A Portrait of Jiu Jitsu
Night is perhaps my most favorite time of day. At night, most people are asleep, and the tasks of the day are complete. Save for a few distance sirens and the occasional bump in the night, this is the time when I get to be the most intimate with my thoughts.
For a long time, I’ve tried to talk myself into being a “morning” person. After all, morning is supposed to be the most productive time. It is when millionaires supposedly do their morning rituals to make lots of money. But even when I’m supposedly fully rested, usually inspiration at that time is at best, caffeinated, and at worst, dull. Night, however, has never failed me in terms of inspiration. At a time when you’re “supposed” to rest is when my mind comes alive, and I can finally listen to myself — listen to what my brain wants my heart to hear, and contemplate what my heart wants my brain to understand.
For far too long, I’ve been chasing success in jiu jitsu through extrinsic goals. I’ve finally come to accept that this isn’t what I want. What I desire, what I crave, is instead a feeling-state where there is acceptance and freedom from all attachment.
Jiu jitsu is an art centered around violence. Whether that violence escalates or diminishes depends on the choice of whomever is on control. To think of violence as a choice may seem unpalatable, but in the context of jiu jitsu, this means that peace can be an option, too. Thus, when I do jiu jitsu, I try to remember the choice I need to make between peace and violence. There is no such coffee-like customization of “half and half” milk that I can add to the mix to dilute the dark decision before me.
More often than not, in my jiu jitsu journey, I’ve chosen violence. More specifically, I’ve chosen violence against myself and my own sense of self. In the movie Shang-Chi, Awkwafina’s character, Katy, helps Shang-Chi (“Shaun”) come to terms with his upbringing and his guilt of what he’s done in the past. She reminds him that “Your dad trained you to be an assassin at 14. You realize how messed up that is, right?”
How many endless assassinations of my character have I performed, or attempted ot perform, over the years? Perhaps, now, comes the time to choose peace.
Lately, I’ve been thinking through the phrase and observation that I’m being more honest with myself. But I resist it, a little out of ego, but a lot out of logic, that this phrase is helpful in any way. I think when we talk about people being more honest with themselves, there’s a strong implication that they were, and can, lie to themselves. But I think a larger part of what happens is suppression. That silencing, that stifling of who we are is the violence of which I speak.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn that those who are trained to destroy parts of themselves are not necessarily doomed to misery. The real turning point instead, is whether such destruction allows for a new opportunity to heal and rebuild.
What makes people fall in love with jiu jitsu is how intimately it represents that natural cycle of birth and death, of living and decaying, and of predator and prey. What makes people fall out of love is a refusal to accept these cycles and an attachment to immortality.
Perhaps, what makes us move out of our fears in doing jiu jitsu is that we realize that we can be stronger than what we believe, when we are stripped to the barest form of our existence and identity, we find the truest, most authentic version of ourselves. Perhaps, we use the darkness to help us see the stars, to find our way back to a place of belonging and connection. We cannot see in true darkness, but we still know that we exist.
More and more, I want to start to learn how to feel what jiu jitsu is like, instead of criticizing it, deconstructing it, and logicking it. I choose peace in the dead of night, choose to beyond my perceived shortcomings, and navigate into who I truly am as a martial artist and person. The transformation, you might say, would be like night and day.