jiu jitsu vs the world
My first seminar was at a very famous school with a very famous instructor. You would think that it would be one of the best experiences of my life, given how much I talk and write about jiu jitsu these days, but you would be dead wrong. While “today” I love jiu jitsu, I had a much more tortured relationship with myself and life back then, and this soured me on the experience of what jiu jitsu could have been at that time.
The first seminar I took was, as this essay title hints, about the berimbolo. It was marketed as the simple version of the berimbolo, which to my dismay, didn’t mean that it was easy at all. I had spent maybe two months training at that point, and while I wanted to believe that I would find jiu jitsu as motivating and fun as Karate, I quickly realized that this was not the case.
I cried at my first seminar and left early.
I left because my partner was getting stressed, so I got stressed, and so I decided we had to bail. I left that seminar feeling very defeated, and I think that mentality stayed with me for a long, long time.
This past weekend we had two very high-level competitors from the same school come to do a seminar at my current academy in DC. I went into the seminar feeling excited, hopeful, and motivated to do well — but it was, on another level, personal. Inversions were not a thing that I had tried very often in the past; for a long time, inverting was considered to be one of those “bucket list” techniques.
Sitting in the seminar, listening to the techniques, and then trying them out in a crowded mat space, it gradually dawned on me that I was a vastly different person than I was when I started many years ago. And it was not just because could I physically move my limbs in a much more skillful way. It was the fact that in this gym, in this space, I had training partners that I am quickly considering to be friends, a secure and stable job that I was passionate about, and a renewed wonder in learning that I hadn’t felt since my early days of learning how to read and write.
Alanis and Levi, the seminar stars, are two of the most amazing people that I’ve met since I started jiu jitsu, and I’ve met a lot of people. It warmed my heart to see that they remembered me but more so that Alanis told me that it seemed like only “months” since we last trained together, even though it had clearly been years. The depth of emotional overwhelm that I felt during the seminar made me feel like I was back at my old school again, still a beginner, but now with a new sense of hope and confidence about both the future of jiu jitsu and my place within it.
Make no mistake: I have thrown plenty of petty shade and salt at jiu jitsu. I’ve written a treatise against bad teachers, called out the culture of hustleporn in jiu jitsu, and ranted about why hobbyists are the most important people in the room. And don’t get me started on influencers. The amount of dissatisfaction that I have with certain aspects of jiu jitsu that I have personally witnessed still continues to persist, though I’m working through it.
Yet something inside of me shifted when I was at the seminar — a rare paradigm shift that I would say was sudden and slow at the same time. As I saw Alanis and Levi teaching, what occurred to me was:
Wow, they really love jiu jitsu.
No, duh… yet as this realization dawned on me, I suddenly felt very peaceful. An overwhelming, “everything is gonna be okay, you’re gonna be okay” type of peace.
A belief finally integrated and landed with me, after years of trying to force the issue.
Many, many times, it has been said that the personal experience of jiu jitsu is the reason why this martial art is ultimately worth practicing and sticking with. That evening, it finally became Real in me.
I reflected that while Alanis and Levi had found their place in the jiu jitsu world, I could give myself permission to carve out my own space in it, too. I did not have to be excluded or sitting on the side — that I had as good of a right, as any, to be in this space and to be my own person. I had the power and agency to be what I wanted, and I didn’t need to wait for permission from anyone, nor did I need to tolerate any attempts to put me in a certain place.
There comes a time in almost every single jiu jitsu practitioner’s life, when they start to become passionate about the sport, that they begin to ask “what if?” questions about how different their futures might be if they had just trained more consistently, didn’t take time off, competed more. If they didn’t take a time-sucking job, or moved to a different city, or didn’t have a family to take care of. Would I be a world champion, by now? Would I have traveled the world? Would I have found happiness and fame?
For a long time, I struggled with the reality of my situation: that in a sport where basically babies are learning the mount at the same time they are learning to go potty, certain athletic successes were highly unlikely to materialize. I just could not accept it, because I saw it as an admission of defeat and a rejection against myself.
Yet, what I experience today is a sense of knowing. Of knowing who I am as a person, of knowing how much I have grown, even without becoming an elite athlete. Of understanding and accepting that what I am is not about the choices that I have made in the past or will make in the future, but how I feel now, today.
I let go of the “what if” to make way for the “what is.”
It sounds cheesy to say, but what the jiu jitsu world really needs now is people like me and you. It’s not about building a brand or an image. It’s not about the wins (though winning is nice). What I love about jiu jitsu is that the interactions are so human, so raw, so powerful, and so real. They leave nothing to the imagination and there is no denying the way that it makes us all feel in some way. The least we can do is to honor that experience, to celebrate ourselves, and to find our own bolo-demption.
Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming's dead, that no one does it anymore. It's not dead, it's just been forgotten. Removed from our language. No one teaches it so no one knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well I'm trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it's ever faced. Ever. So whatever you do, don't be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. And things are just starting. - Waking Life