Becoming the Hobbyist
whose art is it anyways?
I’ve written about why the hobbyist is the most important person in the room before, but as a reader suggested to me, not a lot is written about how to be a hobbyist. It turns out, that if you’re not being paid to do or teach jiu jitsu, people don’t really care how you do jiu jitsu. I’m here to change that.
I think that learning to be a hobbyist is really about learning to embody certain values that have been proven in non-jiu jitsu areas as helping to increase happiness and satisfaction. It’s also about finding variations in the experiences that jiu jitsu professionals have and adapting it to your own circumstances. It’s not easy to find your own way, but as a hobbyist, you must.
The values that I try to embody as a hobbyist are pretty much the same values as I do as an individual, but they take on more specific jiu jitsu forms. My major value is authenticity, which I define to being myself even if everyone else seems to be doing something differently. For instance, I don’t have a visual social media account related to jiu jitsu. It took me a long time to realize that I’m more comfortable when my experience of jiu jitsu is private, because I often find myself trying to curate an image if given the opportunity. Authenticity is a big part of being a hobbyist because it reduces the shame or embarassment or judgment that may come from comparing yourself to the professionals. In the times that I’ve strayed away from authenticity, I’ve found myself acting contrary to my long-term interests, and I find that I cannot enjoy life in the holistic way that I want to.
Another value that I find important to embody as a hobbyist is personal challenge/mastery. I think that professionals, especially those who have to make a name in the sport, look to have both external and personal challenge/mastery. That is, they want to give their best performance, but their best performance needs to result in a win. For me, it’s quite irrelevant if my performance results in a win for that day. I find myself doing jiu jitsu because it’s hard for me and gives me a reason to strive for something. I look forward to practice because I’m given the chance to work on a technique that I want to work on because it’s pretty/cool, and not because I need it to increase my chances to win.
The last value that I embody is relating to self-leadership. I think that I should be able to act in ways that are responsible for me and my well-being. Competitors often face a lot of pressure to succeed, but as a hobbyist, I’m more in control of that level of pressure. It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but a competition is only as stressful as the value that I ascribe to it. Knowing that I have a choice in how much I believe that a competition would affect my self worth has been empowering. How much I want to put on the line and stake my claim is free from the constraints of outside expectations and demands.
While I think that embodying the brand of the hobbyist is important, it doesn’t need to be the most important part of your jiu jitsu identity. My aspiration is that my jiu jitsu is impactful in terms of building relationships/community, changing lives for the better, and enjoying novel experiences. These are aspirations that belong neither exclusively to the hobbyist or the competitor, but to everyone that wants to have a role to play in these areas. I love seeing the happiness that someone experiences when I am able to help someone make their technique feel better. I like how I am a daily participant in classes where people go to in order to let off steam after work and find some new friends. I relish the chances to step into a completely new school when I visit my family back home and meet lots of different people. When I experience these moments, I’m waving my hands and saying, “Look at me! Hobbyist living their best life here!” I am fully immersed in the moment of my experience of jiu jitsu, labels be damned.
Most of all, I don’t use the label hobbyist as a reason for me to suppress or hold myself back from embracing the most fulsome parts of jiu jitsu, or to engage in unhelpful speculation about my own technical development. I am (trying) to be more neutral about the term because it’s all really a perception of how outsiders look at my jiu jitsu journey. I think the amount of internet ink that has been spilled about how to define this label is somewhat driven less by an intellectual pursuit, and more of an underlying desire to find some value in one’s own jiu jitsu, even if it may not be on a very elite and very public stage. I go to museums to look at pieces by “artists”; read best-selling books from “authors”; attend shows by “comedians”; and listen to music by “musicians” but I choose for none of these experiences take away or reduce the value that I gain from working on my own coloring books, writing an essay for a modestly-sized audience, telling my friends a funny joke to make them laugh, and strumming on my ukulele from time to time. So, too, perhaps that the elation that comes from winning a world championship may be felt, in similar weight, as the joy of finally being able to execute on a technique that you haven’t done so before. The victories of competitors/professionals can exist with the victories of casual to casually serious practitioners. So while it’s true that differences do exist, I try hard, especially in the moments that I may doubt myself a little, to believe that the differences — and the points — don’t really matter.