I am a social scientist, researcher, in the midst of a PhD focused on mindfulness. Yet, I struggle with being mindful on a daily basis, at least how most people define it and practice it. The reason, hasn’t always been self evident. This all changed last December when I went on holiday to SE Asia with my family.
One of the (unconscious) attractions to jiu-jitsu is that it offers anyone the opportunity to experience flow. I say it is ‘unconscious’ for two reasons. Firstly I don’t think people intentionally go to jiu-jitsu to find flow. Most people go to jiu-jitsu to learn a martial skill, as a vehicle to help them get in shape, an opportunity to breakout from the mundane of life, to be personally challenged, and because it looks like a load of fun (which it is). In the process of doing all of this they accidentally (but not always) stumble upon the flow experience.
In many ways modern martial arts is an extension of modern living, at least as we experience it in the West. Just like so many of us that focus on the external, and materialistic nature of our existence, so does this seem to be prevalent in the world of modern martial arts. Success sadly is often narrowly defined by the physical, the external, and whom someone can beat. What stays in our minds is the physical techniques, the outward manifestation that we observe in that victory. People then scramble off to learn these physical techniques in hopes that it too will lead to their own success. In a not to dissimilar way, many people focus on the accumulation of materialistic wealth as not only a measure for themselves, but in showing others, that they have succeeded. Success then, is often sadly measured externally, and as a showcase for others to see and admire.
One of the unique aspects of mindfulness is that it allows you to engage fully with the process of success, rather than on the outcome. Anticipating an outcome is filled with expectations, wishes, and desires. While there is nothing wrong with envisioning the future you want, or need — but doing so in the midst of an important moment that has the potential to lead to what you most want, can lead you astray. The problem with expectations and desires, is that they have a tendency to be anchored in the future, or the past.
Tomorrow I am sparring twelve or more rounds with four times Lightweight EFC Champ Costa Iaonnou. Costa is a long time student of mine, a trainer in Crazy Monkey Defence, and one of my BJJ Black Belts. This is a ritual we do three times a week. I really look forward to it. It’s loads of fun and personally challenging. I can see every time we spar, that he has thought about the previous session, then purposively changes his game up, adding new strategies to it. I do the same. In a real sense, we help ‘level up’ each others games, by constantly trying to out strategize each other. The rounds are fast paced, but we never go out to hurt each other. Not only does this make the experience more enjoyable, but with the myriad of injuries I now have to contend with in my 40’s, I need to be careful with my body.