A Jiu Jitsu Homecoming
Finding the Starlight Brigade
I first heard of the word “homecoming” in junior year of high school. I didn’t get it. As with my tendency to treat words literally, I didn’t understand who was coming home, and why, of all places, my stressful cesspool of a high school would be called that.
It was only later in college did I learn that “homecoming” was a significant event in which the alums of a school would return and gather, drink, and watch a football game. I would learn later, across Texan hometowns, that homecoming would include the making of “mums” and “garters”—wildly overpriced cheap assemblies of kitsch like cowbells, ribbons and stuffed bears designed to be worn through the school day, much to the chagrin of teachers who found themselves interrupted by the jingle jangle of supposed school spirit. My sister, who grew up much more informed of the social scene, still has hers hanging up in the piano room. (I’m proud to say that she was reasonable in her accoutrement choices.)
All this to say that I’ve never really understood tradition. When you’re first generation, you don’t automatically understand “homecoming” if your parents never went to school in an American high school or college that celebrates such an event. When you spend more time with your thoughts than friends, you don’t partake in wacky and strange celebrations that people label as “tradition.” But also, ironically, you live a life that may be “traditional” in nature, even though everyone may look upon it with curiosity or confusion.
In the past 3 years, I’ve changed schools 3 times. That sense of stability that I craved in a place to call my “home gym” never really coalesced, though with each year, I dove deeper into my immersion with jiu jitsu.
It reminded me of growing up, where I moved 5 times in 4 years. And, I didn’t really even understand what “home” could mean anyways, because “home” meant a sense of stability that I didn’t really experience in my youth.
Trying to find a home gym also raised difficult questions regarding emotional boundaries with the jiu jitsu school—if you called the gym a home, would the people you trained with be considered family? And, what are the implications behind seeing people with this lens, when so much of the jiu jitsu extended family could be considered toxic and unhealthy?
Despite all of this, I think it’s been more and more important over the years to have a sense of home when I train. With my current gym, I feel that I’m getting closer to a sense of home. I see that here I have a newfound sense of freedom to practice the techniques that I want to and to be treated and valued as a member of a team. I’m not pressured to do the things that I want or shamed for failing to follow the party line, and I’m expected to exercise an independent sense of judgment when it comes to my training. I am able to express ownership over what I’m doing, instead of relying on authority to tell me what to do.
Still, there are parts of me that struggle, and there are still parts of me that try to overcome the bad experiences of the past. I try to not let the memories haunt my present experience of something, but as the mind wants, the mind does. There are a million narratives that go through my head, massively tiny collisions in my head of thoughts that create black holes and choke the light from memories. It is, as the song Starlight Brigade says, a longing for me to escape the endless dream of space/black seas that I can't navigate.
When we think of home, we think of a place that is unchanging and exists as we remember it before. Home is nostalgic for many people (if they enjoyed it) — they come to visit home to get a taste of what they cannot encounter elsewhere. Yet as I experience more of life, I come to realize that home is where we can feel comfortable to be ourselves. As we learn and grow, our home grows with us. We can, may, and deserve to inhabit places that adapts to give us a sense of security, companionship, and belonging for whatever stage we are in our own lives — the jiu jitsu school being one of them.
Inside this speeding satellite
Halfway between the black and gray
Is no place for a life to waste away
I'll take the road with all the stakes (Starlight Brigade)