Drinking the Acai
What Jiu Jitsu Influencers Fail to Understand
This month is a deep dive into languages, the power of words and the effect that they have on human interactions. I’ve been reading a book called Cultish that describes how the power of words can completely transform people’s experiences from something that is meaningful to insufferable.
Some may argue that language is not necessarily deceptive — that rational adults can somehow distinguish between fact and fiction, and that people who cannot do so need to re-evaluate their ability to be less shallow. This is dangerous thinking, because it fundamentally assumes that there is a character flaw with regards to people that somehow “fall victim” to the falsities expressed online, or elsewhere.
What this argument fails to address is that language must be expressed in order to have any meaning at all. That is, it must be spoken, written, or acted out in some way. That is the essence behind communication, whether it is to a thousand people or to oneself.
A linguistic concept called the theory of performativity says that language does not simply describe or reflect who we are, it creates who we are.
-Amanda Montell, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
This is the reason why I believe the way we present ourselves and our sport of jiu jitsu on social media fundamentally affects the way we train and experience the art. Every time we recast our experiences for an audience, that recasting influences how we remember those experiences for ourselves.
I didn’t have Instagram when I was studying Karate in college, and looking back now, the lack of social media allowed me to have a better relationship to the practice. I didn’t feel the need to share my rank, find tournaments to compete at, or show moments from my training. I tried to get the techniques to look and feel good because that’s what I wanted for myself.
The ecosystem of jiu jitsu, particularly modern jiu jitsu, cannot be compared or pigeonholed into my earlier Karate experience. To pretend that social media, particularly the performative aspects, does not have an effect on jiu jitsu would be wrong. However, we must be careful of how our basic human need to feel validated and accepted in any way possible can lead us to behave in ways that are not aligned with the truest versions of who we want to be.
There is a desire in most people to belong but also to distinguish themselves as unique. This pull/push mechanic of wanting to be both in and out creates a sort of internal dissonance within ourselves. I believe that manifests in the attitude of many jiu jitsu influencers, who deal with this feeling by incubating a personal brand that says, “I’m not like you…but be like me.”
We can change, of course, and our social media habits can shift as well. But I don’t think that those who attempt to be jiu jitsu influencers can ever fully shake the thought at the back of their heads that they need to always create content that’s worth watching and what makes them look good. And that motivation can warp the opportunities for intrinsic motivation to occur — it can mess with that internal compass which generally points us in the right direction.