fragrance in the morning sun
Of all the predictions to happen in my current city of Washington DC — presidential elections, legislative bills, and government shutdowns — nothing is quite so unpredictable as the date in which DC’s cherry blossoms reach peak bloom every year.
Cherry blossoms — of the Yoshino flowering variety — have been in DC since 1912. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the tree has white-pink blossoms and a faint almond fragrance. According to most locals, though, the tree is often the source of confused tourist pedestrian traffic and runny noses, and I am no exception.
This year, peak flowering season occurred on or around March 24. It also happened to be on a weekend featuring yet another cold, dreary downpour that discouraged most people from attending my jiu jitsu school’s open mat practice; created a slick sidewalk not appropriate for Allbirds shoes (wet flower petals are surprisingly hazardous); and left me with no change of dry underwear in my rain-soaked bag.
People fly in from all over the world to visit the cherry blossoms, and even though they are right in my “backyard,” I haven’t made it down to the Tidal Basin more than once to see them. It makes me feel guilty because I could enjoy these sights every year without having to do much (besides fight through hordes of humans), and yet I choose not to do so. Perhaps I just take the blossoms for granted due to its accessibility, like something as present as the can of beans in my pantry, which will always be there any time I need to use them. Or perhaps, the small glimpses of the blossoms on my way to work and jiu jitsu are enough to satiate my desire for the peculiarly pink petals without the crowds looking to interrupt a beautiful view.
Whatever the reason for my complacency, I do worry sometimes that I’m too comfortable in the regularity of existence, both in life and jiu jitsu. At times, I go to incredible lengths to make sure that my jiu jitsu is comfortable. Even though I understand that change and challenge are good for growth, it’s in the steady humdrum of mundane existence that I find myself the most relaxed. I know what classes I want to attend every week, I see the same people, and I practice in the same way. Anything that strays from routine is annoying at best and painful at worst.
This is my jiu jitsu’s second year as a separate academy with no affiliation and its own exclusive space. As much as I assumed that things would stay the same, it has dramatically changed. From the excommunication of two of the black belt instructors to being installed as a co-instructor in a weekday teaching slot to being a certified cat herder in kids class and a collaborative source of information in the women’s program, from being squished in Philly to being squished in Austin, I’ve found myself being asked to shift in different and initially uncomfortable ways.
I realized that, for example, if I was to connect with the people who attended Wednesday class, I could do a little better to be friendlier with people, actually make eye contact, and say hello to them when they came into the gym. I’m trying hard to understand and execute on creative collaboration with my co-teacher and to really provide the best service possible to the people who choose to spend time with us instead of being at home, at work, or (gasp!) at another school. We have had several new people visit or join our school that have caused me to think long and hard about my level of skill, how I relate to them as a resource (and not as a rival), and the long-term implications of a school that continues to expand every day.
On top of that, I’ve returned to competition, not with the fiery frequency that I imagined, but more of a smoldering embers kind of approach that allows for flames to burst forth at any second. After competing for 3 out of 4 weekends in a month, my coach gently suggested to me that it may be wise to take a little bit of a break to work on my weaknesses and develop my technique a bit more. For the first time, I’m using my competitive experience to get better, not just as a measuring stick of a moment in time that I throw away after a single use. At times, it seems like I’ve been working forever on improving my tempo and my guard retention. At other times, I look at the calendar and realize it’s only been a few months. I’m slowly learning to give myself credit for the work I’ve done, to lean into my Higher Self in jiu jitsu, and to feel the fear and do it anyways.
There are so many things that I still want to work on in jiu jitsu. How to come up with a better schedule and system for studying footage. How to craft an optimal schedule for training that includes more strength work. How to continue to train so that I may compete competently at the highest levels. How I can continue to grow The Mental Arts and engage with other people who love jiu jitsu as much as me. The list goes on and the path to get there is murky, but I’m sure as heck going to keep trying. After all, with a little bit of luck, soon it will be time for everything to come into full bloom.