You step onto the mat before approaching the centre. This isn’t a gym. It’s your sanctuary. One where you’re immune to all concerns of the outside world – even if it’s just for a few hours.
At the other end stands someone virtually identical to you from a physical standpoint. But physicality isn’t how you’ll win this fight. It’s about what you remember when shit gets real. Slap hands. Bump fists. Begin.
An arm reaches out for your collar, another finds a home on your sleeve. You respond in kind, forgetting the crucial step of breaking grips first. Deadlock. You pivot outwards, hoping to advance, manoeuvre around, and gain an underhook. Stiff armed, no such luck.
Pulling guard is still an option, but honestly… fuck that. That ego will cost you soon, though not as much as your lapse of concentration. You find the other guy’s leg positioned perfectly across your own. In a mere microsecond, everything below your neck crescents in a beautiful arc upwards and then back down towards the earth as you wonder, “Huh… has the ceiling always looked like that?”. Taken down. At this point, you’re once again stuck in side control praying to Mitsuyo Maeda that your frames will hold.
But it doesn’t matter. Because in that moment of airborne surrender, you realise something more profound. Win, lose – this moment is infinite. This moment will become a valuable lesson. Really, in this very moment, the only thing that’s important is remembering to tuck your chin in, throwing your arms out to displace the force, and landing safely.
This is it. Look no further. The answer to every problem in your life right now. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: the applied art of perspective and ego killing.
If voluntarily simulating death is part of your day, the rest of life will sure as hell be easier
BJJ has often been characterised in various ways. Having your laundry folded while still wearing the clothes. Involuntary yoga. Body chess. But I think my favourite one – and the most accurate of all comparisons – is trying to solve an 80KG Rubik’s Cube while it’s actively trying to kill you. And for many, this will ring true.
BJJ is essentially a voluntary form of simulating death, which surprisingly holds multiple benefits. For one, you end up with incredible cardio and improved muscle endurance. The benefits with the most day-to-day utility, however, is how it affects your internal psychology. Here’s what I mean…
At its core, a roll (or spar) is a game of live-action problem solving with pretty linear consequences. If you grab across the body and turn your shoulders just a little too far, you expose your back and may end up having to defend your neck. If you’ve taken someone’s back and opt to cross your feet instead of engaging the standard textbook hooks, you’ll soon find the tables turned in an instant as your ankles are cranked for a mean one. Forcing yourself to routinely deal with these difficult scenarios and seeking escapes/solutions/contingency plans on the fly will prepare you for any other would-be difficult scenarios in life.
Better yet, in terms of morning classes – if the first thing you do when you wake up is try and stop a larger dude from choking you, the rest of the day will surely be a cakewalk. Mental resilience like no other. That’s what awaits you.
It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in wartime
Now, onto the more obvious reason to learn the gentle art. Self-defence. There’s still much debate regarding the efficacy of certain disciplines in a street fight. Make no mistake – BJJ definitely has a place out there in the wild. Although speaking as a former kickboxer, it wouldn’t hurt to have some striking game down pat, either. Especially when engaging multiple assailants. You can’t exactly grapple multiple assailants as effectively as peppering some shots in an evenly distributed radius while manoeuvering away to your escape. But it’s like they always say, the best fights are often the ones that need not be fought. Kill the ego. Walk away. Move on.
BJJ is the grand equalizer when facing larger, stronger, and sometimes even faster opponents. With striking, the stronger and faster will obviously have an advantage. Perhaps these opponents may even train to be faster and stronger. The things no one can ever out-train? The way a human wrist can break. The way human joints can bend. And the automatic shutdown response of the human body when it’s being blood choked.
Again, this is more about preparedness than a Dragon Ball Z comparison of combat levels. You spend a lifetime training for a situation that you hope will never eventuate. The security of knowing you have at least some semblance of ability to hold your own, however, is something you simply can’t put a price on.
Nothing else in life will ever feel so satisfying or well earned (and no community will ever compare)
I joined the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu Sydney academy about a year ago and nothing in my twenty-three years of life – not graduating university, not landing my dream job, not even hearing someone say “I love you” – has even remotely come close to an average day on the mats. None of it. The satisfaction of giving it my all. Getting my ass kicked in a padded warehouse without proper air circulation, by sweaty people twice my size. All while a balmy 34-degree afternoon beats down. And certainly not as satisfying as throwing my leg across someone’s face, prying that arm towards my torso, and sitting back to secure an armbar.
You can’t buy BJJ.
You can’t counterfeit BJJ.
You can’t pour it on tap.
Rich, poor. Athletic, sickly. BJJ doesn’t give a damn who you are. Every single molecule is earned the same as the next guy. With no quarter asked, and seldom any given. Those six-minute rounds are about as close to a perfect democracy as anything in this world. Because you have no currency aside from the skills you have honed across a long and storied journey to the middle. As a happy consequence, you’ll also find a second family in the people you take this journey with. A family tied to you by blood, sweat, and an internationally understood code recognised all around the world.
And despite all the inflamed joints, all the pressure bruises, the threats of bursitis, and the burgeoning cauliflower ear… you wouldn’t trade it for a fucking thing in this world.
Case closed. See you on the mats.