Learning to Let Go: What Jiu-Jitsu has Taught Me in Twenty Eight Lessons

Unplug. Let Go. Meditate. Go Off Grid. Disappear. 

Chandler BJJ Two

Self-help gurus and health advocates repeat these phrases to remind us that we need rest and that the human nervous system is not meant for the stress of a 24 hour day that never ends until the last tweet and twit has fallen asleep. Go far away to reconnect with your Self and you will return a new man. Those bags under your eyes and that weird eye twitch you developed will slip away. We are told to return to a world that no longer exists if you want to be safe, but what humans truly need is to learn how to engage with the thumping electronic beats around us. We need to channel our inner Louis Armstrong to find the right notes to play to punctuate and create emanating from the chaos that surrounds us. If you do not understand the reference, then you should stop reading this and listen to “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” to hear how Armstrong glides about the frantic bass and drums to create joy.

For my own part, I have struggled to do everything that I want to. I, like many people, feel that life is simply too short to get it all done. Certainly Tim Ferriss hits on this idea when he offers up the philosopher Lucius Seneca’s essay on the shortness of human lives. What does it mean? How do we find time but not burn our life’s candle out on all ends? While I am no expert on time management, I have spent many hours learning to relearn how I spend my time so that very little of it is wasted. Men like Tim Ferriss, Josh Waitzkin, Joe Rogan, David Allen and even Tony Robbins address the idea of setting specific goals, studying and working to advance along your path, using a variety of strategies to create a synergy between all of the parts of your life so as little energy is leaked or wasted on single-focus life areas. In the end, it can all be too much, especially when all of your Facebook friends are constantly posting their carefully curated life for social media points.

Chandler BJJ One

As my life verges on a major shift and towards completely new possibilities within the next year, I have been fortunate enough to stumble across Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Since November of 2015 I have dragged my 43 year old body to classes where I am choked, crushed, smashed and twisted for at least an hour at a time. Sweaty people move across my body in positions that are almost pornographic, but that result in pain, confusion and a loss of breath. For a man who does not like to be near others, it has been quite a series of trials and tribulations; it has been an awakening. Jiu-jitsu is not the awakening one believes to have found in yoga, CrossFit or the multitude of other fitness industry classes which cater to the modern void. Jiu-jitsu will never be a sport that can be fetishized like yoga so that it is sexual and the yoga body becomes an elusive fashion goal. BJJ players will never create a sexy video for Equinox like Brionhy Smith did in her lingerie. Cauliflower ear is not likely to become a mantra. Lululemon will not be worried about their BJJ line of tight boy shorts because the practice of jiu-jitsu is simply too real. At the end of a roll you are either submitted or submitting your opponent; your sex-kitten body will not really help much on the mats, and I doubt that Goop will ever suggest that Paltrow’s followers get to their local club to learn collar chokes or triangles. Participants are not in class for those superficial reasons.

During my class last night I came to the realization why I was there. At first I thought that it would be cool to learn how to physically defend myself, but then I admitted that the odds of me ever needing such skills were pretty limited. Afterwards, I latched on to the chess patterns concept, the unending complexity of the combinations of moves to be sorted against any given opponent, but chess never interested me enough to do more than learn how the pieces work. Last night, last night things became clearer: I am here because jiu-jitsu class is one of the few places wherein the modern human can lose their ego completely in the way that Zen Buddhism aspires for us. In that singular moment, when I realized I was not fighting my rolling partner nor was I looking for my next move to submit him. I was simply enjoying the flow of being there versus fearing failure or the pain of submission. I experienced a glimpse of what letting go of the ego can feel like in a space that is not filled with incense, in a meditation temple on the Pacific Ocean or on a trail to revelation.

Chandler BJJ Three

Beyond the metaphysical, my physical experience has continued to change dramatically over the past five months. I have gone from a round 190 pounds to a pretty solid 195 weight. So no weight loss in a traditional sense, but my clothing fits better and I clearly have muscles which is new for me. In tandem with the chiropractor I see before every class,  my posture has improved dramatically. The lower back and should pain I was suffering from in October is almost gone as I continue to loosen the tension in my hips that was coming from sitting for prolonged periods. Part of mobility is stretching and re-aligning the skeleton, but without the rolling and strength movements that I get from jiu-jitsu the changes never stuck. I should mention that I have done yoga and fully understand its benefits, but yoga simply does not build the rotational strength that I need through the hip postures most classes run through.

Finally, my game has changed. At both of my classes this week I was able to roll with men that I had my first rolls with in December. To my surprise, the first thing that both of them said to me was that they could “feel an improvement in my base and posture”, which is akin to saying that I am slowly beginning to understand how to move without panic and imbalance. I am starting to not use my strength to attack or defend, and I have started to use the defensive postures to keep from wasting my strength so quickly. I have continued to build my strength up though through weekly sessions performing the squat, deadlift and bench press. I even did my first pull-up ever last week. I have let go of trying to catch a submission from the blue belts and am focusing on how things feel once I lose my way and am about to be submitted in an armbar. A few techniques like my guard pass, guard escape and knee on belly posture are beginning to burn in. My focus this week is going to be drilling the body movements on my heavy bag that are needed to put an opponent in an armbar. None of these pieces are show-stoppers, but then again neither are any of the bricks that form the foundation beneath the Taj Mahal.




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