On the Gentle Art #13

bjj evolve

I must begin this post by offering my sincerest apologies to my readers. I have not written an article in this blog for too long a time, and maybe some of you think that I’ve caught the Blue-belt Blues. Well, I must admit that I have been battling life for the last couple of months juggling a never-ending contract obligation, working on my second novel, and other writing projects. Most important of all however, has been my battle with a current crisis of faith, one that grows out of nagging injury, aches, pains, bouts of G.I. issues, depression, restlessness, and never-ending doubt while the certainty of time keeps conspicuously tick, tick, ticking away. My thoughts have been a tumult as of late, and then as a steadying anchor in a choppy sea this came to me:

“All men are created equal.” What a beautiful idea. What a unifying, Utopian ideal. What a warm fuzzy you get when you read it, hear it, or say it. What a crock of shit! You want to know how quickly I can disprove it? Ladies, what do you think? Oh yeah, you aren’t even included in the words. Maybe if we add a little “woe”, minus the e, you’ll find yourselves. We’ll just have to infer that you guys are part of the group. (Sorry did it again.) Now back to the crock of shit part. No, none of us are created equal. Identical twins? Nope. Not them either. They don’t even share 100% of their DNA even though they originate from one zygote. Mistakes and variances in coding and transcription of the DNA can happen throughout their development in the womb. Some twins are a little bigger, smaller, healthier, sicker, prone to disease or not. If they don’t measure up to the idyllic standard, how can the rest of us? The simple answer is that we can’t!

What does this mean for our life pursuits? (Can we all grow up to be President? Well…) Worse yet, what does this mean for our practice of jiujitsu? No practitioner is the same. Sure you can approximate for height, weight, and age whenever possible and limit competition to those categories to create a sense of fairness, but life is not a limited competition. It is open ended. Training on the mats shows you quickly that life is unfair. There is no escaping the simple fact that your training partner may outweigh you by 30 lbs or more. He/she may be younger, faster, stronger with an unending gas tank, that’s besides the fact that they may be more skilled in technique. If you try really hard and you dedicate yourself to the practice you may equal them or surpass them in technique, but those other factors cannot be subtracted from the equation. They are themselves a skill. They may be “unfairly” bestowed on them through genetics, time, and dedication to athletic endeavors beyond your own capacity and or effort, but they are present regardless. You always say you should get to the gym, but you never do and you’re on the wrong side of forty anyways so you’re Fucksville. They on the other hand are running with pubescent levels of testosterone, whey protein sharts, and thousands of hours of dedication on the mats. What do you think a person on the street is running on? Beer muscles always? How about rage? Coke? Meth? Bath salts? That’s definitely unfair especially the eating your face part. (To think, I just let my beard grow and it was starting to come in quite nicely. Anyone need a tin of beard balm?)

So what do you do in the face of all of this unfairness? Give up? You could, but that would hardly be worthy of discussion let alone a post. (Most everyone gives up at life.) In my case, I remember what brought me to the jiujitsu mats in the first place: the unfairness. Then it begins to make sense again. Yeah you’re five foot nothing a buck nothing. Yeah, you’re free-falling to forty. Yeah, all your shit is broken or achy. Yeah, you don’t sleep. Yeah, you have two crazy boys and a wife who simultaneously stress you out, and are the best thing that ever happened to you. Yeah, you constantly swing between depression and mania. Yeah, your gut is the Benedict Arnold to your brain’s George Washington, and your mind is the ragtag Continental Army trying to win an improbable fight. Did I mention that you are a writer?

And then the realization hits me. That’s why I’m here! That’s why I drag myself to the mats even as infrequently as I have lately. It is not because of the unfairness that I face. That is not the realization that drives me. What drives me is the realization that everyone who steps on the mats is fighting their own unfairness. They are fighting their own secret battles, overcoming unfairness that I will never know, understand, or overcome. Every time they show up, they are taking the field of battle against that private enemy, the legions that assault their minds and bodies, from lowly White Belt to Black. Each of us is preparing not against a future foe, but against ourselves of the previous day, of the previous hour, of the previous minute when we were in the parking lot wondering what we were doing sitting in our cars in heavy cotton pajamas. And every time we set foot on the mats, we strive individually and collectively against unfairness. Though we may be different we are all equally flawed, fallible, tried and tested each blessed with our own weaknesses.

(c) J. Manuel

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