For a long time, I had a love hate relationship with jiu-jitsu. I initially began training it, because it was clear that to be a complete fighter, having a ground game was imperative (I still self-defence ground skills are imperative). This was only three years after the first UFC, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was all the buzz. It made perfect sense to then follow that path to ground proficiency. When I started, I never expected to become a black belt, let alone a 3rd degree. The attainment of the black belt seemed so distant, and to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure how you would get there!
For the most part BJJ is a lot more structured these days. I know how I coach today is a distant cry from how it was in the beginning for me. When I look at my blue belts on the mat, I marvel at how quickly they learn, how good they are – and I know for a fact, that I was never that good when I was at that belt level. My only Ace back then was that no one knew BJJ, so a little bit of knowledge was enough to beat most people on the ground.
My BJJ journey for a long time was a roller coaster ride. I had some great coaches, and not so great ones. Been so isolated in South Africa, and not having the finances to travel and learn, I was lucky if I saw a higher belt than myself once a year. This created a lot of insecurity in my game, as I always felt behind the curve, and never being able to match up with my fellow grapplers, especially in the USA. Unlike me, they had access to world class black belts, and higher belts to roll with all the time. I on the other hand had to be content with my own students to help push my game forward.
It wasn’t until I was a black belt that I finally felt I made a break through in BJJ. Not only in my game, but in how I approached the mat. I am now, thankfully, at a point that I am just rolling for fun, for the challenge, and always key for me, how it builds my inner game, for success in the world. In the past two years I have been diagnosed with some sever injuries, specifically in my neck and spine. As such, getting on the mat, and going head to head with guys who just want to tap you out at all costs, is no longer an option. I am 43, and a lifetime of martial arts from stand up to the ground is starting to take its toll on my body. This in itself, has motivated me even further to find the ‘Gentle Art’ of jiu-jitsu.
At its heart, jiu-jitsu mimics life. But unlike life, where making mistakes can have dire consequences — in jiu-jitsu you are able to work through inner obstacles, and through mistakes — constructively and creatively. When you make a mistake, you tap, and you try again. The most important lesson I have learned is that jiu-jitsu reminds you to be present. The visceral experience of jiu-jitsu allows for immediate feedback when you are not present. In other words there is an immediate consequence. You can’t hide behind a mask as you do in life. Move from the present moment in jiu-jitsu and you pay the price of landing up in an unfavourable position, or you get tapped. Feeling this shift inside from mindlessness, to mindfulness and back again in jiu-jitsu — allows for a deep inner awareness of exactly where you are, not just on the mat, but in life. You are either here, 100% present, or you are not — and you know it. In this sense, at least for me, jiu-jitsu is moving meditation, it allows me to acquire the mental acuity often said to be developed on a zafu — but rather this time in action.
It is this ‘action’ component, the ability to be mindful in the heat of a roll, that is so powerful and life transforming. Being present, being here in a roll, while someone is trying to tap you, makes doing it in life look a whole lot easier. Jiu-jitsu sets you straight, it shows you what you have right and what you don’t — not just in the obvious way of technique — but in the more subtle ways in so far as your mental or what I prefer to call your embodied game. Jiu-jitsu has taught me, that the mental game is actually only part of the story. The whole story is that your body and mind are inextricably linked. Where ever your mind goes, your body follows, but it’s true the other way around too — where ever your body goes, your mind follows too. In this sense, being mindful as you learn in jiu-jitsu is an embodied process, not just embrained. The lesson here for life is that, how you show up in the world, matters more than you think.
In the end in the world of jiu-Jitsu I am no one special. I am “Just A Guy Doing Jiu-Jitsu” — but what I get out of it, is embodied superpowers — that has allowed me to take on the martial arts of everyday life and win!