Riding the Waves of Despair
& other strong feelings with regards to the jiu jitsu
I know that I’m not supposed to take jiu jitsu too seriously as a hobbyist, but I do. The pangs of despair come most powerfully on a Sunday afternoon (when I don’t train) and after a couple of hours of watching instructionals or competition video.
Whenever I think about jiu jitsu too much, I start down a severe spiral of existential dread about my training. I ask myself despondent questions like, “How did I even learn anything in jiu jitsu, like ever?” and say things like, “I’m not nearly ready enough to compete at purple belt” whenever I see someone getting smoked at my level by a seasoned competitor.
People who enjoy the cerebral aspects of jiu jitsu are often plagued by a curse that one too many thoughts means that we can go too far in thinking about the future with regards to what we feel might or should happen with our training. And while I can easily label this emotion as Anxiety, it’s still not something that people talk about because apparently, I’m not supposed to take jiu jitsu that seriously.
I don’t think I’ve done a good job managing my emotions in and about jiu jitsu, though not in the way that some may think. More so that I feel like whenever I have strong emotions coming through, I tend to suppress and retreat back to logical thoughts so that I may feel safer in a more familiar territory. That in turn suppresses opportunities to enter into what I feel like is the purest state of fighting, which does not have logical inhibitions weighing down my reaction times and technique, and where the mind and body are working in unison.
If there is to be a next chapter in my jiu jitsu journey, a true development and elevating of my technique, it will have to be that I am able to think less and do more in the moment of anything. Trusting that my body will keep me safe and that I’ve honed enough technique in active drilling has always been clouded by the gray matter of my brain trying to think its way to a solution. If there’s anything that I’ve learned about myself in the past decade, it’s that my body, not my brain, will be the first to respond to an imminent threat.
And so, I ride a wave of despair — sometimes mild in its intensity, and other times almost bringing me to tears before a competition. (Now I know why my sister calls me “dramatic”). I’m afraid to share these feelings with people as they are happening because I don’t want them to see me as out of control, as emotional, as a human being. For me, sometimes keeping a sunny or unperturbed disposition is more important than fighting my way out through tears.
Being at purple belt has in many ways, been so much more emotional than being at blue belt. It’s an artificial separation for sure and likely a result of my perceptions, but with the changing of the ranks I feel an almost irrepressible urge to finally let myself be myself. Yet even that, while such a simple aspiration, is not easy for me to do. And so I let myself be stuck between a rock and a hard place, between wanting to be better and wanting to accept myself for who I am, right now.
These strong feelings are inevitable. I understand that. I take a certain comfort that they are temporary and will be, almost always, a distant memory by the next day. What I have found more challenging, but a worthwhile endeavor, is allowing myself to feel them, and to not feel guilty about feeling them. To know that I’m always wanting to improve but that also I’m improving.
Jiu jitsu has, and will be, a mental game. It’s one that on some days I’m not sure that I want to play, and yet I find myself returning to the mats again and again. It’s in those times that I see tiny glimpses of the truth of who I am — shining through that gray matter, a little bit more each time.