Beyond the mats: How lessons I learned through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helped me transform my music career

I was never a gifted athlete.

In fact, when I first start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu about 7 years ago I was the worst grappler at my club, and in many ways my experience on the mats was more of a metaphor for my life: unrefined, disorganized, insecure and often defeated. Looking back I started to realize that my lot in life seemed to change as my BJJ game developed, and I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Over the years I had seen many students come and go. Some had incredible physical gifts, others had the ability to absorb concepts and retain complex detail instantly, and then there were those, like me, who struggled to keep up. But there always seemed to be a certain pattern that endured; those who kept at it and consistently worked hard, even if it took them longer, were the ones who eventually excelled. Time and again I saw “talent” come and go while the grinders, those committed to drilling and consistent practice, eventually developed far beyond those who just gave up or became too complacent to push themselves further.

For many years that was me, on and off the mats. I wanted the easy way out and wasn’t committed to putting the right work in. I was waiting for someone or something, like a magic technique, to open my eyes and guide me – and that story sounded eerily similar to my path as a musician. I was always sort of waiting for my career to start – hedging my bets, waiting for something to happen. BJJ helped me understand that success isn’t easy, it’s humbling with plenty of ups and downs and small defeats along the way. It wasn’t until I realized that I had to work for the things that I wanted did I start to make positive changes.

While I started to embrace the grind on the mats, I dove in head first into my music career. I practised more diligently, researched venues, started building spreadsheets, networked with other singer-songwriters, arranged my own tours, built media packages, a website, started cold-calling and emailing, connecting with the press, doing everything that too many musicians expect someone else to do. Like drilling techniques over and over, I put in hours and hours of behind the scenes work every day. It was certainly far from being glamorous, but I started to see that the little things applied consistently start to separate others from the pack.

With the right work ethic in place, I released my first professional album Relative Importance in January, 2012 and the results exceeded my expectations. The record climbed to #1 on 103.7FM Brock University Radio’s charts, CBC Radio played my songs, and that summer I won a Niagara Music Award for Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year while also being asked to perform for the Hamilton Music Awards. The album sold in countries like Australia, Japan, France, Denmark, the U.S., Ireland, and England among others, while critics from respected media outlets like Exclaim Magazine published very generous reviews of the record.

In the end, I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many inspiring people through BJJ, a sport that has taught me the value of hard work, humility, and perseverance. My instructors and teammates at Pura BJJ have helped me to understand that sacrifice and commitment are necessary for progress and for those that stick it out the rewards are worth the growing pains.

–Originally posted at jitsmagazine.com. Paul Federici is a purple belt under P.J. O’Sullivan at the Mendes Brothers affiliate school Pura Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada).

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