Nowhere

After a competition class, two months ago perhaps, we were all sitting together and listening. Perhaps there are persons in my audience who remember when, after a long and thoughtful speech, this question was put to us:

“Where would you rather be?”

Though the question seems simple, it is only deceptively so. Where would I rather be? When I’m at jiu-jitsu, is there some other place I would rather be? I don’t know. Nothing immediately came to my mind when he asked. But the answer runs deeper.

Look at us. Look and consider what it is that we do: laboring away for countless hours on The Gentle Art; distilling technique from instruction, and through struggle; training through injuries uncounted and uncountable; sharpening a knife’s edge on our skills; forcing on our bodies the demands required by life on the mats; and anguishing not pain or weakness or fear, but time spent away from from our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

That is the predicament for some of us.  And in some capacity, it describes every single jiu-jitsu practitioner. And the moment I realized this, the answer to the question became obvious.

When I’m in class and feel my concentration slipping, I ask myself “Where would I rather be?” Afterward, my focus will return. Or my motivation, after a pitiless on-the-mats beating. Pausing for moment to ask myself the question has stopped me from setting fire to my belt on at least one occasion. Even during the training days of late, which have been spent patching holes in my game – and it’s those kinds of days when I (You) become so barefacedly aware of my (your) lacking technical expertise, or of this feeling like I (You) don’t know a single goddamn thing at all about jiu-jitsu – can I think of some other place I’d rather be? I mean, where would I rather be? Nowhere. Here is where I’d rather be. Here. On the mats, with my friends. Patching away at the problem areas, one solution at a time.

Setting My Belt On Fire

This was two weeks ago. Class had just finished, and I had not performed as well as I would have liked. We all know these days, the days when you don’t understand what you’re working on, when you just can’t seem to do it, everything about your jiu-jitsu is messed up and so damn woebegone awful.

Then I started having an impulse. And it stayed in the forefront of my thoughts for a good many minutes, as everyone packed up to leave. ‘I should set my belt on fire in the parking lot.’ If I had had a lighter on me, or had other some way to guarantee the belt would be engulfed in flames before some academy member tried to stop me, I would have done it.

My blue belt. Up in flames. My tattered, stripeless, faded and weathered blue belt. Up in flames. I wanted to feel the heat in my hands, until I could no longer bear it. Then I would have dropped it safely in the middle of the parking lot, and let it lie, lie, sizzle away, and die.1

Honing our skills in jiu-jitsu is something we do over the course of weeks, months, and years. A day of either ‘tangible heroics’ on the mats or ‘lamentable performance and defeat’ is less important than the long-term trends associated with your learning. Everyone has good days. Everyone has bad days. (And why does it seem as though everyone else is having a good day on your bad one?) But, all other things being equal, it is more often than not about taking a step in the right direction. Then another. And another. After a set number of these iterations, of these small steps, you are, in an objective sense, better than you were before.2

In the end I did not set my belt on fire, if only because I could not find a lighter at the time. But the impulse did eventually pass, and is now gone. God knows what kind of reaction I would have been met with, had I gone through with it. The burgeoning ass-chewings would have been justified, after all. I should no more burn my belt after a bad day than promote myself to black belt after almost beating one once.3 While lying in the shadow of failure, however, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the investments we make on the mats – investments we make as both (a) individuals in ourselves and (b) members of a larger team in our teammates4 – are the kind which pay off in the long-term. Even after five years, it is still sometimes easy to forget.5

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1.  Just to be clear, I am not stating, either explicitly or implicitly, that I wanted to set some place on fire. Do not do illegal things.

2.  All other things being equal.

3.  A fictional supposition, as I’ve never beaten a black belt. But the point stands: anyone who thinks a single victory over someone is a patent indication of increased skill is patently delusional.

4.  While it is plain to see that we invest in our own jiu-jitsu, the fact that we invest in the jiu-jitsu of our teammates is a more elusive one. Being part of the right team matters as much as any other variable – physical fitness, natural aptitude, flexibility – related to your jiu-jitsu.

5.  I subtract the time injured, traveling, or otherwise not training from my total training time. So while I started training January 2006, about six months of the time between then and now was spent off the mats.

The Past And The Future

In a month from now, I will have been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for five years. In this length of time, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was perhaps the only steady thing in my life. These past three years, in particular, have taken me across the United States several times, through preposterous adventure after adventure, and almost exactly halfway across the world then back again.

Yes, back again. Seven months ago I had a conversation with a friend who had begun to make plans for something different, something special. With moving amounts of passion, he spoke to me about wanting to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Whether or not I wanted to participate was no longer a question. And so it was that a few days after our conversation I went home, planned my South American Fandango to its minutest detail, wrote everything down in a spiral…and then shelved it. After that, I packed my canvas bag and left.

Today marks the third month and fourth day since my return to Austin. I have spent my time on the mats, writing, catch up with old friends, and making new ones. You, my audience, are now officially ‘caught up.’

This is going to be a blog, first and foremost, about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Admittedly I do not have enough foresight, enough prescience of mind, to know precisely what it is about our martial art that will be found here. Rest assured though, my reader(s), the projected scope most assuredly include topics like technique, latest news, the academy where I train and my team, lessons learned on the mat, and Philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu.

To a lesser extent, there will undoubtedly be the occasional foray into other interests of mine. Is there even anyone out there who can fully disentangle and partition their interests into non-overlapping magisteria? My inclination is ‘no.’ But no matter. I will strive to keep all digressions somehow related, always well-informed, and reasonably brief (probably).

But let me make something clear here in the first entry. Irrespective of what it is that I have to say, I plan-promise-pledge to be additive to the quality of both our community’s dialogue and our martial art, our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Ego, pettiness, rumormongering – non-additives – will have no place here. Nor will I tolerate their presence. And neither should you by the way, here or elsewhere.

Please check in with me every couple of days for updates. Until then, happy trails.

Probably A Little Too Formal,

Justin