I have been blessed with a proper education. My parent’s tax dollars ensured my schooling from kindergarten through high school and upon graduating I attended Salisbury University from which I received a Bachelors of Science degree. Post-college, I have had the opportunity to audit philosophy courses at Princeton University. Organized education has taught me a great deal, but the most important lessons I have learned have come on the mats.
Below are the five greatest lessons Jiu Jitsu has taught me that school never did.
If we want to grow beyond ourselves, we must constantly audit our progress. Jiu Jitsu has taught me to surround myself with people more knowledgable than I and to consistently seek their opinions of my performance. Whenever I train with Professor Almeida, the moment the buzzer sounds and our roll ends, I immediately seek feedback. Often a sentence or two from Professor results in more growth than a week or two of training.
The only way to grow is to extend ourselves beyond our limits, removing what does not serve us and adding what does. When we learn to seek criticism, we remove our greatest obstacle to our development, ourselves, and become truly capable of advancing our study.
The word comfort means “with strength.” Meaning, if we are comfortable with a particular technique, we possess strength in that area of training. The great jiu jitsu players, the one’s who constantly exceed their ability, purposefully put themselves in uncomfortable positions, positions in which they do not yet possess strength.
If we are to stretch our comfort zones, we must live at their edge, on the precipice of the known and unknown. We can only grow if we are challenged, and challenges are only so because they exist outside our areas of strength. Our ability to improve in Jiu Jitsu is endless, no matter how good we believe ourselves to be. If you pass well to the left, pass right. If you play guard on your right hip, switch to your left.
Our inadequecies are too great to become bored by our competency. We must seek discomfort if we wish to become more than what we are.
When playing in areas outside of our comfort zone, we give ourselves a wonderful opportunity: the potential to fail. There is a stigma when it comes to failure; we believe that if we fail, that makes us a failure. This myopic thinking keeps us nestled safely in our comfort zone while our spirit atrophies. Nothing worthwhile is every achieved without massive failure. Failure is synonmous with growth, and the sooner we learn to view it as such, the sooner failure becomes our greatest asset.
Within a roll, a training session, or a lifetime, the more opportunities for failure we create, the more opportunities we have for growth. The only way to succeed is to fail…again, again, and again.
#4- Seek Routine
To constantly put one’s self in a position to fail requires great discipline. Therefore, if we are to navigate our own human weakness, we must create routines that remove the need for will power. Our will is like a well, buried deep within us and full of life-giving energy. But that will, like any well, runs dry from time to time. The more habitual we can make our training, the less we need to tap into our finite will for the motivation to do so.
In removing will-power, we allow ourselves to preserve that mental strength for times of need, like the actual training.
#5- Seek to Serve
The first four topics of this discussion- seeking criticism, discomfort, failure, and routine- allow us to grow beyond ourselves. Ultimately, we become more so we have more to offer others.
As we become senior-most students, assistant coaches, and eventually professors, we must seek to share our education with our fellow students. Our role in the academy is that of the ferryman; we guide our students from one shore to another, allowing them to discover within this art what we have discovered ourselves.
Each day in the academy gives us countless opportunities to serve another: making a new student feel comfortable in his or her first class, guiding the junior students to a better understanding of techniques, assisting our professor in any way we can. Every moment spent with another is an opportunity to serve. We must simply take the time to do so.
Jiu Jitsu has been the foundation for my own education. The class structure to which we adhere is the most growth-inducing I have ever experienced. The mats have proven to be my most prized classroom– I continue to learn more about myself, my beliefs, and the world with each passing night in the academy.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca said, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” This is the value of Jiu Jitsu. For as long as we live, our education is incomplete. We must constantly strive for a better understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live.
All these years I haven’t been learning to pass the guard. I have been learning to pass through my own ignorance.