When I was younger, I would say, “I’m my own worse critic.” Now that times have changed, I now say, “I’m my own worse troll.” When I do something right, the first thing I think about is how could I have done that better. I wonder if this is my lack of confidence talking but, to be honest, who doesn’t strive to be one percent better than they were the day or even the week before.

Whether it is writing or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I want to be the best I can be. Not the best of everyone just the best I can be. I love growing. (No short jokes!) I love learning. And yet I’m terrified at the same time. It sounds confusing, but it is not the learning or growth that scares me, it is stepping outside of my comfort zone. It is taking a risk and wondering what others will think when I fail.

But here is the thing; I have failed. Several times. And each time, I got up and brushed the dirt off and started again. So what I am afraid of?

In my past jobs, fear manifested itself into stress, that I never faced head-on until I became self-employed but with my jiu-jitsu, it came with a verbal whack to the head. I convinced myself something was lacking in my game, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I would send my instructor videos of my matches, and he would always say, “Rebecca, your game is good, but you look scared.” I never really understood what he meant. I was nervous yes but not scared. I’m Littlethunder. I don’t get scared.

Ah…but I do.

I was at an IBJJF Open, and it was the first time my instructor was able to corner me. Afterward, he told me that I did well despite having to move up a weight class, but I was scared, and he could see it. I explained I was nervous about competing against larger women, but I wasn’t scared. We watched the video of my match and pointed out what he was seeing—I was backing up after the hand slap. I had done this in previous matches but didn’t think I was scared. I lacked the confidence on my feet, but I wasn’t afraid.

At that moment, I didn’t agree with him, but he was right. 100%. The reason I now know he was right was due to my mother. My mother knows nothing about jiu-jitsu, and after watching a match from a previous championship asked why I backed up instead of moving forward. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Why was I doing this? I was doing this because I was scared.

I thought what was lacking from my game was a technique or my timing was off but not courage, and I didn’t know how to process it. I wanted help, and I wanted him to help me but how do you learn not to be afraid? How do you teach your student to fight instead of flight?

I read books about mental toughness. I watched motivational YouTube videos about overcoming adversity. I searched the Internet for sites about conquering your fears but nothing resonating with me. Finally, I spoke with professional MMA fighters at my academy. To me, they were fearless, and I admired that. I thought if I could have just a wee bit of their courage I could do anything. I asked them how they did it? How did they enter the cage and not be afraid? Their answers shocked me. They responded they are afraid. It is nerve-racking because you don’t know what will happen inside that cage. What helped them is having confidence in their technique. Fear or being afraid is an important part of being human. Fear isn’t a shameful thing it is a human thing.

I learned conquering ones fear can never be found in a book or a YouTube video. It is found within you. Face those things that make you scared over and over again.

So I did.
Every day.
And it was awful.

I cried every day. I questioned what the hell I was doing. I felt stupid, silly and foolish. I failed over and over again. But I brushed the dust off, dried my tears and went back at it. I’m sure some of my training partners thought I was having a breakdown and in many ways I was and in many ways, I was having a breakthrough.

After this revelation, my next tournament was 2017 Master Worlds. I trained harder for that tournament than any other tournament. I pushed myself every day, and when I was about to give up, my professor was there to shove me in deeper than I could handle. But somehow I did.

The day of the tournament came, I felt calm, but I knew that could change any moment. So as I warmed up my body, I also warmed up my mind. I did light movement drills and yoga stretches. Taking time between each to relax and focus. I gave myself more than enough time to prepare, and it helped tremendously. I now do this for every tournament, including my at Pans this year.

I found what works for me. This by no way means I’ve conquered my fears. I now have a whole new group of fears waiting to take the place of the old ones. Now that I know how to focus I’m good with that because it is all part of the journey. It is part of growth. It is part of learning.

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