Gain Emotional Development, Not Just Technique

Gain Emotional Development, Not Just Technique

The most important responsibility we, as Coaches, assume while instructing our kids in the art of Jiu Jitsu, is not providing technical tips to promote flawless performances. The most important mission for us is to help our kids attain a level of emotional maturity and strength of character that will serve as a foundation that lead to a healthy and successful life. We believe the sport of Jiu Jitsu promotes mind, body, and emotional health. And at the academy, we provide a place for that in a safe and supportive environment. Our Kids’ Zoo-Jitsu program is intentionally designed to facilitate the growth of emotional and physical fitness and strong values. Working alongside our students, we help them grow from within and develop the abilities necessary to excel.  Life promises to present challenges. So our program exposes students to constructive challenges, teaching them how to overcome them with the help and support of our coaches. This prepares the children for the time they when they must confront problems on their own.

Jiu Jitsu is both a strategic thinking game and a physical sport, which requires students to exert themselves both physically and mentally, mind and body working together in tandem, to succeed. Students must constantly learn and push themselves past their limits to achieve the desired outcome. At times, a child may be trying his or her best and is emotionally invested in the activity, but the efforts just aren’t yielding the results for which they are aiming. This can be emotionally frustrating for the student. But if he or she is able to persevere and crack the barrier that is holding him or her back through more intense learning and hard work, the result will be an unmatched satisfaction that builds confidence.

Now don’t get me wrong, our objective here at the academy is still to help kids learn how to effectively execute world-class Jiu Jitsu. This standard of excellence remains. But it is the child’s emotional development that is key to his or her success in Jiu Jitsu, and in life. If kids are unable to deal with their emotions on the mat, their progress will be stunted. People are perpetually faced with new challenges   in life, and these challenges will become more complex and more competitive, just as they will as one progresses on the mats in Jiu Jitsu. Our children will need to be prepared to face them head on.  The question, then, is: “Are we giving our young people opportunities to take part in activities that will prepare them physically and emotionally for life?”

This question is addressed by Clayton Christenson in his book (which I highly recommend, and which is available on Amazon here) How Will You Measure Your Life? He speaks about the value of allowing our kids, and ourselves, to engage in activities that present us with challenging experiences, to position us to be able to navigate and solve them before we are forced to face them in life. The author goes on to suggest that putting our kids in tight situations is like offering them a “course in life” where they will have the opportunity to hone their abilities to perform under pressure and develop leadership skills and accountability.

One of several ways we work with our students to help them develop emotionally is to give them room to explore escaping from a vulnerable position or to implement a technique. We don’t always immediately jump in to fix a technical error unless they are in a dangerous position. This allows the students to learn from their own mistakes and to face and overcome momentary defeat and the disappointment of not performing as well as they would have liked. This is not an easy approach in the moment as it often entails children dealing with hurt feelings and discouragement, where they may even cry. But it is part of the learning process and will help to make them stronger. Further, to immediately intervene and coach a child on what they need to do technically to win a match can reinforce a performance-based mindset. It is not helpful to the students if we communicate to them that the most valued component of the game is to come out on top, rather than to embrace the learning process.

This is a difficult route to take as a coach or parent because it is hard to see someone we love struggling as they wrestle through challenges. Our initial reaction may be that we become so focused on how the child is rolling and on what they need to do immediately to win the match, that we jump in and offer solutions the instant they are struggling, with the intent to be helpful or avoid hard feelings. However, we are not protecting our children by doing this. Instead, we may be forfeiting an opportunity to build their confidence and to increase their technical ability through leaning to deal with tough emotions. When we focus on the development of their emotions, integrity, and character, by default the techniques will come. We view this as an opportunity to teach them not only the mechanics of the sport of Jiu Jitsu but also to gain confidence and self-esteem through learning and hard work.

In speaking with students after defeats or poor performances, we praise them for trying their best, teach them that losing is part of the learning process and part of the game, encourage respect for their teammates and their coaches and encourage continued hard work and perseverence. From there we address the technical aspect. Christensen also mentions in his book that “when you aim to achieve great things, it is inevitable that sometimes you are not going to make it.” He councils us to urge our children to pick themselves up and try again, telling them that if they are not occasionally failing, then they are not aiming high enough. Christensen goes on to say that we should be celebrating failure just as much as we celebrate success, if it is the result of striving for an out-of-reach goal. Bouncing back from temporary setbacks is one of the biggest motivators I have seen to make students rise above themselves.

We measure the success of our Jiu Jitsu program by observing the degree of improvement from when the child first entered our academy. Some students have an abundance of knowledge about Jiu Jitsu and are more athletically endowed; therefore, they tend to be better at Jiu Jitsu. But the true measure of success is how willing they are to learn and put in the work to improve. I have seen many students overcome and become the top in the class through persistence on the mat.

That is why we say: “it’s not about Jiu Jitsu”. It is about the personal development and transformation of each student. Equipping our students with the experiences they need to learn to persevere through challenges, to have the ability to deal with pressure, and to be prepared to navigate tough moments in life is our mission. One of the most important jobs we have is how we raise our children, and by ours, I mean the entire generation that is coming up behind us. To miss investing in our children, our future, is to fail.

– Professor Tony Passos

On the Mats, My Child Is Not Autistic

On the Mats, My Child Is Not Autistic

From the “it’s not about Jiu Jitsu” files, I heard an extraordinary (and for me, emotionally impactful) statement from a parent tonight – “on the mats, my child isn’t autistic.”

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of kids come through that carry the label ‘special needs’, in one way or another. As someone who has had my own challenges, I’ve always viewed the kids on the autism spectrum as My People. I can identify with a lot of the challenges they face and can see a lot of what’s coming at them, and I take a special interest in helping coach them.

I very much enjoy, and am energized by, hearing from the parents of all of our children about the positive changes they are seeing in their kids, whether it’s on the mats, at home, or at school (and that some of the kids report seeing in their parents who train, for the record – they are watching you!). Every person has room to grow, even the ones that look like they’ve got everything together, and seeing that growth is a source of joy and motivation. It’s especially rewarding to see it from the kids with unique challenges: knowing that we’ve constructed an environment where any child (or adult!) can succeed and realize growth within the same context, the same framework, and under the same expectations, regardless of the starting hand that they’ve been dealt, means that what we are doing is working, and that what we are doing is RIGHT.

So yeah. It hits me to hear “my child has goals now. My child is behaving in school now. We haven’t had a weekly meltdown in six months. My child sleeps through the night now. My child smiles now, tells jokes now.” This is the child that was there, the entire time, and Jiu Jitsu is simply providing the leverage to let them shine through.

– Coach Paul


Why Jiu Jitsu is so Transformational

Why Jiu Jitsu is so Transformational

Jiu Jitsu has proven to be a catalyst of transformation in so many people’s lives. Over and over we hear one inspirational success story after another. From the underdog rising to victory, being able to overcome physical, emotional, and mental barriers, to Jiu Jitsu being the vehicle out of poverty. The transformation in people’s lives through the art of Jiu Jitsu is undeniable. I have experienced such transformation in my own life and have the privilege to continually witness it first-hand in my students and coaching team. But what is it about Jiu Jitsu that is so transformational?

Jiu Jitsu by nature throws us into vulnerable and uncomfortable positions where we wrestle head-on with our own limitations. It is on the mat where we come face-to-face with our personal challenges and push past what has previously held us back. But what makes Jiu Jitsu so extraordinary is the community and BJJ family you find there. It is in a supportive BJJ community that allows us to consistently come to that place of vulnerability where we learn and progress. Essentially it is relationships that transform.

Coming to the U.S. in 2004, with my family living in Brazil, I found myself without an immediate community and attempting to navigate a new culture and customs all alone. I lost no time in finding a gym to continue my Jiu Jitsu training. It was there that I met many friends who helped me learn the ropes in this new city and encouraged me to go after my dream of teaching and coaching Jiu Jitsu for a living. They are still my close friends today, 15 years later. Jiu Jitsu connects us with lifelong friends to go through the ups and downs of life together; celebrating the successes and helping us to keep going through setbacks.

As much as I appreciate the time on the mat in a gi, it is those moments outside of the class time that are the most critical. Where I have seen the most incredible transformations take place in people’s lives is on the benches off to the side of the mats and in the locker rooms. It is during the side-talks 15 to 20 minutes after class. There is no denying that when we fall into an unfavorable position while rolling, we are offered an effective tool to grow emotionally and physically. However, it is a supportive training environment with encouraging teammates that facilitates the beautiful art of Jiu Jitsu to truly shine. It is in this collaborative culture that allows us to face challenges, grow stronger and progress further in the face of adversity than if we were to go it alone.

The academy is a place to connect with others and make friends. It is a place where students and parents come to leave behind the stress from their work day and decompress before transitioning home for the evening. With busy schedules where it often requires weeks of scheduling in advance to find a time to meet up with an old friend, the academy is a constant place where you can walk in and meet-up with friends any day of the week.

The art of Jiu Jitsu and the community at the academy has a huge impact in our own lives and the lives of our family members. But you also have a huge impact in other people’s lives at the academy. Every time you walk through the doors, you have an opportunity to be a positive influence for someone else. Just a simple “hi, how are you?” can be the one interaction that transforms your teammate’s life. It may not necessarily be the technique I taught in class that day but rather a small gesture of acknowledgement that has the power to unlock a smile.  And it is amazing that in the process of reaching out to others we ourselves are also blessed and transformed.

This is why I encourage all of my students to hang out after class. I see a huge difference in the students who stay a little longer.  It is in those 15 to 20 minutes before, but even more after class, once you have the chance to decompress and leave it all on the mat, where relationships are built and breakthroughs happen.

The theme of our academy is that it is not about Jiu Jitsu. It is about the connections and relationships made through Jiu Jitsu. I have seen little else rival the mats of Jiu Jitsu in creating an environment that transforms lives. This is the Jiu Jitsu experience. And I guarantee that this will be a game changer for your life.

– Professor Tony Passos

Learn Something New

Learn Something New

Choose to put yourself in a situation that you know you are not yet competent in. Try a technique that you are not use to. Focus on just one. It will be uncomfortable initially You may “fail” at first. But in the end, sooner than you think, you will have gained a new competence and build a new habit .

– Professor Tony Passos

Go Beyond Your Personal Best

Go Beyond Your Personal Best

There is a misconception about doing our best. It is often associated with performing as intensely as we can while utilizing our top strengths. However, instead of pushing as hard as we can and relying on what has been effective in the past, doing our best will also require that we slow down and develop new skills.

As we enter this new training season, I encourage you to take time to go beyond what has been your personal best by learning new things and trying new positions that will truly challenge you. Only then will you be able to achieve new goals and move beyond your limitations.

Too often I see training being prioritized over learning new tools. Both training and learning must go hand in hand. I am a huge proponent of being consistent in your training. But it is possible to be consistent and work hard in your training while continuing to do the same things over and over without learning anything new.

Let me give you an example. The way we teach Jiu Jitsu at Team Passos is a system of positions that strategically build upon one another. During instruction, these positions are broken down into steps so that the students can most effectively learn and execute them. If I were to show step one of a position and a student thinks that they will either never use it or does not prefer that position the student may disengage during the instruction and put in minimal effort when it comes time to drill the position. Or, at times, when a student does not think they will be good at the position, they shut down from the start and do not give it their best.

Then, when the class progresses and I teach the next position, which is the second step, that same student who did not focus on the first may love the second position but they are unprepared to implement it since they did not take the time to learn step one correctly. A comes before B. The student did not develop the foundational skills with the first position. Now, being ill-equipped to progress on to step two he subsequently finds himself behind the other students. What I’ve seen play out next is that the student will try to bridge the learning gap by cutting corners, usually compensating with a previously accomplished skill or strength. But what too often ends up happening is that the student develops bad habits. Ultimately this ends up stunting their growth in the medium and long-term.

There is wisdom in capitalizing on your strengths and refining your current skills. We will push you to accomplish this in class. But not at the expense of developing new skills and grasping the concepts taught on a more profound level. This is what will allow you to truly understand the art of Jiu Jitsu and fully develop your game.

Our human nature tends to focus on what we are good at while relying on the tried and true. However, what we are actually dealing with in these scenarios is typically pride and the fear of either failure or not performing that new skill with excellence. If all you do is continue to sharpen your current tools over and over, eventually those tools will disappear. People will figure out your game and shut it down. While you still may be good at a particular position, people will be able to anticipate and counter it if you have not developed a wider funnel of techniques and positions.

I often tell my students, even if you do not initially understand, or are not able to implement a particular technique, continue to work on what is being taught to the best of your ability. While you may not use a particular position in the exact way at the given moment, it can lead to another position that will fit on your game beautifully. Are you willing to drill a position 100 times, even if it is not your favorite? Sooner or later you will find that you are seamlessly executing that technique that was once so challenging for you.

Do not compromise your vision and standard for your training by cutting corners. Do not let fear dominate you and keep you from trying new tools. Risk your pride on the mat by putting yourself in vulnerable positions that allow you to strengthen the holes in your game. The humility to learn over the desire to win is what your game is built on and what will sustain your success.

I encourage you to do your best this year. Resolve to learn and develop new skills by leaving the bubble of your comfort zone. Do your best by not just working hard and relying on your strengths, but be willing to engage in new experiences that will challenge you and strengthen your game. You will not need to come up with a program on your own that forces this. Our Team Passos Instructors have taken the time to develop a strong curriculum that will expose you to new tools. The Instructors are dedicated to working with you individually to develop your game.

By following this year’s program, you will progress in the art of Jiu Jitsu. You will come across positions that you are great at. Some positions will be your favorite and others you will not find as comfortable. All of the positions build upon one another into a larger system, equipping you to develop your gram. You will develop you even further physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your Jiu Jitsu will take on an entirely deeper meaning and you will experience unprecedented growth both on and off the mat.

Action items:

  1. Sharpen your strengths WHILE adding new tools.
  2. Drill properly. No cutting corners or holding back. Give it all you have and soon you will find you have surpassed your previous limitations.
  3. Go outside of the box. Do not limit yourself to just working hard by drilling the same techniques you are already strong at. Take a chance and apply the new position you were taught in class. Trying new things expands your understanding and abilities.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself the grace to make mistakes and not meet the high bar you set for yourself every time.
  5. Reach out and connect with your teammates and coaches. Leverage our BJJ family to help you reach your goals rather than try to accomplish it all on your own.
  6. Be deliberate in your training. Attend class with intentionality and engage in what the coach is teaching. There are no throw away classes. Every class we teach fits into a larger strategy. Nothing here is done by chance.
  7. Prepare your body for training. Focus on adequate water intake and the food you are eating. Fuel your body to perform at its peak so that you can maximize your class time. Remember: the water you drink today is the water you use on the mat tomorrow.
  8. Goal setting is important. Have an overall vision for your training. Then set measurable and achievable goals that align. Celebrate small wins to create momentum. This will increase your confidence and fulfillment that will engage you to make even more progress.


– Professor Tony Passos