James Mulholland - Blue Belt Advice
What motivated you to start training BJJ?
It all happened pretty randomly and suddenly - I had a feeling one day that I was coasting a bit too much, and it made me think: ‘What’s a skill you want to learn that will challenge you?’. I wanted to learn to fight, so I thought BJJ would be a good place to start. I was hooked after my first beginners’ session.
What advice would you give to beginners who are just starting their BJJ journey?
• Concentrate on slowing everything down and breathing.
• Don’t be scared to tap, and don’t take rolling personally. You’re going to get tapped over and over again – it’s not a big deal! Try to see where you could have done things differently during the roll rather than worrying about getting tapped. Once you let go of that worry, it frees you up to have a bit more fun and to try new things without the fear of tapping.
• Just turn up. Some of the most satisfying sessions are the ones I didn’t want to go to.
• Be careful with how strongly / quickly you’re putting on submissions during rolling. Slow down your subs until you get a sense of your own control and the level of resistance your partner is giving you.
What motivated you to continue training BJJ, even when it was challenging or frustrating?
I haven’t found it too frustrating. It is definitely challenging, but it’s a fun challenge. I think as long as you’re pretty realistic about your own ability, there’s not too much frustration to be had – just turn up, train, and see yourself slowly get better.
Did you ever experience any significant injuries during your BJJ journey, and if so, how did you deal with them and continue to train?
I had a pretty bad elbow for about a year after an armbar went on quickly. I did all the normal physio, rest, bandaging etc. I also tapped early whenever that arm got trapped.
Were there any specific training partners who played a significant role in your development as a BJJ practitioner?
I made friends with a guy called Will on my first day and we got obsessed with BJJ. I even bought mats and we used to train (very badly) at my house. That pushed me along for the first year.
Rolling with Geoff on Fridays has really helped me identify and tweak the most glaring parts of my game that could be improved. All the tips have helped immediately.
Being told by someone “mate, you need to chill out” during my first session rolling. I needed to hear that.
How has BJJ impacted your life outside of the gym, and what benefits have you seen from your continued practice?
I feel fit and strong, and I feel confident in myself. I think I’ve learned to stay calmer under pressure too. Also I’m now better at opening jars.
How did you balance training BJJ with other commitments in your life, such as work or family?
I’m lucky that my partner is also at GSW, so it’s maybe a bit easier for me to find the balance. I try to get to at least 3 sessions a week and to set non-negotiable days that I train. I’m always there Friday and Saturday, so it’s just a case of finding 1 more day during the week.
Did you ever go through a period where you felt like you weren't improving or plateaued in your BJJ journey, and if so, how did you push through it?
I’m sure I did, but I can’t remember. Just turn up and train and things will eventually start to fall into place. It’s a constant learning process and as long as you’re learning something each session you’re improving in some way.
Were there any particular techniques or concepts that you struggled with as a white belt, and how did you overcome those challenges?
I remember trying to learn how to do an armbar in the Fundies class and finding them so difficult. I didn’t think it was possible for me to get my legs into position for S-mount, I found sitting back without falling impossible, and I’d always smash the arm painfully into my groin.
After a few years of trying them and losing position over and over, they’ve gone from very bad to sometimes OK.
What role did competition play in your BJJ journey, and how did you approach preparing for and competing in tournaments?
Haven’t done one but enjoyed training hard with the people who were training for comps. Looking back on your journey, is there anything you wish you had done differently or advice you would give to your younger self starting out in BJJ? I’d probably tell myself to slow down and enjoy the rolling sooner than I did. Train hard, but don’t treat every roll like it defines you as a person – just enjoy it.
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