Story Saturdays: Feb. 20
I pulled guard. It didn't go so well.
Welcome to Story Saturdays, where I will be sharing longer form essays and stories. Thanks for reading!
The first time that I lost at a jiu jitsu tournament was at white belt. I pulled guard, immediately got passed, and got choked out unconscious from a nasty baseball bat choke.
My husband was at that tournament, and needless to say, I didn’t ask him to come back to watch me after that.
I remember mostly feeling nothing that afternoon and aimlessly deciding to wander into a Popeye’s and buying fried chicken to eat. Maybe it was my body unconsciously trying to make itself feel better — fried chicken can help with that — or maybe I just had no groceries and needed to eat something, having not eaten all day.
I lost many more times after that. Sometimes, I would lose only a little bit — by two points — or I would lose by a lot — submitted within a minute, sometimes less. Every time I lost, I felt a different kind of emotion. Sometimes, I felt relieved to lose. I could go home, shower, and not think about jiu jitsu for a while. Other times, I felt nothing, probably due to the numbing of feelings. And there were still times where, I ran off the mats, buried my head in my arms, and cried.
Losing so much and so often takes a toll on you, especially when you’re someone like me who is pushed and driven to achieve. It’s been a story that I’ve been living for a long time, but it’s also a story that slowly starting to change.
Whenever I used to enter a tournament, I would really take it upon myself to train like my identity depended on it. It didn’t make jiu jitsu fun, and frankly, I’m not sure it improved my win record. I remember one morning where I did a visualization and imagined myself winning gold. I ended up crying because I felt like it was too much for me to handle, and that it could never become real.
The new path that I’m walking on now is more mature, measured, and meaningful. This new path involves not being afraid to fail, and to continually try out new things, even up to the week of the competition. In competing so much in 2019 (because 2020 was a wash), I realized that always pushing myself to win made my jiu jitsu good in some ways, and suffer in others. I developed a great passing game, confidence to defend submissions, and a nasty standing guillotine. But my guard game remained truncated and underdeveloped, which meant that if I took a sweep, I often got passed and mounted. That’s the nature of jiu jitsu, though — you’re always faced with some sort of trade-off, and you’re always constantly making micro-adjustments to help you succeed down the right path.
In training, too, I lose a lot. Some days I lose more than others — those days are always the days that I feel the deepest sense of needing to reflect on myself. And I appreciate that. I think that it can be so easy to go through life, just doing the motions, and never really waking up to the opportunities that are before us. Winning feels good, success is comfortable, but it is in losing that really makes me pay attention. Plus, if the areas of my life are good — like relationships, living conditions, and career — what’s to say that a little bit of discomfort isn’t good for the soul?
I leave you with this quote from Pat Conroy, who one of my heroes, Professor Catherine Sanderson, talks about often when she delves into the psychology of happiness. It is a quote that reminds me that learning is not always easy, but it is necessary.
Thanks for reading Story Saturdays.
The Mental Arts