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Parenting has changed my riding in many ways (especially finding the time). As my son grows, watching his learning process teaches me just as much.
In January, my 7 year old asked to start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It seemed like an odd choice for my bookish, space crazy little one but he was adamant. Since I insist that he participate in at least one sport at all times, we gave it a go.
My husband and I completely expected him to go once or twice and start dragging his feet. To our surprise, he happily suits up 3 to 4 times a week to get pushed, thrown to the mat, jumped on, tripped and more. He’s just over 4 ft tall, quiet, and 55 lbs after a big meal. The smaller kids in his class can pretty easily move him around. But he keeps getting back up, smiles over at me and gets back to work.
There’s one kid in his class that he frequently spars with because they are almost the same size. This kiddo is fast, strong, and 3 belt levels ahead of my kiddo, already regularly competing. We had to stress to my son that it was ok to tap out and reset because this kid keeps wrapping him up. Anytime he can break this kid’s hold, it’s a win.
A few weeks ago, I walked upstairs and found my munchkin fully dressed in his Jiu Jitsu gi (20 min early), stretching and reading a book about hyperdrive – he’s serious about his science and, at 7, is reading at 7th-grade+ level at the last assessment. He had a great class that night. He sparred with that same kid, who wasn’t able to take him down tonight once.
On the way home from practice, he explained that his improvement is because he is approaching it like a science experiment – with trial and error. Tonight, he said, it was finally getting results because he was able to capably defend against a more experienced kiddo (who usually walks all over him). This other kid doesn’t like it when he mirrors his grip and steps into his right hand, stronger arm. For months, he’s been steadily, cautiously testing from week to week, shifting his technique each time based on what was and wasn’t working. And now, it worked. Not 100% – he didn’t take the other kid down – but he absolutely saw tonight as a win after all of his trial and error.
If my kid can invest 2 months in simply assessing his jiu jitsu sparring partner, I can take a deep breath and embrace that the journey to improve my idea is a long term investment.
I am, by nature, a planner. I know what I’ll make for dinner every night this week, already have summer plans sketched out on the calendar and just booked the pet sitter for our October trip to Disney World. But riding isn’t always a sport that responds well to plans.
There was a time when I would get on Elf each ride braced for a fight, wondering what kind of mood he would be in. Then, when we were rehabbing his back after an injury a couple years ago, I found that my more relaxed approach completely changed the experience. Rehab meant that each ride focused on stretching – short, quiet rides just to loosen him up and start rebuilding those back and core muscles. That mindset shift on my part changed everything. There was less tension, less bracing through the neck and we started from relaxation instead of trying to push towards it.
Once he went back to work, I incorporated that focus into my warm ups. And at any point, if he starts to brace or tense, I go right back to soft rein on a circle asking for stretch. That injury, which certainly didn’t fit into the show schedule I had planned or my long term goal of getting my USDF Bronze Medal, led to a change in my riding strategy that both made me a better rider and improved my relationship with Elf.
Things won’t go according to plan. But that trial and error, the long term investment, is really what its all about.