Thoughts about Jiu-Jitsu and the Universe

In jiu-jitsu, it seems like we never feel comfortable or completely confident in our skill set. When you get promoted, whether it’s from white belt to blue belt or from brown belt to black belt, most of us do not think we’re ready to move up (at least I didn’t). There always seems to be that pinch of self-doubt, that little stain of unsureness. I still have it, and I got my black belt a few years ago. I don’t ever remember feeling completely comfortable wearing any of my belts.

The beauty of that uneasiness is it keeps us on our toes. For me personally, I want to prove that I deserve the belt that I’m wearing. I don’t want to let my professor down. Every day I earn my belt. The real test comes after we get our belts; that’s when we prove we deserve it.

Writing is something I want to do every day, much like breathing. I go in spurts with my writing, like my exercise or eating a good diet (sometimes my consistency wanes). I want to be like one of those old tai chi masters, who at 100 years old, still has the discipline and fortitude to practice their art in the park every day. I want to do the same thing with writing. I want to do the same thing with jiu-jitsu and exercise and reading and laughing and living. I want that daily. I guess it just takes practice and planning; a little determination wouldn’t hurt, and maybe I should stop being so damn lazy, that might help too.

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I would like to invite all my Buddhist friends, my Taoists, my yogis, anyone and everyone who meditates–I want to invite you to try jiu-jitsu. If you are trying to be in the present, if you are trying to quiet your mind, and focus on your breath, jiu-jitsu would be hard to beat.

When you are training jiu-jitsu, your mind cannot be anywhere else except on the mat. You can’t be thinking about your bills or your relationships, or your work—nothing. You can only be in the present. If you do drift, if you do lose focus, if you do let your mind be in the past or the future, you’re going to get choked, you’re going to get arm barred and that pain or the threat of unconsciousness will bring you back to the now immediately. When you train, you are forced to be present.

The other thing rolling in jiu-jitsu provides is a chance for you to calm yourself, to “quiet your mind.” You develop a very calm and calculated demeanor when you train. Attacks that come on the mat become something you deal with, something you defend, and you do it without panic, without stress and the more you face those things, the more effortless they become.

Acknowledging our breath is a another similarity jiu-jitsu has with meditation, in fact, if more jiu-jitsu practitioners would focus more on their breath, the flow of their jiu-jitsu would be a lot better. It’s our mind that makes our jiu-jitsu choppy; it’s our thinking that dams our flow. If we only concentrated on our breath, our body would do the rest.

So to the Buddhists that I know, the meditators, and the spiritual people, I want to suggest jiu-jitsu to you as a rolling meditation; I guarantee you will be in the present.

Fear

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I don’t know why the subject of fear constantly comes up in this blog, but it does. I guess probably because it’s universal and it seems to be unconquerable (at least totally). There’s always that little flicker of fear in even the most brave. There seem to be people who can override their fears, at least conquer them for a moment, but fear always seems to come back in one form or another.

I guess the trick is to live with it, acknowledge it and move on. I hoped that I could eradicate my own fears, smother them or beat them to death, but it doesn’t work. Fear’s a tough little mother. It’s sneaky too, sometimes you think you’ve conquered it but it’s still there, smoldering. I think the first step to handling our fear is to recognize it, point at it, examine it, dissect it and try to understand it.

I’ve been thinking lately about jiu-jitsu and my life and trying to become a better person, a better man, a better human. I’ve been thinking about purpose and reason and helping other people and dignity and compassion and respect, about bettering one’s self, about self-cultivation. I’m really considering retiring from education. This year marks my twentieth year as a high school teacher, a job that I’ve loved for many years. Lately, however, the direction of education has taken a turn for the worse (in my opinion), a turn where students’ growth and individual learning aren’t as important as how they score on standardized tests, where data is more important than developing. It’s just something I don’t believe in.

So, I’ve decided to make a decision at the end of this year. At the end of this school year I will decide to either quit my job and run my jiu-jitsu school full time or I will rededicate myself to teaching high school English for another ten years until I retire (no matter what the direction education takes). In the meantime, I will be working toward making West Side academy a viable and sustainable business, a place to help people, a place to discover and create ourselves and learn jiu-jitsu and build relationships and explore—a place to grow and learn and develop.

Last night, during gi class, it suddenly dawned on me how we trap someone’s appendage or their head and neck (so they can’t escape) before we actually attempt to submit them. I’ve never really thought about it before, but we trap the thing that we are going to apply a technique to. Think about it, before we do a guillotine, we trap the head; before we do an arm bar, we trap both the shoulder and the arm; we prevent escape; before we triangle, we trap the arm, head and shoulder; heel hook, we trap the foot and the leg. We immobilize part of the body before we attack it.

It reminds me of a spider, they catch their prey, typically in a web, where the poor thing can’t move, then the badass spider injects some paralytic/digestive goop into its prey, then it consumes it. That’s what we do in jiu-jitsu. We catch someone in our web, we make it so they can’t escape, then we select a certain part of the body and “paralyze” it, then we consume it; we submit them. I don’t know, maybe I think too much about these sorts of things. I do like the idea of trapping, paralyzing, then eating. That’s pretty much what we do. We’re like bad ass spiders.

This is my first official day of summer, and it usually consists of the writing of a list—a summer “to do” list if you will. I write this list with high hopes, but I never really accomplish a lot of it, and some things I do aren’t even on the list, they’re things that just happen. I like those things the best, the things that the universe lays on your doorstep. Last year, I had “Go to a Rickson seminar” on my list and I did that. That was cool. This year, with coaxing from my friend Carl Sims, I’m going to teach a small local jiu-jitsu seminar. It will be my first. I’m excited about it.

Summer for me is mostly about hanging out with my family and jiu-jitsu, and it would be awesome to make that my life, but today it only exists in the summer. I’m not complaining, just dreaming. I will make my summer list today and although I realize I will probably only accomplish a small percent of the list, it’s fun to dream.

There’s an old catalpa tree on the corner of my girlfriend’s block, and in the trunk of that tree is a hive of honey bees. If you’re quiet, you can hear them. They’re busy. I wonder if honey bees ever slack off. Do they ever say, “Screw this shit, man, I’m taking a break”? Do they get tired of doing the same thing every day? I think honey bees would be excellent jiu-jitsu practitioners. Imagine working all day at jiu-jitsu. Your jiu-jitsu would be pretty sweet (like honey).

Earlier this year I tried to do something jiu-jitsuey every day, eh, it didn’t really work out too well. It started off pretty good, but things came up, and, well, maybe I let them come up. I did lose about 30 pounds in two months though (haven’t gained it back either). Maybe that’s why bees aren’t fat; they work every day. I’m going to try it again. I’m going to make an attempt to do something jiu-jitsuey every day for a year. This time, however, I need to plan it out a little better, to schedule at least the week’s training ahead of time, planning is a must, my brain is not like a bee’s. I need to ponder (I’m just guessing that bees don’t ponder, but they might).

I wonder if honey bees plan. Do they make goals about honey and pollination and working every day in the hive? Are they committed to their goal of making honey? Do they ever quit and start again? We can learn a lot form honey bees; I like their work ethic and the fact that they toil with a group, like jiu-jitsu people.

It’s time to train jiu-jitsu every day, to hit the hive like a honey bee.

Relax

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The concept of relaxing has always interested me. It’s a difficult thing to do—to relax. It’s damn near impossible sometimes, like when you’re twelve years old and you’re watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. Jiu-jitsu teaches us a lot of things, a lot of wonderful things about ourselves and life in general and one of the best things that I’ve learned from the art of jiu-jitsu is how to relax.

It wasn’t easy of course, and there are times on the mat and in life that I am far from relaxed, but overall I feel at ease. I feel very calm. I think calmness comes from a lack of fear, maybe not the absence of fear, but not being emotionally invested in it, not letting fear manifest itself in your physical reaction. In the early days of our jiu-jitsu training, we are usually tense, we’re rigid, we go hard and fast, mostly because we’re afraid, we’re nervous; we are in an environment that is foreign to us and that translates into tension, and tension usually equals an ass whipping, at least on the mat, at least in my experience.

The first step in becoming calm is to realize when you are not, to sense when you are becoming tense, when your muscles are rigid, when you are forcing things, when you are holding your breath, when your mind has seized up, or you’re panicked, or you realize you are afraid. We have to be sensitive to those things before we can calm ourselves; we have to recognize them before we can quell them; we have to be in tune with ourselves.

I’m going to be writing about the concept of relaxing on-and-off over the next few months or years (or however long it takes), and other concepts and principles that I think are important to jiu-jitsu. I still believe that jiu-jitsu holds universal truths; in it are the secrets of the universe and insight into our selves. We can find understanding on the mat.

During the recent move of my jiu-jitsu academy, I have decided to just focus on the art of jiu-jitsu, no more muay Thai or MMA (even though we still have one class of MMA), and even though I think both muay Thai and MMA are valuable classes to have and take. I want to focus on jiu-jitsu, gi and no-gi; I want to specialize. This may be a mistake as a business, but I’m way passed the idea of money dictating my direction. West Side Jiu-Jitsu Academy is just that, a jiu-jitsu academy. We do jiu-jitsu.

I think a lot of schools have a variety of things that they teach–great and valuable things. The more things you teach, the more potential students you have. I think that is very intelligent, but I don’t want to expand what we offer at West Side; I want to tighten the classes that we have now and cut the ones that we cannot be the best at. I want to make those jiu-jitsu classes great, the best.

So, basically, I’m just putting it out there, we do jiu-jitsu at West Side.

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