Jiu-Jitsu and Honesty

Today, I started writing something. But every time I did, I noticed that there were particular themes, particular phrases which seemed familiar to me. Why, I could not exactly say. So I started to do a little digging through the things I’ve been reading for the past several months. And I found such a magnificent expression of honesty in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that it makes a lot more sense to just share the wisdom with you, as opposed to writing my own hackneyed, bastardized version. Without further ado:

“When I found jiu-jitsu, I was at a phase in my life where I was open to learning it. I was at a phase in my life when I needed to help define who I wanted to be as I grew older. Jiu-Jitsu filled that void, for a variety of reasons. The most important is that I was at a phase in my life where I needed a sense of self-actualization, and a sense of pure honesty.

Jiu-Jitsu is the most honest activity you could possibly have. Unlike some other traditional martial arts, unlike some sports, unlike any endeavor you may have in your life, there is an automatic bullshit detector associated with jiu-jitsu – it’s called the mat. You can walk in and you can say all you want about how tough you are, how strong you are, how fast you are, how effective you may be, how many titles you may have, or even what kind of person you are, in terms of how you treat other people. But the second you get on that mat, none of that matters. The only things that matter are “How do you apply the technique?”, “Can you make it work against a fully-resisting opponent?”, “How do you treat your training partner?”, “How do you treat your opponent?”.

All these things make you realize there is no hiding in jiu-jitsu. You can’t hide from yourself; you can’t hide from hard work; you can’t hide from the challenges your opponents provide; and you can’t even hide from the teachings your instructor is trying to give you. For me, the most profound impact its had on my life is that it made me realize that through jiu-jitsu, I could be the most honest person I could be. I could walk on the mat, let go of any ego, let go of any expectation, let go of any disappointment, let go of any bravado, and just be who I was. I could change that person, the person who I was, through hard work, and through good technique, and through jiu-jitsu.

Today, 13 or 15 years later, I’m a much better person. Not just on the mat, but off. Because I went through that detector on the mat, putting in the hard work, trying to be one of those people who wanted to last through all the challenges and persevere, and be in a situation where that honesty could impact my life in a fight, in a self-defense situation, off the mats when dealing with my regular life, and interacting with people. You want to talk about the impact its had on my life? It’s changed my life dramatically. I am a different person now because of jiu-jitsu.” – unsourced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt

Will Post Tomorrow

Today, I planned on writing this article about the ways in which honesty is manifestly present and enforced in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I consider Our Gentle Art among the most honest things in my life. Where else in our lives are we so perpetually humbled, made so evidently aware of our abject poverty of both skill and knowledge, brought to the precipices of destruction, then impelled to escape or surrender, and have this cycle repeated upon us in a thousand different permutations?

But it’s been one of those days where I’ve already polished off a half gallon of coffee, and actually wish I had just been polishing off beer this whole time. Or a nice whiskey. Or a crappy whiskey, with some water.

Let me apologize for missing last week’s update (something I’ve done twice before, I believe). My audience, I strive to update weekly. Upon my honor, I’m going to wake up at the crack of dawn tomorrow and write the article. Today, I can’t focus.

Sam Harris on BJJ

I was sitting at home last night, talking with a friend of mine over gchat.1 And this friend with the rather normal name of “Jeremy” and the rather extraordinary intellect informed me that Sam Harris, an intellectual hero of mine, posted a piece on his blog about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There may not be a simile existent or ever written under the sun and moon and stars and sky which will ever accurately convey just how fast I got to the blog entry; but suffice it to say, my lovely audience, that it was…quick.

“I can now attest that the experience of grappling with an expert is akin to falling into deep water without knowing how to swim. You will make a furious effort to stay afloat – and you will fail. Once you learn how to swim, however, it becomes difficult to see what the problem is – why can’t a drowning man just relax and tread water? The same inscrutable difference between lethal ignorance and lifesaving knowledge can be found on the mat: To train in BJJ is to continually drown – or, rather, be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways – and to be taught, again and again, how to swim.

Whether you are an expert in a striking-based art – boxing, karate, tae kwon do, etc. – or just naturally tough, a return to childlike humility awaits you: Simply step onto the mat with a BJJ black belt. There are few experiences as startling as being effortlessly controlled by someone your size or smaller and, despite your full resistance, placed in a choke hold, an arm lock, or some other ‘submission.’ A few minutes of this and, whatever your previous training, your incompetence will become so glaring and intolerable that you will want to learn whatever this person has to teach. Empowerment begins only moments later, when you are shown how to escape the various traps that were set for you – and to set them for yourself. Each increment of knowledge imparted in this way is so satisfying – and one’s ignorance at every stage so consequential – that the process of learning BJJ can become remarkably addictive. I have never experienced anything quite like it.”2

If the prose from that excerpt is not motivation enough to read the entry, then I can not imagine what would count as motivation. Short of nudity, that is.

While I can ramble on and on about the immaculate, abject awesomeness of Sam Harris – a leader in this new and interesting, as of yet unnamed, intellectual movement (which I follow more closely than anyone you’ve likely ever met), the fact he’s unbeatable in debate, how The Moral Landscape changed my life, or how the writing on this blog is modeled in large part on Sam Harris’s style (meaning for the few of you that are actual fans of what I write here will have an affinity for SH’s blog entry) – I have a few things today which I absolutely need to do. With that, I must bid you, my audience, adieu.

“The Pleasures of Drowning” by Sam Harris

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1. Fans of my blog might know him as “Christian Bardsley” (Editor-in-Chief of The Comprehensive Guide To Man On Man Erotica, Volume IV). Or, more seriously, he’s the writer-type friend who emailed in a snippet of the original joke which got fleshed out considerably.

2. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-pleasures-of-drowning

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The Best of Sam Harris

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Something amusing I found, BJJ-related:

Winter Wars 2008

It’s been somewhat of a busy week for someone like me, someone who dedicates 90% of their time to hobbies. At the moment, I’m not exactly up to writing something incredibly thoughtful. Forgive me, my audience.

But I’m already a day late and can’t just abdicate my responsibility to the blog. I won’t leave you empty-handed. Here’s a match which proves I was a blue belt four years ago.  This is from The Carlos Machado Winter Wars Tournament, 2008.

The strangest part, to my eyes at least, is I did then almost exactly what I would try to do to him now. Mmm, yes I’m watching the match now and the statement, more or less, stands. What would I change? If I had that match today, at 1:05 I would have gone for the Kimura before transitioning into the far-side armbar, only because (a) it’s low-risk, (b) it comfortably leads into the far-side armbar, if you have to bail, and (c) it’s one one of my favorite moves.1

Enjoy your Thursday.

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1. I feel I must mention that, in particular, it looks like there was a distinct opening for a Kimura applied from the same side. That’s a little higher risk though, in that it’s fairly common to have to drop everything and return to maintaining sidemount if your opponent defends.