I stepped off the mats on Friday night with a grin on my face and my head held high. I paused in surprise as I passed the locker room mirror. The person looking back at me had an unfamiliar glow. She exuded energy, confidence, and happiness. In that moment I realized that training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) had created a new strength in me both on and off the mats.
I have learned a myriad of life lessons in my first six months of training.
Jiu Jitsu is an equalizer. Politics, gender, occupation, and race don’t matter on the mats. Our sparring partners may have little in common, but there is colossal strength in our community — bonded by our love of the art.
BJJ empowers women to step beyond traditional gender roles. Too frequently our girls are taught to be sensitive, gentle, and afraid. They are asked to take care of others and oftentimes to step out of the way. The world is seen as dangerous and the average woman is too often portrayed in the role of victim. Being a woman on the mats erases all of that. I am taught to be the aggressor, move with confidence, and to survive. There is no time for my training partner to worry about gender when I snake my arm around his neck. In Jiu Jitsu, it is a mistake to underestimate anybody because of their gender, size, or strength. It is one of the most beautiful aspects of the art.
You may be on the bottom, but it doesn’t mean you are losing. I’m little. I end up on my back a lot. I spent months on my back before realizing that this did not mean that my opponent was in control. A close friend of mine who doesn’t know Jiu Jitsu watched one of my matches recently, and remarked, “I only knew you had won by your smile.” Power and control takes many forms and isn’t limited to any one position. My attitude changed the day I realized that guillotines, arm bars, triangles, and other submissions could be executed from my back – a position that most people correlate with failure.
Tapping is not an ending. Many people can be stubborn about tapping, which is a dangerous game to play when air is restricted or joints are locked. But after the tap, something great happens. You smile, slap hands, and begin again. This starting over, rather than sitting back in defeat, builds character. Tapping is letting your opponent know that they got you… this time. Diving right back into the game is energizing; this persistence and consistency is what leads to growth. It is what defines a warrior.
Like chess, Jiu Jitsu is a two person game. The greatest champions of either game are actually playing against themselves. When I’m on the mats, I’m not thinking about my opponent. I’m not worrying about my life, my job, or my future. I’m living in the present, working to improve myself. When I see the moment for a submission pass me by, I learn. I may not get it the next time, or the time after that, but each time I see it, I respond quicker than the time before. And when that happens, I don’t see it as a loss; it’s a gain. Each time, my opponent fades into the background as my goal comes closer into view.
As my goal looms closer, I recognize a familiar mistake – forcing something that isn’t
going to happen. As I fight for an Americana submission, my opponents’ other arm may flail within reach. When an opportunity presents itself, I am recognizing the time to let go. I won’t get the arm bar if I hold onto the Americana. To practice the art of Jiu Jitsu is to go with the flow, not just to move from one opportunity to the next, but also to use these lessons to create your own opportunity.
Practicing the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a commitment to never stop growing. It is an exciting, yet humbling feeling to know that there is no end to my learning. It is like reading a good book. When I near the end of a great read, I sometimes turn the pages slower, not wanting it to end. BJJ is a book with infinite possibilities, pages, and chapters. I can turn the pages as quickly as I want, with the reassurance that there will always be more to come.
BJJ has brought me peace of mind. I’ve learned to leave ego behind and just train. This has led to an unmatched happiness. Yes, I’m prone to letting out a feminine giggle on the mats – sometimes when I surprise myself with a successful move and other times when someone sneaks one in on me. It is the most authentic of sounds, because it is not contrived, nor was it learned behavior. The giggle escapes of its own accord. In these moments, I am truly myself. It’s just me and the mats. I wouldn’t have it any other way.