breaking up is not easy to do
a farewell to harms
Jiu jitsu is messy, dirty, and rough. I didn’t accept this truth when I first started but I do now. In the sport I am rapidly approaching a grizzled blue belt, but in life I’m still a baby (at least according to one sub-segment of people that I hang around).
All this to say is that the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting deeply on my jiu jitsu journey, since I’m now on my third school in three years and hoping to stay for good this time, for a long while. So far my jiu jitsu record has looked like the early stages of my career shift — landing my third job after suffering through two years in two stressful places.
They say that change is normal, and even good for you, but in jiu jitsu, it’s good to have some stability. It takes a long time for people to get to know you, but in jiu jitsu, I think that it takes even longer.
Some of you may be surprised I think this way, because jiu jitsu is often seen as a circuit to spark an instant connection with a stranger or acquaintance. But, I think this is exactly why someone might not get to know You, the capital version. Even though the mats force us to be honest in a lot of ways, I’ve witnessed myself use jiu jitsu as an excuse, a wall to hide behind to avoid confronting other sorts of fears and flaws within me. I’ve taken in the temptation, more than once, to be a people pleaser at my jiu jitsu schools, to fit into a mold that everyone expects as “typical,” only to find myself shocked and disappointed when I let new versions of myself come through.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with mentors and friends about what went wrong at my last jiu jitsu school, and why I felt so awful about it. There are still wounds to be healed and people to apologize to (with due time), but suffice to say that one piece of advice has stood out to me: don’t use jiu jitsu community to do the emotional labor for you. Don’t place too much expectation on it. Just as a healthy relationship shares boundaries and relies on the parties involved to cultivate a sense of personal responsibility, jiu jitsu can’t be everything I need it to be, because more importantly, I need myself to be everything I need to be.
During the pandemic I needed a way to train. I was one of those people who trained in not-so-secret secret ways, went through a couple of COVID-related scares, and eventually emerged on the other side of two years with a brain fog. As much as I would have liked to see the choices that I made as a matter of necessity, I realize that the patterns that I kept on repeating were made much more intense with the instability of the past two years.
I wasn’t so much on a roller coaster as I was on a roller coaster smashed into a ferris wheel smashed into a mechanized tilt-a-whirl pirate ship. I wasn’t able to find my center, and it showed in the crazy way that blue belt days have unfolded so far.
I’m trying to find my way around a new relationship with jiu jitsu. It still is something that I appreciate, but that I understand now has its limits in how it can help me. The experiences that it gives me are illuminating, but it does not have to define who I am or who I will be.