Make Jiu Jitsu Joyful Again
Jiu Jitsu Con, Pt. 3
I have not been feeling great these past few months. Vegas helped me figure out why.
Since February, I’ve been trying very hard to get my purple belt in jiu jitsu. I thought about the belt every single day, particularly the reasons why I didn’t get it. I honed in on several hypotheses: maybe my competition record wasn’t good enough; perhaps my attendance was too low; potentially I wasn’t doing enough to help others at the school; possibly my attitude during drilling wasn’t focused.
My thought was that if I just worked really hard on certain aspects of my jiu jitsu and got extra help, that eventually the purple belt will come sometime this year. I watched as some other people got elevated to blue (which made me happy) and some others get their first stripes (which made me elated). I channeled the abundance mindset to myself—if they were getting better, it had to mean that I as their training partner was also improving. This is how jiu jitsu works, after all.
For every major competition I would think to myself that if I won the gold, I would get promoted soon, or that would help me look better in the eyes of my instructor. And for each loss, I would feel like I had blown my chances somehow, and that I was set back a little bit from my goal. These were the thoughts that plagued me during competitions and leeched into my daily training, where the Outcome soon overshadowed the Process of learning. Some days when I felt good about myself, I would wear my belt with four stripes, with each stripe shining as brightly as a newly-refurbished city crosswalk. On other days, I would just wear my other two backup belts, not quite as shiny, but still tattered in the “right” way.
These were the thoughts that I packed with me on the way to Vegas.
And these were the thoughts that I let stay in Vegas.
After I lost in the first round of both my gi/no gi matches, I could feel the existential spiral coming down, hard and fast like a hurricane forming in a low pressure zone. The hurricane drew its strength from disappointment, embarassment, shame, and doubt. From the outside I could see the winds picking up, threatening to knock me over in the process of dismantling the structures that I had set up to improve my skills.
In the 10 hours that I spent traveling home, I had a lot of time to think (and also watch a collar-sleeve instructional). I’ve spoken before about how a desolate landscape can be the setting for creative inspiration—but nothing quite compares to your own mind while stuck in a metal tube hurling itself over the Rocky Mountains thousands of feet in the air.
In a moment of clarity, I thought about what was missing in my jiu jitsu experience for the first time. Not what I was missing to get a purple belt, or to win competitions, or to gain the respect of my training partners and friends. Instead, I narrowed my focus to my day-to-day existence in training, where I hadn’t smiled or laughed, in months. I narrowed my focus to my gut when I took rides to class, where I hadn’t felt excitement and only near-crippling anxiety, in months. With each thought, I got closer and closer to the center of what my heart truly wanted: joy.
They say that the center of the hurricane is the calmest part of the storm. Ironically, the calm is only possible because the winds around the eye are the most violent of all. Regardless of what destruction may be happening at the edges, it is when we get close to the center of the storm that we find the greatest forces.
However, in the eye of the storm, the skies are clear. It is, quite literally, where I may see myself the most clearly. Though destruction swirls all around me, I find myself at peace.