…it’s better late than never
What I would like for December in terms of my jiu jitsu is to not lose any ground in terms of my learning. Prior to this year, the holidays were a source of dread when it came to my training. I remember doing karate forms in my bedroom and lamenting that I didn’t have nice mats to pivot on. I ran in frightfully cold weather, which exacerbated my exercise-induced hives. I even remember visiting a taekwondo school on the second floor of the skating rink to get some sparring time.
Even earlier this year when I went home to visit my family, I was worried about what this would do to my training. There is a belief in jiu jitsu that if you miss mat time, you actually get worse because there are people training at that time and also because your body will get stale.
I think this belief about the pandemic lockdown period whenever someone brings that up. I think about this belief in the rest days that I have from the mats, though not entirely from physical activity since I’m often lifting weights at the gym. I wonder if I am getting worse, even if my brain is getting a break, or my muscles are getting stronger, or my nervous system is getting the rest it needs.
I often daydream about what would happen if I could spend all day training. Sometimes I would actually get the chance to train for several hours at a time. Suddenly, and cruelly, the prospect of working hard during those hours became daunting to me. I suddenly would find myself getting sluggish, or make excuses for why I couldn’t do every single round. I would watch others scrap with each other, call it fun, and look forward to doing it the next day.
The truth is, for me, that I don’t really know how to have fun in jiu jitsu. I’ve always seen martial arts as a means towards self-improvement but that means did not necessarily factor in fun. The idea of being playful in jiu jitsu would be subsumed by the need to perfect the guard I’m working on, not looking dumb in front of the coach, or not letting a white belt pass my guard. It has, since day one, felt like a job to me, though I can’t quite place the reasons why. And, I think the moments that I’ve looked forward to jiu jitsu have been few and far in between, because every class is a challenge to me in some way.
Looking at things this way, when I say that I don’t want to lose ground in my learning over December, I know this aspiration to mean something beyond technique, cardio or strength. It means instead honing in and capturing those small moments of playfulness and fun that I’ve only encountered accidentally and that I would like to eventually create as situations under my control. To my surprise, in reflecting on some of those moments, I saw that they were not necessarily filled with ease or flawless technique as I would have expected—no, I had fun precisely because I struggled to implement a new system while keeping my sense of determination and curiosity alive. I had fun because things were hard.
The biggest lesson of this year is that I crave challenge. My friends have told me this repeatedly, but I thought they were wrong. After finishing law school, surviving the bar exam, destroying my life with hellacious work hours and baring my soul in a career change, I was through with challenges. I thought what I needed to do was to rest as much as possible; take my paycheck and live the easy, comfortable life that I always desired. So I thought.
I could not have been more wrong. For me, challenge is the best way that I can feel alive. But I recognize that those challenges, if they are to be healthy and build me up, should come through carefully crafted situations, not cataclysmic external events with impossible odds.
The best challenges are the ones undertaken by choice.
It is when I think about the options I have in jiu jitsu to challenge myself, and the accompanying choices that follow, that gives me the most hope for the future. There is so much creativity involved in the practice of jiu jitsu, and there are so many ways for me to practice the art every day. I can find challenges not just in traditional tests like sparring and competition, but in my eagerness to learn, consistency in attendance, and exposure to different partners. I can find challenges in the process, and not just the outcome. I can challenge myself to exhibit patience when I have none; to find confidence when I have little reason; and to display compassion towards myself when I feel depressed.
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. -Dr. Seuss