Sam Harris, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Sam Harris is an ‘outspoken’ critic of religion, author, neuroscientist, and hero of mine. Perhaps what I like most about him is that I have neither read anyone nor heard anyone else speak who was so decidedly gifted at being able to express their own thoughts with absolute clarity. You read what he writes (or listen to what he is saying) and the logic, the reasoning is absolutely straight-forward. And to the extent that I can, I model my writing on this blog after his.1

Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that you’re dealing with someone who defines god as “The intangible creator of the universe in whose presence a human being can live, and according to whose dictates or will a human being can live in this world.” That’s a pretty good one, right?


Or maybe you know someone who is against stem-cell research…:

That was a karate chop.

Or Sam Harris bringing it like Danny Trejo in Machete…:

So this intellectual hero of mine wrote an article about the principles of self defense.2 After posting said article, he was apparently inundated with emails. Let me briefly say that one of the reasons I have a deep admiration for Mr. Harris is because he is abjectly intellectually honest. If he is wrong on a given topic, he is the absolute first to admit it.3 Among the presumed litany of criticisms he received, he claims to have been unable to find anything of substance enough to merit amending his original article. A valid criticism he does mention, however, is that he does not know enough about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

About three months later, he posts a blog entry about his thoughts on training in Our Beloved Art.4 Among his more eloquent are…:

“…BJJ offers a powerful lens through which to examine some primary human concerns – truth v. delusion, self knowledge, ethics, and overcoming fear.”

“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 where the problem is – why can’t a drowning man just relax and tread water? The same inscrutable difference between lethal ignorance and livesaving knowledge can be found on the mat: To train in BJJ is to continually drown – or, rather, to be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways – and to be taught, again and again, how to swim.”

Who the hell has written a more eloquent paragraph on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from the perspective of an outsider?

“To study BJJ for self-defense, therefore, is to prepare for the worst-case scenario – but the worst case remains a high probability in any sudden encounter with violence. If you are ever attacked by a bigger, stronger person, there is a very good chance you will find yourself on the ground, wrestling in some form. The difference between knowing what to do in this situation and merely relying on your primate intuitions is as impressive a gap between knowledge and ignorance as I have ever come across.”


I think I can stop here. This entry seems like a much more sensible introduction to Sam Harris + Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I should mention, briefly, that I did make it to Atomic this morning. Out of sheer mercy, the instructor today did not utterly crush my soul. He just completely exhausted my arms.5 I wrote this entry without using a single muscle in the arm responsible for locomotion – I swear. When I sat down to write today, I decided I would wait to write about my workout until the next time they emphatically slayed me, until the next time they dragged me under the bottom and threw me over the top and turned me inside out and made me want to cry and made me want to die.

Instead, my audience, you received the definitive introduction to Sam Harris. I hope you enjoyed it. Have a good Thursday.


1. The problem is that I have allegiances to other writers, the most culpable of whom are the Beats perhaps, which pull my narrative voice this way and that. I also heavily dip into whimsical matters.

3. It’s something I try to model in my own life. Results are mixed.

Sam Harris recently wrote an article in defense of profiling during airport screenings, located here. Then, given the uproar it caused, he allowed a prominent critic of profiling to post an article on his website, located here.

4. The Pleasures of Drowning by Sam Harris.

5. It took 30 push-ups, 14ish pull-ups, and 30 goblet squats with a preposterously large kettlebell.


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