Some non-obvious benefits of doing Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai and the value of conflict
Being “In the Arena”
The Value of Conflict
“I like to do just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet, but [joint locks and strangle holds] they ain’t my cup of meat.”
~ Bob Dylan from “Quinn the Eskimo” with my amendments for relevance
Recently a member was telling me about their introduction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They contacted us online and scheduled a private intro lesson with me. Part of the reason they opted for a private intro was because they were apprehensive to try something like BJJ, and even said they still get butterflies sometimes thinking about it. Unbeknownst to them, it was the first private intro I did on my own. They told me that one thing that stood out to them was when, at the end of the lesson, I said “I really think you’re going to like this.” Thankfully, I was right and they’ve been training for the almost 3 years since and are now a solid blue belt.
‘said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”’
~ Lewis Carroll from “Alice in Wonderland”
I bring this story up because I can’t always say “I really think you’re going to like this” with honest conviction to someone trying out class for the first time. I think BJJ has a unique and incredible ability to affect people in positive and transformative ways, and most people could really benefit from training, but the truth is it’s not something that everyone will enjoy or at least see the benefits of enough to stick with long term. BJJ’s popularity is growing rapidly and it is quite trendy right now which of course is great, the more the merrier, but the majority of people don’t want to strive physically against another person in simulated life or death situations as their leisure activity. The majority of people don’t want to roll around on a sweaty mat. None of what I write is at all a negative judgment upon the majority of people, those who don’t want to have a hobby like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but rather an observation of how those who do are special.
“It’s something to have started.”
~ Treebeard from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”
Just starting takes real courage. Walking into a combat sports / martial arts school for your first class can be extremely daunting, even to those who’ve been involved in other sports. One is often confronted with dense markers of the unusual activities taking place, including sensations that are not usually experienced in day to day life. Loud music mixed with the sound of strained breathing, the snap of punches or kicks hitting pads and the thud of limbs on the mats, the smell of sweat and humid air, these don’t resemble your typical air conditioned work or living space. I grew up wrestling and practicing BJJ, so the opportunity for shock when someone first walks into our school is something of which I always have to remind myself (and something we work hard to mitigate at Stout Training). That is why I am always genuinely impressed by each and every person who takes time out of their busy schedule to walk into an unfamiliar environment and try a sport like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It means something valuable about a person that they have the drive to confront the unknown and become a beginner in a challenging (physically, mentally, sometimes spiritually) discipline like BJJ.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Although starting can be tough, the journey after the first class is where the real challenge, and the real value, is found in something like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Every day we put our ego on the line, not to mention our physical well being. However, putting those on the line is precisely how we benefit. When we slap hands before a roll in which we might get destroyed by an upper belt, or even by someone with less experience than us, it allows us to practice our ability to take risks. This practice happens throughout a roll; every time we attempt a technique that our opponent could counter with their own move and beat us. It allows us to let go of our pride and open ourselves to the possibility of defeat in a public setting, something that most shy away from in the other parts of their life but something that can be immensely beneficial off of the mats. When you get over your fear of failure and attempt that new pass you’ve been drilling on an upper belt, it can only make it easier to let go of your fear of failure in asking your boss for a well deserved raise. It shows real fortitude in each of us that we choose to spend our free time struggling physically and mentally against each other, and I think it’s important for us all to remember that it is an unusual and admirable undertaking. I sometimes see people who’ve had a hard day in class or’ve gotten beaten up in open mat looking down on themselves and feeling negative, and that’s when you should think to the above quote. Even when you feel like you had a bad day on the mats, at least you were on the mats. At least you were out there doing it, working hard and striving against and with other people. That’s why all of us who choose to train in a martial art like BJJ where you spar/go-live/etc. should be proud of ourselves for being “in the arena.”