“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu
For the last few years I have been on an inadvertent journey of self-discovery and reflection. I’ve spent an embarrassing number of years avoiding those topics out of fear of what I might find. What little I did know about myself, I didn’t really like because it would mean confronting some hard truths that my insecure sense of self and pride might not be able to weather.
I can write that now with the spark of clarity that comes from two years of various forms of therapy: licensed therapists, self-help books, Youtube videos, journal writing, and most surprisingly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
BJJ is a martial art that focuses on grappling maneuvers and the magic of physics and human anatomy to apply joint locks and strangulation to subdue sometimes larger opponents. When a person concedes the roll (sparring session), they will tap.
I started training a little over two years ago, when a friend, who was a competitive purple belt, and who taught and trained BJJ, suggested I check it out. I was immediately hooked. The physical demands were challenging but what kept me coming back was how BJJ reflected my personality back to me in ways I couldn’t ignore. I learned more about myself in training than every personality quiz, test and assessment I had ever taken combined (and I’ve taken them all). Seeing how I reacted when I felt cornered, what I resorted to when I got desperate, and most importantly what I was willing to put my body through just so I could win was truly eye-opening.
I realized that I had lived many years of my life not knowing what I wanted. I approached my rolls with no plan. I just spazzed (technical term) and grabbed whatever I could and tried to hold on for dear life. Unfortunately, that didn’t work against anyone but the least experienced opponents. BJJ taught me that if I wanted to win, I needed to know what I wanted first so I could develop a plan to get there.
This was the first of many lessons BJJ had to teach me. BJJ became an outlet for me to prove to myself and others that I was tough. I harnessed my emotions, and used them as fuel for my training. I pushed myself, increased my pain threshold and my ability to withstand and adapt to all kinds of situations. I learned to breathe, and to approach my training with plans and goals in mind. And I learned that sometimes to gain a better position, you have to let go.
Even though BJJ is an individual sport, you can’t train alone. You need partners, ideally a community of people who push each other to work hard, support each other and improve. The people I trained with became my community. These people have helped me through some tough times and for that, I will forever be grateful. It’s a strange sport where the same people who tried to break my arms and strangle me with my own clothing were also my teammates and teachers, who helped me grow both mentally and physically. Though it might hurt for a while afterward, each injury taught me a valuable lesson and I’ve accumulated a few.
Sadly, my body doesn’t bounce back the way that it used to when I was younger. As I write this, I’m still nursing an injury from a dislocated finger from several months ago and a reverse cervical lordosis diagnosis. Training now would mean pushing past the limits of my body and mind only to satisfy my pride. Of all the injuries I’ve sustained or gotten since starting BJJ, my ego is the one that takes the longest to heal, and it’s been the hardest lesson for me to learn.
In addition to the physical limitations I’m confronting the fact that the anger I used to feed my training is now scarce. When I first started in the sport I was working through a lot of personal challenges and trying to figure out what I wanted. As I learned to spazz out less on the mats I have learned to spazz out less in life too. I’m identifying more of what I want, which has led to a less angry version of myself.Brazilian jiu-jitsu taught me about myself in ways I never would have imagined. I learned many hard lessons along the way, not least of which is that progress is rarely linear. Sometimes moving forward means taking a step back. In my journey to better understand myself and keep myself in balance, I need to respect where my body and mind are at right now. Which means that for now at least, I’m tapping out.