I haven’t posted much, on this blog at least, about my favorite hobby, grappling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to be specific. I enjoy all forms of grappling, but jiu-jitsu seems to be the most body-friendly, which matters as we age and/or develop injuries. With that being said, it is absolutely a game of “hurt or pin the other person first”.
I get asked sometimes, particularly by folks who have lived and maintained lives of relative leisure, why it is that I enjoy a hobby as violent and rough on the body as jiu-jitsu can be.
Buckle up, kids.
I understand, totally, why from the outside-looking-in, jiu-jitsu would make people question why anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to the constant, very real, threat of life-altering injury. If you asked different grappling practitioners, that question could come with dozens of different answers, and I’d suspect that each person’s answer would change if you asked them from one year to the next. That’s the cool part. It means different things to different people and that meaning evolves, as they do, over their time on the mats.
We’ve got a few societal problems. I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that sentence. Suicide rates are ridiculously high, as are rates of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, multiple heath-related crises – the list goes on and there’s not really any signs of those things slowing down. Personally, I think there’s at least a couple of branches that all of these things can fit under. People are bored, and boredom stems from a lack of challenge. People love challenges. Put a puzzle on a coffee table, and most folks who see it will at least think about trying to solve it. Place a dumbbell without the weight being labeled on the floor and you’ll be surprised at how many folks try to lift it. They can’t help themselves.
“Are you saying that heroin addicts are simply ‘bored’?” Is it that much of a stretch to think that it maybe started that way? Bear with me and think past the last 15 minutes, please.
Community through conflict.
There are several examples throughout history of communities being strengthened after catastrophe. Conflict Journalist, Sebastian Junger’s excellent book, Tribe, explores this from the perspective of military service members dealing with PTSD and depression after returning from a deployment. In his book, he discusses that these service members could be suffering due to the severe lack of comradery that they’re tossed back into when they return to their communities. From the book’s description on the website – “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–“tribes.”” The lack of this level of belonging and working toward common goals, is the normal state of most of our communities. Our most difficult decisions are things like deciding what to wear for work, or what to feed the kids for dinner. This, in no way, promotes community. How could it?
It’s been shown, multiple times, that even when communities are actively being attacked (as in, bombed), that those communities actually STRENGTHEN. Why do you think that so many people, who were dropped right into the middle of a World War were…happy? Community through conflict. The process of a group of people coming together to handle a group problem has a huge positive net effect on the morale of those people.
If you’d like to dig into some more in-depth research on this, the link below will give you a way to spend an hour or so reading about this exact topic in England during World War Two. Here’s an excerpt – “But those expectations proved to be totally false. Instead, what one found was a nation of gloriously happy people, enjoying life to the fullest, exhibiting a sense of gaiety and love of life that was truly remarkable. The traditional British class distinctions had largely disappeared. People who had never spoken to each other before the war, now engaged in warm, caring personal relations; they spoke openly with one another about their cares, fears, and hopes; and they gladly shared their scarce supplies with others who had greater needs.” Interesting, to say the least.
What if we could create a relatively high level of conflict in a controlled environment? One with no clear or definable “end”? Jiu-jitsu can definitely do that. Jiu-jitsu isn’t something you accomplish. It’s a journey of truth, honesty, and bonding through conflict.
A Note: Personally, I use the term “jiu-jitsu” interchangeably with the term “grappling”. I don’t know how right or wrong that is, but it’s just the verb I’ve decided to use. For me, jiu-jitsu seems to be all-inclusive, which in my opinion is the more intelligent way to approach this. Of course, that all depends on what each person’s goals are. I don’t have any particular goal, so I want to learn it all. If I had to stick my interests under a single heading though, it would likely be self defense. Most of the other forms of grappling can be made to be effective in a self defense scenario, but again, jiu-jitsu seems to cover the most ground in a single training session.
Conflict is such an integral part of human nature that we go to great lengths and expense to simulate it. Games being played on the television is probably the lowest hanging fruit on this tree. People will plan for their entire week on who’s house they’ll be watching a game at. They eat tons of food, drink alcohol, wear the players’ jerseys (gross), scream at the TV how the players and coaches suck, and then talk about how they would have done it better. Which is laughable at best, because no…you wouldn’t. That’s why they are participating and you are living your masturbatory fantasy while watching these athletes work. Panem et circenses. This is a topic that I could go off on a pretty decent tangent on, but I’ll spare you my ranting. This post is about getting in the game.
We seek so desperately for conflict, that we’ll even drum it up where there is none. The layup example here could be gossip in the workplace. What’s the point? Does it really matter, Karen, if Dan parked outside of the designated area? Or if Rachel may or may not have gotten a raise? People eat this stuff up, and I can’t think of any reason for it other than a need for drama, which, as a noun, can be looked at as a synonym for conflict.
So, instead, let’s find out that there are ways that you can get your fill of struggle that are productive and healthy. While there are likely several avenues for getting your struggle/resolution fix, jiu-jitsu classes seem to be the best bang-for-the-buck. Don’t have time, you say? You can come up with an hour or so, twice a week. What if you could cover: cardio, strength training, mobility work, problem-solving skills (both group and individual), self defense studies and proving, kid-free socialization, and all under the watchful eye of a coach? Jiu-jitsu covers those in spades, in every class. So yeah, you do have time. Say instead “It’s not a priority.” and I’ll leave you alone.
Jiu-jitsu also has one of the strongest social filters that I’ve seen. You, generally, will only find intelligent people who enjoy making themselves and the people around them better. This is true regardless of their place in society outside of the school. I’ve trained with people from literally all walks of life, and you’d never know what their situation was, unless they told you. That’s a really cool thing that just doesn’t seem to exist in many other places. The things that are gained through jiu-jitsu cannot be bought with money. They are only available through regular payments of time, effort, and sweat. Attempts to take a shortcut are obvious, and you’ll know that we know. There is an inescapable honesty on the mats. Want to see a place where equality of opportunity is part and parcel? Jiu-jitsu has that, too. The divisions of sex, race, religion, class, and even language barriers melt away into a room filled with sweaty, smiling faces. The inescapable do-acracy of jiu-jitsu operates with total disregard to who you are outside of the school. It’s a beautiful thing to observe.
The never-ending story that is jiu-jitsu means that for you to grow, you have to always be a beginner. Honest black belts with over a decade of experience will have no problem telling you that they still don’t have this stuff figured out. I don’t believe that anyone really does, which is part of the bond of grappling. We’re all in this perpetual state of learning together, and that shared mindset forges some very powerful friendships. Outside of competitive events, there’s not much room for us versus them. It’s us versus ourselves and we need our training partners’ help us move beyond our own barriers. I learn from brand new white belts just as I learn from any other belt color. Developing that open-minded outlook will save you from years of frustration, both on and off the mats.
There’s a calming effect that comes with getting your neck squeezed and having your joints hyper-extended a couple hundred times. Once you’ve learned that you can survive those things, the rest of the day-to-day nonsense that used to cause you stress just doesn’t seem like that big a deal anymore. The little stuff becomes actual little stuff. The more confident you become in your physical capabilities, the less stressed out you feel by being approached by some unknown person. You start to realize that this stranger is so unlikely to be able to cause you the same damages that you put up with in class, so why freak out? Your posture will change after you’ve developed the calm confidence that comes with actually knowing how to handle not only yourself, but a resisting person.
If any of this resonates with you, and you’ve never visited your local grappling academy, you’d be doing yourself a massive service by getting the hardest part out of the way – walking through the door. Most males will find out that they’re not quite as strong as they thought they are, and most women will find out that they’re stronger than they ever thought they could be. There are some things that cannot be put into words, only experienced. I hope you get to experience those things.
Take care of yourself.