Boulevard of Unbroken Dreams
trying to love the questions themselves
“They wanted me to pay $40 a month to do jiu jitsu,” my teammate remarked, while we were cleaning the mats after our first in-house tournament at the academy. He paused momentarily, propped up against the mop, and remarked, “That was 2004…I was cheap then. But if I had started jiu jitsu back then…”—another pause—“...nah, I probably would end up an asshole right now.”
Sport jiu jitsu is rapidly becoming a place that prioritizes achievement at a young age, due to the large influx of athletes who, as one famous school in Austin might say, comprise the “new wave” of jiu jitsu. I’ve spoken about the heartache that these new athletes give me when I think about how their early start in jiu jitsu means that I’m left with picking up the pieces of my self-respect after someone half my age can destroy me in half a minute.
But even amongst the hobbyists, getting an early start in jiu jitsu seems to receive an unusual amount of wistful attention. Perhaps, the individual competitiveness of jiu jitsu means that we are more likely to compare ourselves to others.
Instead of being on a team of many, it is only you out there and your successes and failures apparent on the mat. Being unable to pass the buck on mistakes means that you feel them much more deeply. So, it’s natural to want to run away from that pain of failure or not feeling good enough, by wishing that things are different from what they are.
As thinking beings, we are inclined to pursue the root causes of why something happened. If we can understand the cause, perhaps we can bring about the effect. Yet at the same time, our thinking can be incomplete or flawed. And, even if we are correct, there still remains whether our findings actually are helpful to fostering growth and joy.
It took me a long time to figure this out: it doesn’t matter the time that you missed out on jiu jitsu; what matters is what you make of the time that you do have.
This is not an unique revelation, but it is a reminder that should be brought up again and again every time you get those “funny feelings” about people who seem to have greater potential simply because they started young. Or, like me, simply had other things going on that prevented me from doing it sooner.
Over time, though, as I matured, I came to realize that for jiu jitsu, you can’t take anything for granted, and it is forever a game of probabilities. Perhaps yes, starting sooner would have given me an edge on the mats, but what would that have done to the other parts of my life?
Viktor Frankl writes in his book, A Man’s Search for Meaning, about how life, although it is temporary, also manifests permanence as you live it:
For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured . . . It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.
It is my sincere aspiration to live out the rest of the days of jiu jitsu in realizing these potentials — not in trying to achieve what others need for their own meaning, but to embody experiences that allow me to continually cultivate a lively garden of joy and contentment in the martial arts.
I cherish the present moments as they come. But when these present moments inevitably become past ones, I hold in my heart the reassurance that they are always safe with me.