Pokemon & Jiu Jitsu
a time and place for everything
Every evening, after practice, my teammates and I draw stickers randomly out of a re-purposed CBD gummy container. Most often than not, we select a Pokemon sticker as our prize for training that day (other options have included classes of stickers in the Pink and Purple Realm). In a crowd, no name is needed on my water bottle — all I need to do is to look for the flexed biceps of a Geodude; the subtle scowl of an Onyx; the vacant smile of a Slowbro; or the glittering eyes of a Sandslash.
My group of friends are about the same age range as me, and so we all share that generational love of Pokemon — some are more competent than others in their knowledge of the game (and show), but all appreciate the undeniable presence that it had in our childhood and late teenage years. This, combined with our collective obsession with jiu jitsu, makes for transforming the trope of “gotta catch them all” into an opportunity for life lessons and growth.
Before we dive in deep, let’s be real for a second here.
Pokemon is a fantasy world.
Jiu jitsu is not, though the use of costumes and rival gyms allow for an imagination to run wild.
The real world, of course, is real.
But the lines between these three realms have been mixed in recent times. Pokemon Go means that any place (yes, even your jiu jitsu gym) may be the grounds for snagging extra items or capturing that next rare Pokemon. And, in playing Pokemon Y as an adult, I’ve been surprised at the large number of martial arts references that *do* make sense to me as a practitioner — making larger circles, getting one-shotted by a Judo type pokemon named Throh, and equipping a Black Belt to fire up special stats. There’s even that r/bjj conversation that likens mentoring lower ranked students as one would train up a Pokemon to fight against rival gyms (click here - first comment).
However tenuous the connection may be for the sorry souls who do not comprehend the Pokemon magic, it is perhaps enough to say that my connection to Pokemon is strong. And in that way, I’ve found this world helpful to processing and framing my experiences in jiu jitsu.
1) Pokemon has taught me that when I skip out on battles too often, I may reap a short-term relief in effort, but I pay for that dearly as the challenges get harder and harder.
In Pokemon, you can hit “Run” to escape a random encounter with a wild pokemon. But, if you do that, then you don’t level up, or learn exactly how to deal with certain types of Pokemon (let’s face it, the Stunfisk is super confusing). That makes life really stink when you’re at level 28 but are encountering level 36 trainers and then having to suck down Hyper Potions faster than someone slurps a Gatorade after competition class.
Over time, as in life, I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles more wisely — leveling up a little bit every time, conserving my resources and stamina when necessary, taking the time to recover, and to learn from my mistakes in battles. I say no to rolls that I deem to be too dangerous, but I enter into tournaments before I feel 100% ready, too.
2) Pokemon teaches you that you may sometimes accidentally do too much damage.
This is one of the few games that I know where you are penalized in certain contexts for doing too much damage — say, when capturing that legendary pokemon, or when you’re trying to find the fine line between not letting that Abra slip out of your hands but also not smacking it across the face too hard.
I wouldn’t say that this is my definitive framework for treating your training partners well, but consider that there may only be one time that you accidentally hurt someone and make them out for a while, or maybe for life.
While jiu jitsu is rough, this doesn’t always mean that overwhelming force to the point of irreversible damage is necessary, even if you are facing a formidable opponent. Maybe, just maybe, you may get that opponent to be on your team after all.
3) Pokemon teaches you that relying on attributes work, but it’s not everything.
Pokemon was once described to me as a glorified game of rock/paper/scissors.
Jiu jitsu is less turn-based and more a hungry-hungry hippos vibe.
But, the latter does have aspects where you are often pitted against a style/game that could overpower yours (and vice versa). Oftentimes, we talk about physical attributes in jiu jitsu like cardio, strength, and size as potential differentiators in the outcome of a match, even if both competitors are theoretically matched the same from a technical perspective. In Pokemon, there are also a variety of stats that one can rely on to win a battle.
Oversimplifying somewhat, in Pokemon:
A higher-level Pokemon may easily defeat a lower-level Pokemon, even if the higher-level is of the weaker type, by using its attributes like higher attack power, better defense, etc
A lower-level Pokemon can defeat a higher-level pokemon if the lower-level is of the stronger type, because the effect of its technical attacks have a greater chance of being “super effective."
Another way of thinking about it is that on any day, the Pidgey that you meet on Route 3 is probably way different from the Pidgeotto that you meet on Route 15 (Please don’t fact check me on that. I just really like Pidgey.)
Even if you’ve lost or been defeated by a Flying type Pokemon before, it won’t ever be the same Pokemon. And you might not even be the same trainer with the same Pokemon either, honestly. You could be stronger or weaker, or trying out a lower-level move on something more powerful. You could be that person who learns “Surf” early and then yeets everyone at the Fire-based type gym.
Bonus: Professors are there to provide you with information, but they can’t do everything to help you advance on your journey. Only you are in charge of that.
To some, Pokemon is just a game. To some, jiu jitsu is only a game. But look a little deeper, and you might just find something in that tall grass.
Thanks for reading and reflecting.
Creator of The Mental Arts