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“Pessimistic prophecies are self-fulfilling,”
- Martin E.P. Seligman.

No one can take away your ability to choose.  

You can't give it away either.

But your ability to choose can be forgotten...

Being in a state of powerlessness is something earned by people every single day, convincing themselves that their situation is not a situation at all and that they are a negative situation. 

You have control over your life, career, health, happiness, love, you name it.

Anything, on the contrary, is known as learned helplessness...

Learned helplessness is the belief that you are doomed to repeat all the negative experiences no matter what you do, so why try?

This negative behaviour is why people give up, even in things they love or know is good for them.

Inner city and disadvantaged youths, the overweight and people suffering from a lifestyle disease, victims of domestic violence, the homeless, the meek all suffer from a form of learned helplessness and quite often they were born into it or had it impressed upon them.


Those youth get continually knocked back from job interviews, let alone the college or university they desired most for the future.

Those overweight get shamed and never ask that special someone out on a date.

Wives don't report the crime and see the relationship as inescapable, even when presented options to leave.

The homeless never take that first step and the meek live in the shadows.

Those at the whims of learned helplessness perceive higher levels of stress, depression, disrupted emotions and feelings, and a generally passive approach to life.

These can manifest themselves as low self-image, poor motivation, lack of effort, frustration, and procrastination. 

But what does this have to do with grappling?

Well, see that white belt over there?

There isn't one, but your mind just immediately conjured up one from thin air or made you think of someone on the mats that left an impression.

They are prime for an attack of learned helplessness that they mightn't recover from. 

This isn't just negative due to the fact that they might quit training, they might take that learned helplessness deep into their DNA and into other aspects of their life.

Learned helplessness is insidious by nature as it infects people at a deep level and even casts a shadow over other facets of their lives. 


If you're a white belt, the first step is realising the flaws of the belt system.

It's linear.

This means it does not thoroughly explain the path anyone has towards the next milestone or the challenges they have faced to get there. 

You are inadvertently equating yourself compared to others on a system of white, blue, purple, brown, black.

You mightn't know it, but that is a seed of learned helplessness. 

All it tells you is what you are not.

Basic psychology says that if we are punished we are more likely to avoid that behaviour. 

In grappling terms, if we lose or get submitted we are less likely to try again.

It is rarely a journey of reward when you think about the day in day out punishment your mentality take getting hammered and submitted compared to getting one in yourself or the holy day of receiving a stripe. 


Do me a favour and look at how you explain your grappling.

Talk to someone about how training went and if possible talk about a particularly bad night.

Go now before reading on.


Think about how many negative words you used compared to positive and in what context.

Probably a lot.

Now think about the permanence of these words, as in how concrete and ongoing they are.

A typical helpless person would say this;

"I always give up my back and I keep getting submitted..."

"...always" and "...keep" are concrete like it is some law of the universe and always will be while "...give up" is negative like you hand your lunch money over with no power to have a say.

Try again with someone completely different and frame your shortcomings as temporary and your strengths as concrete.

Say it like this;

"She recognises openings with my back defence. I am working on some escapes, then I can have a more complete defence."

It's not much to ask, right? Plus as time goes on you'll get better and better at it.


If you're a higher belt, the first step is realising if we are rewarded, the mind takes that as reinforcement for that given behaviour. 

After reading this blog I want you to immediately show lower belts that you have failed with pride and productivity and used it to fuel your resolve. 

Firstly, ask a white belt to describe something that happened when you got the better of them, do it straight after a roll for maximum effect. Let them be irrational, emotional, caught up in the loss. 

Chances are it sounds like this;

"I just got shut down every time. I was never in the roll."

Now, describe to your chosen white belt the same thing from your POV without any judgement or emotion, just the raw facts of the events. 

It should sound something like this;

"You had no frames to shrimp and create space to escape."

They will see the difference between their interpretation and yours.

Is it hopelessness?


And it sure isn't going to be helplessness with your help. 

Now they can be provided with a positive solution to an objective and factual problem.

Can they see how irrational and emotional their response was?

They were learning to be helpless.


I have found this is extraordinarily helpful in curbing the ego of beginners, myself included. 

 You are not in a concrete state of being.

Your failures are temporary and productive if you choose to make them so.

Your wins are equally as productive and as concrete, as you make them. 

Remember, no one can take away your ability to choose.

Go forth and use this new-found knowledge to attack the day and #WriteYourOwnHistory

Jake Anderson is a Bachelor of Sport Development and Mixed Martial Arts commentator with over 18 years of combined training in various Martial Arts and tertiary education in health & sport. His blogs on the foundations of health and martial arts are dedicated to the communication and education of leading a holistically fulfilling life.

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