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Philosophy and Practice: Jiu-jitsu by Class Forty One

I am neither warrior, nor am I a king. I do not hold the desperate need to win at all costs in my eyes as I roll with my partner on the mat. I am not the Master who sees the errors of others and smiles at their missing pieces. Rather, upon serious reflection for the past twenty four hours, I am a philosopher who sees the value in combat for the sake of coming closer to letting go of the Ego; I understand that getting better is simply not “more mat time” or “roll until you hurt”. Moderation is what keeps the body intact, balance is what keeps the mind engaged.

Jiu-jitsu has been a tough and difficult practice for me to begin and remain focused upon, but not because I fail to see how wondrous it truly is. No, the challenge lies in keeping true to what I believe and know to be key to my own survival versus what the mob might benefit from as it ebbs and flows towards its own victories. I am not one of the crew, nor will I ever be. My character lies closer to the priest among the soldiers than it is the captain who aims to rule them. My path is not for God or King or Country: it is for my own salvation.

I had a tough few rolls last night. I had a few great rolls the days before. But both events left me asking myself why I felt such emotional response to jiu-jitsu, but that I also felt a little lost as a new practitioner. Perhaps I am the type of man who always finds the flaws and the holes in the game or perhaps I simply expect a Visionary or Sage where there stand only coaches and athletes. Either way, I see the edges of limitation and the eventual futility of jiu-jitsu as a path in and of itself. I also feel the power of learning and the expression of Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a practice towards Zen and bushido. But I will always play Thomas to Christ, and that keeps me on the periphery of anything I do in my life.

As I rolled the other night I felt from my partners both naked aggression and then absolute indifference. I have also felt from other partners empathy, a desire to share and teach, understanding of the challenges, and even fear or confusion. Like in the game of chess, I have found over the past seven months that the player makes the game worth playing. I do not want to play with the person who has memorized 52 opening moves to end the game in checkmate within seconds of gameplay. Those players have no joy in their souls and find no satisfaction the the play but only in the winning. Likewise, I do not want to play with the angry person who plays with anger to dominate and oppress their opponent through aggressive play. Chess is best when players anticipate each other’s next move like two lovers trying to dance beneath a sweltering moon or two old friends trying gain each other’s admiration through subtle gains and sneaky moves. Such partners are hard to find in a world filled with instant gratitude addiction and Darwinian survival; so be it.

Perhaps I am simply a soft soul who is jealous of those who are stronger, faster, younger or better than I am at jiu-jitsu? I suppose one could say such things, but if I were jealous then I would not return to classes, I would not enjoy the amazing people who I have met along the way in my very short time in practice, nor would I bother writing about my experiences with the idea that they might help one other person find their balance as they struggle in similar ways. No, I think I simply “see through the deeds of men” and appreciate the positive more than the negative.

Perhaps I am begrudging a lack of stripes on my belt or accolades from others? While promotions from others symbolize their judgments on our practice, I have learned through my life that such things seldom bring true satisfaction or gain in comparison to the actions we experience. Shakespeare’s Macbeth found tragedy when he chased the crown for his own ambition and the approval of others; I need no crown to experience little personal victories while learning jiu-jitsu. This week I improved my understanding of the triangle choke, I applied an Americana, a guillotine and a kimura without thinking, and I spent time with a few inspirational people who keep me going to class each and every week despite how hard it is to find the time or push through the pain of my adductor injury.

As I head towards the end of my teaching year, I look forward to a great many major changes in my life to come. I take pleasure in the little fun things like my collection of fun jiu-jitsu t-shirts that I wear like a badge of honour; they all give me a fun sense of being a kid again and wearing my favourite super heroes on my chest. Two weeks and then I head to Denver, Colorado to the ISTE conference to expose myself to technologies for education, and I am hoping to roll at a few gyms there to see what the jiu-jitsu lifestyle holds for travellers. Until then, I will float in peace like a jellyfish in a vast ocean full of predators and prey.

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