Through the Fog of War: Returning to The Way

Jiujitsu is filled with truly talented individuals, and yet it leaves a wake of fallen casualities. Since I began practicing BJJ I have seen hundreds of training partners disappear from the mats; some return, while some simply are missing in inaction. Injuries, life responsibilities, disappointment with where they fit on the belt hierarchy and a myriad of other reasons take people away from whatever the reason that they chose to begin the journey. It might be possilbe that a few individuals had meagre goals for their participation and once that blue belt was achieved, the rest of a long, stuggling path seemed pointless.

As an educator, I tend to understand what motivates students to thrive, achieve and participate. Positivity, personal recognition, specific grades in an area of passion and even peer pressured support are all routes of engagement that can keep students in the classroom and pushing towards understanding. What seldom works is negativity, relentless struggle, promises of careers or Ivy League schools, or angry parents who always want more from a child. Upon reflection, I think our mats also function on the same foundations. If you want to keep a student or training partner, then they need to hear positivity about what is being done, feel connected to the other members of the academy and perhaps most importantly, feel like he or she is making progress in the right direction towards goals. Safety, both physical and emotional, is possibly another factor that we seldom speak about during the “grind” of training, but no one wants to deal with bullies or ego-maniacs trying to show “How dominant I am, Bro. I am barely even rolling hard because I am also humble”…as they rip an arm in a kimura or perform their “signature move”: the flying knee on belly cartwheel to inverted triangle choke. Ta-dah.

As I move forward at a new jiujitsu school in Toronto, Action Reaction MMA, I am looking for those people who can offer me a space from which to continue to hone my skills and learn more about this art of movement. I will avoid the negative gossip. I will ignore the brain wondering about promotions or belts. I will direct my own goals for myself. I will enjoy my time rolling and learning on the mats in the year ahead; fun and positivity are my main purpose this year, because that is what I need to stay on the tatami these days. I do not need Bros who need to validate themselves on my body. I do not need to feel like conspiracies are afoot about who deserves that next belt based on that last roll with an upper belt half his size and twice his age. Jiujitsu is not about fighting hard, but rather it is about avoiding strength through technique so as to increase the chance of not wasting energy before the clock has run out. And some days the clock runs for round after round after five minute round.

I am always surprised how one cautious, heart-wrought decision can suddenly push one off in a new direction. Once I found my new gym and signed up for a year, I also was able to procure a spot in a new ketogenic diet program tailored towards people with polycystic kidney disease. While the cost will be somewhere in the $2000 for the 3 month program, I feel like it is a great opportunity to lose some of the post-Covid weight and ensure that what I think is a healthy diet for me is also a healthy diet for my kidneys. It is going to be a bit of a long road through some hungry moments when cheeseburgers or poutine calls my name, but the benefit of being able to even spend one more full day out of dialysis or kidney failure with my daughter and wife make the challenge worthwhile. Who knows, I might even get to Lightweight division by the time World Masters rolls around in Septemeber.

The second step was to commit to the upcoming BJJ Globetrotters Beach camp in Estonia this July. I bought the camp ticket last Spring, but with a pandemic and war on the Eastern front, it felt like I would have to abandon the trip for an easier visit to New York City to train. With these other two decisions, I found the will to take a bit more of a risk and head to Estonia for a second time. As you may be able to tell from previous blogs about my experience with their community, a Globetrotters Camp can be a life- changing experience if you love the idea of spending six days training with like-minded people from around the world. For me it has always been a place where I can reset, be reminded of how much I love my wife and daughter, and just focus on one thing for a while. I can just be me for a brief time each year.

So where is all of this leading me? I have absolutely no idea at the moment, but I can say that I feel more alive than I have in quite some time. Just having things to look forward to in a positive way, adventures with new people and mindsets has been truly invigorating. I do feel like I have some new goals forming; that for the first time since the pandemic I can finally plan with hope and aspire to pushing myself to do more than just show up, more than just go to my garage to keep learning independently for no particular purpose or goal. I know that I am still fascinated by some of the open guard and lapel techniques that I have been working for the past year. Connecting those techniques through movements feels like time well-spent. I also realized that I still have a place for no gi in my training now that I have swtiched gyms and have the camp coming up. It is much easier to bring spandex in carry-on luggage than kimonos. Plus, The Truck and Berimbolo entries are becoming easier for me post-kidney surgeries. Taking out a few cans of pop worth of cysts help with the inversion and stomach compressions.

I do know that none of this is about achieving a brown or black belt. Even if I am never promoted again, I made it to my ideal goal: purple belt from a black belt that I respected. The rest in terms of belt hierarchy and promotions is not really that important UNLESS my actual jiujitsu develops to that level. I need to grow into my purple belt and enjoy this moment, because in the end there will never be another purple belt stage for me, so I need to experience it fully completely. Others may fight to become a fictional king of their little mat fifedom, a kingdom where they sit like Macbeth and tell tales of how they, too, once were warrior. But I am no king. I am an adventurer or maybe a conjuror. I want to tap the sources of knowledge and run with the widest group of practitioners that I can before I die. I want to explore the depths and the widths of the art without fear, dogma or an ego which closes doors of opportunity to me. Maybe one day, my wife and daughter will join or re-join jiujitsu, but that is only for me to gently encourage as time passes. I certainly want them to feel safer when I am no longer with them, and perhaps in some sense that is why I continue to write: to share my hopes and fears with others when I am no longer here, nor there.

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