Sprinting coaches and more use relaxation techniques to improve athlete performance. Example article: