One of my supervisors said to me the other day, “You seem like such a nice, calm person. Why do you want to fight people?”
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an art. It is fighting, but it is not violent. To fight a true master (black belt) is to experience complete submission despite all flailing attempts otherwise, but not to feel pain, not to be injured, not to feel out-muscled or forced. One of Jiu-Jitsu’s foundational principles is that technique overcomes strength and size; for me this was the first true “hook” that established Jiu-Jitsu as a key part of my life.
Jiu-Jitsu is empowering. Learning to rediscover my body as a product of my own choices reshaped the negative aspects of my self-image. Like many women, the constant inundation of negative messages about myself and my body created a learned helplessness that shaped my behavior. While I likely could not have articulated it so clearly at the time, I automatically viewed myself as a victim, someone with no capacity to defend myself – physically, emotionally, or cognitively. Sadly this played out in a number of my social interactions, which only reinforced this mindset.
Learning to effectively fight has unraveled this, first physically, but soonafter in other ways. It’s perhaps not surprising that our physical, emotional, and mental selves are tightly intertwined.
My dojo is a community. We support each other, encourage each other, and share in each others’ growth. We recognize that students of all levels bring value to the gym, keep us humble, and ensure we are always learning.
Jiu-Jitsu requires continuous physical contact. I thrive on human touch, but am isolated in many aspects of my life through needing to keep a professional distance. In a gym where sparring is competitive but safe, grappling fulfills this need.
Sparring helps me achieve a healthy work/life balance. In the past, I’ve struggled with allowing work and work-thoughts to ebb into after-work hours. One effective strategy I’ve discovered for establishing cognitive boundaries is to create moments of strong focus that root me firmly into the present. This breaks me free from the worries that chase me, and helps me find signal in the noise that is my day-to-day life. Sparring does this with ease – there’s no way NOT to be present-minded when you are actively defending an armbar.
Some of these are predicated upon finding a safe and supportive gym, but others are inherent in the martial art itself. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s trained that Jiu-Jitsu has exploded in popularity over the past decade.
Codex: Signal in the Noise