What Jiu-Jitsu Means to Me
After a health scare that turned out to be nothing, a change was needed. I dodged a bullet and likely wouldn’t the next time. As a long time listener of the Jocko Podcast I was familiar with Jiu Jitsu at least in passing. It was always the thing they did. The thing others like Jocko and the Seals did but not me. Why not me? So I watched a couple clips of Jocko doing Jiu Jitsu. It seemed so awkward and uncomfortable – I did not want to do this. This was for the aggressive jock types but not for me. The feeling lingered though… Learn more about Jiu Jitsu. I looked for places near me to try Jiu Jitsu, finding one academy in South Glens Falls. They had a great article on their site that talked about the benefits of Jiu Jitsu specifically the lack of human contact in our society today and how the human contact in Jiu Jitsu had numerous benefits emotionally and psychologically. This was stuff I couldn’t argue with, one of my core beliefs is that I could be wrong. So maybe my first instincts about Jiu Jitsu were wrong, I had to give it a try – I filled out the “Free Class” form and patiently waited for my phone call. And waited. And waited. It never came. Slightly discouraged I tried to channel my inner Jocko and imagine what he would say. I’ve never met him but I pictured that discussion going like this:
“So you didn’t get a call back. Ok that’s no factor. Find another way to get on the mats. Go stop by and say hello”
I checked the schedule and saw that there was an open mat that ended less than 10 minutes ago. I hopped in my car and drove myself there. Door was locked… no one was there. Again I could hear Jocko in my head
“Ok didn’t work this time either, only has to work once. Get after it.”
I emailed the academy and got a response. I would show up on Wednesday. On my way into the academy, nervous was an understatement. I walked in and saw a collection of people behind the mats – I had more body fat then all of them combined, many were half my age and I think I had ten years on the oldest of them. But I was in the door and there were people here, one of them was walking towards me.
“Is Professor Secor about” I asked – murdering the pronunciation of his last name in the process.
“Yes, that’s me” he replied
I introduced myself, telling him my name and that I wanted to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – at this moment my bravery supply was completely tapped out. I was terrified of the unknown of what I had walked into. The next thing he said to me changed everything for me and likely saved my life.
“You’ve already done the hardest part.” He said pointing towards the doors “you walked through those doors. No one is going to hurt you, we have a lot of people on the team that are your age. We would love to have you join the team”
The fear was replaced with a warm sensation that it was going to be okay. We figured out a time for me to come in for a private lesson. I spent the rest of the day with a feeling of euphoria, I had at the very least accomplished my initial task. All I had to do was show up on Sunday and I was on the mats.
The day finally came, it was time to go to Jiu Jitsu for the very first time. The nervousness was back, but I stepped onto those mats. I was worried about doing the wrong thing, worried of the unknown in this new world I found myself in.
We did some basic Jiu Jitsu things, some simple flows from one position to another in a cycle. After my lesson Matt talked to me about Jiu Jitsu. He gave his expectations of the various belts to me: Brown belt was about fine tuning the aspects of your game, purple belt was about finding a specialty or your game, a blue belt’s task is to try all the aspects of Jiu Jitsu to see what fits best for you. A white belt, a white belt’s task is simply to survive. That’s all. Just survive and come back another day. He also told me one thing that didn’t register fully to me at the time.
“We walk on our hands as part of the warmup”
He asked me to stay and watch the color belts as they were sparring. Watching this blew my mind. Jiu Jitsu was the most dynamic thing I’d ever seen. It was like attacking, defending, employing strategy but all at the same time. My eyes were wide and I had to learn more. I signed up that day for the top level membership and told a couple of the guys that I’d be in class with them. I would love to say this is where it goes to “happily ever after” but that is just not the case.
Out on Lake George with my family that afternoon, Metallica was blasting through my earbuds when it finally hit me.
“We walk on our hands as part of the warmup”
What. Have. I. Done. What have I gotten myself into? I can’t do that. I can never do that. How do I undo this mistake. If they walk on their hands as part of the warmup then that’s likely the easiest thing they do. What else was there? What other things could I not do that might just kill me…
I had read a book by Stephen Pressfield called the War of Art. In the book Stephen talks about the concept of resistance. That’s the emotion or fear that you can’t do something or you’re not smart enough (or too fat – my case). He goes on to say that resistance is a not-nice-person and it's only telling you these things to get you to stop, that you can actually do these things. If you do the things it says you can’t, you’re fighting resistance. You’re making it suffer.
On my way home from the Lake that evening I listened to a podcast by a former Navy SEAL (Cleared Hot Podcast by Andy Stumpf). In the podcast he talked about training SEALs during BUDS. You can go back and listen to the podcast but the key point was this – simply focus on the very next thing they ask you to do. Just do that one thing. That’s all. Don’t think about the entire process you’ll just overwhelm yourself. Do the next thing.
That I could do. The following Tuesday I showed up for the 630 class. It was led by Kirill whom I had met that Sunday. I met a bunch of people that day, one of which was my age and also a white belt. It made me think that I could do this. I was terrified of the warmup, I was convinced I would pass out during the first ten minutes. Jiu Jitsu warmups are notoriously hard – or so says youtube and reddit. Something funny happened though. I did the warm up, and I did not die. Most unexpected this was. I just kept doing the next thing as best as I could. I couldn’t do everything and still cannot – yet, I will get there.
The following week I came in on Sunday for the open mat – I met a bunch of my future teammates. I came to two classes that week a Monday and Thursday if I recall correctly. I met my future training partner for the private lessons I would take weekly – I knew none of this at the time. These classes were really hard I worked my ass off and found out I was terrible at nearly everything. I was accomplishing my stated goal though, I was surviving, I was making great friends and I was learning. I found I could do some things. One of the coaches worked with me personally and helped me escape a guillotine. I had little to no idea what a guillotine was at the time but I could now escape one. (I’m writing this six months after the fact, and I just the other day had to use this exact lesson to successfully escape a guillotine).
In the coming weeks I would come to learn that I loved the feeling I got after a Jiu Jitsu class. I really enjoyed the sense of empowerment and increasing fitness that Jiu Jitsu was bringing me. For me exercise was hard, as honestly I would get bored. But I found myself in a world that was really hard but also very much an intellectual pursuit. Jiu Jitsu is still to this day more of a mental exercise than a physical one for me.
I signed up for Yoga and started that, its offered separately but collocated in the academy. The combination of Yoga and Jiu Jitsu for me was a game changer. They complimented each other beautifully but perfectly counterbalanced each other for me. I learned to move my body to control this thing that I had been walking around for decades but never knew how to use – not really.
As of this writing I’ve been training 6-9 times a week for the last six months. I cannot imagine or envision the me before Jiu Jitsu. I found my tribe – I’ve made greater friends than I have ever had. Including that Black Belt whom I met on that first day. He’s a great friend of mine. I learned that I can do it, It has yet to be easy – it is always hard. It requires discipline and sacrifice but in all honesty Jiu Jitsu has given me far more than I ever expected. This has been the most life changing thing that I have ever done, period full stop.
I find myself using the lessons Jiu Jitsu has imparted on me on a daily basis. I have increased patience and confidence, my problem solving skills are better and sharper than they’ve ever been. I can more eloquently represent my points of view in an argument/discussion than I could before I started. All of this I’m able to do by using principles of Jiu Jitsu. Most of all I have more discipline. Discipline equals freedom.
I’m writing this for the person or people that are on the fence who want to try jiu jitsu but are afraid. My friends I’ve been there, I have been right where you are now. I know the fear you’re feeling. I know how paralyzing it is. Understand though that it doesn’t last. My Jiu Jitsu academy has become a home for me. I took a vacation recently that I dubbed my Jiu Jitsu vacation. My only goal for the time off from work was to do as much Jiu Jitsu as I could. This can be a home for you too. You’re on the precipice of the greatest decision you’ll ever make in your life. I’m so excited to meet you, to help you to become the greatest possible version of yourself – just as all our other teammates did for me. I’m still very much a work in progress. Know you CAN do this. We all know its scary. But here’s the thing – there’s no requirement for this to not be scary to not be hard. So If you find yourself terrified to come in the door or gassed out during a warmup that’s ok. Its normal and there’s nothing wrong. I hope to see you on the mats.
By The White Belt