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07 of January 2012
One of the first real lessons you have to learn when you’re first starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not to fight force with force. ”Jiu jitsu” (or “ju jitsu”) literally translates from the original Japanese as “gentle art”, but it’s not because we all just want to slowly, gently hug one another on the mats; instead, the name describes the underlying philosophy of BJJ to a tee: when faced with a worthy adversary, don’t try to overpower the force, but instead move around it. When faced with something more powerful than you, get out of the way. When pushed, pull; when pulled, push.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has changed my life immeasurably over the last 15 years or so. My story will sound familiar to anyone else who has been training for more than a year or two, and it is my hope with sharing this story that many will understand that the philosophy applies not only on the mats, but also in real life.
It took a while for me to learn the lessons and actually apply them with life. Like most young adults (early 20s), I was pretty angry a lot of the time. I was passionate about social issues, politics, personal interactions with my friends, and just about anything else that presented itself to me. I shook my fist at the establishment, wrote songs about how angry I was, and envisioned things changing one day, without any kind of concrete idea of how to make it happen- just a lot of angst.
When I started jiu jitsu, I gradually began to see things in a new light. There were certain things that, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t going to change in the immediate future. One example is the rather childish approach I took to owing money to the city for parking tickets. I viewed the city’s overly aggressive approach to ticketing ignorant citizens like myself as wrong, and I refused to pay tickets. Well, guess what? I ended up owing a lot more money and going through a lot more angst because of my attitude.
Before I go any further, I need to make a disclaimer here. I’m not suggesting that wanting to enact change is a bad thing, or childish, or foolish. It’s not. What’s immature – futile, even- is the attitude that you’re not going to go with the flow when faced with insurmountable obstacles.
As I grew older, I was frequently faced with analogous examples in my personal and professional life where rolling with the punches (another term that aptly describes the BJJ philosophy, although I’m borrowing it from boxing here) would help me get through some tough times. The ability to shrug your shoulders and move forward when faced with a huge, unexpected bill, for example, is incalculably valuable. When a loved one betrays you, moving forward with life is made possible in many ways by realizing that life will move on with or without that person. Going with the flow lets you get on with your life, and even benefit from tough times in the long run. Retrospect is a powerful tool.
The best personal example that comes to mind is from about 2007 when I was living in a house that I loved. The place was perfect for me at the time- spacious, historic (I love older houses), and close enough to everything in the city so that I could walk to a few places if I chose. I had been at this house for about three years when a new owner purchased the place (I was renting). Six uneventful months went by before the roof began to leak. I reached out to the landlord on several occasions, and he said he would fix it, but (long story short) I got the runaround from him. Things got bad enough so that it was essentially raining inside my house. I eventually went to court, put my rent in escrow, and got it all back before moving out. That rent money became part of a down payment on a house I would buy the following year.
Instead of bearing futile anger at the situation, I essentially allowed things to take their course. Looking back, it was relatively easy to get my rent money back because I was patient, and I took the appropriate legal channels to accomplish what I needed.
The more time I spent on the mats, the better I understood that I had to get out of the way of certain things, both in life and on the mats. The better I got at jiu jitsu, the better I understood that life’s waves are made to be ridden, not faced head on. Enjoy your time on the mats, and take the lessons home with you. It will make your life more enjoyable and productive.
Oh- and if you don’t understand the article’s title, please immediately watch the following video when you have an hour and a half to kill: