Jiu-Jitsu Is For Everyone, But. . .

Jiu-jitsu is a martial art, sport, fitness activity, and much more. It is common to hear people say that jiu-jitsu is for everyone, and often the person saying that is living the jiu-jitsu life and deriving great benefit from the art. It is indeed true that jiu-jitsu is for everyone.

Jiu-jitsu is not rigid and it is adaptable for any human. You don’t have to be smart, athletic, strong, fit, or even have all of your limbs intact. You can be blind and/or deaf. You can be 4 years old or 80. Even for people who have all the physical and mental advantages in the world, they will still find ways to evolve their jiu-jitsu and create their own approach to it.

If you want to practice jiu-jitsu, there is truly nothing stopping you. If you want to get in shape, jiu-jitsu will help. If you want to learn self-defense, jiu-jitsu will help. If you want to compete seriously or just play during open mats, jiu-jitsu can help you achieve your goals. Jiu-jitsu is a blending of exercise and camaraderie, theory and application, and more.

It sounds wonderful, and it is. I’ve met many people who build their life around jiu-jitsu, and they are happy and productive. I have also seen countless people try jiu-jitsu and quit.

The reality of jiu-jitsu is that while it is adaptable and can be practiced by anyone, it is not a magic pill that makes your life better. It is hard and constantly challenges you. Failure is a constant companion. Injuries inevitably happen. People you never thought you’d see quit jiu-jitsu leave and never come back. Jiu-jitsu can be demoralizing and it can make you want to quit. At some point, you might ask yourself if pizza and beer sounds like more fun than getting sweaty and barely crawling off the mats after getting your butt handed to you by most of the people in the room. It takes so long to get good, and then there is always someone out there that can make you look like you’ve barely spent any time on the mats.

It is very important to realize that it’s not jiu-jitsu that is the cause of attrition. Jiu-jitsu is supremely adaptable, but people may not be. It is hard, but never impossible.

You will be the one to decide if you are cut out for jiu-jitsu. Nobody else can make that decision for you. I encourage everyone to try jiu-jitsu and to stick with it because I believe it can benefit everyone. Although I never want to see anybody quit jiu-jitsu, I also understand that we all have different priorities. I don’t think jiu-jitsu should be more important than your family or your job, for instance. If you stick with it and you still aren’t enjoying it, it is absolutely possible that you are not cut out for jiu-jitsu – at least at this point in your life.

Understand that you don’t have to train like you are going to be a world champion. You can train a couple days a week and make progress. You don’t have to keep up with anybody or be under any kind of pressure to get that next stripe or belt. You can do jiu-jitsu just for fun and exercise. It is usually more rewarding to push yourself and get out of your comfort zone, but jiu-jitsu is flexible enough to work within whatever goals you have, even if you don’t have any. Despite any difficulties you may encounter in jiu-jitsu, the path you walk is still your own. You decide how much internal and external pressure you accept on your journey. Look for a balance that keeps you in jiu-jitsu and satisfies your other life needs.

If you have quit jiu-jitsu, or you are thinking about it, make sure you have the right reasons and be honest about it. Jiu-jitsu is hard and it takes a long time to get good. You do have the physical ability to go however far you want in jiu-jitsu. Do you have the mental fortitude to practice jiu-jitsu for the long term? If you want jiu-jitsu in your life, there’s always a way to make it happen. It may require giving up pizza and beer, or it may mean you have to learn to overcome seemingly insurmountable mental and emotional challenges. I believe it’s worth it. Jiu-jitsu won’t hold you back. You are the only one that can prevent you from enjoying the benefits of jiu-jitsu.

If after reading all this you still don’t think jiu-jitsu is for you, or that it doesn’t fit in with your life, all I can say is that overcoming the mental challenge of jiu-jitsu is rewarding in a way that is very hard to match. Please give jiu-jitsu a chance to enrich your life. Find a coach and team (or even just a buddy) that helps you fulfill your goals. It can be incredibly hard both physically and mentally, but though overcoming challenge we grow and thrive. Find a balance between jiu-jitsu and everyday life. If you stick with it, we will cheer you on. If you end up leaving jiu-jitsu, you are always welcome back with open arms. If you never come back, we are saddened by losing you, but we respect your decision.

Jiu-jitsu is for everyone, but not everyone is for jiu-jitsu.

My Apology

I have to apologize, but not in the way you are probably thinking. I’m referring to the lesser known definition of apology, which is to make a rational defense of a position, also known as apologia. I am a firm believer that if you are going to have an opinion on something, from jiu-jitsu to science to religion to politics, you ought to be able to defend your position, even if you have to argue within someone else’s ground rules.

For the BJJ perspective, one of the things I do is to start each class with jiu-jitsu roulette. Students pick a number from 1-20, and I roll an extra large d20 die. The student with the closest number can ask any question about jiu-jitsu, from theory to technique. While this appears to be a simple case of answering any outstanding questions, it is much more to me.

We are constantly tested during sparring, with the physical truth sorted out by both partners. The person who is successful learns what works, while the person who fails learns what does not. This is valuable, but too often the lessons have to be repeated many times before you semi-subconsciously learn what is good or bad to do for that specific situation. You are training your instincts, but not your mind. We are informally tested when we discuss technique with friends, and while that does develop the mind somewhat, it is often no more than determining what is a good thing to do for a given scenario. There needs to be more to fully develop your jiu-jitsu mind.

An simplistic way to develop your mind is to classify a technique and label it. Old school, new school, Gracie, 10th Planet, traditional martial arts, MMA, self defense, etc . . . This gives a way to identify that which is yours vs that which is part of the “other” and therefore implied to be either inferior to your technique or unneeded for your purposes. Labeling things takes just enough experience and intelligence to classify, but it does not necessarily give you a true sense of the utility of what you are labeling.

When I am asked to explain a technique, like for my jiu-jitsu roulette, I strive to answer not just the question of what to do, but why it is being done. A rational and formal defense of my answer requires more than just saying what to do. If I am asked why I do something, I can’t say “because that’s how it’s done”. I must refer back to core principles of jiu-jitsu such as leverage, timing, frames, weight distribution, and most importantly, strategic goals. In essence, I am engaging in apologia for my jiu-jitsu. My students get their random questions answered, and I am challenged at every class to defend my jiu-jitsu.

There are two results possible when I am defending my position. Either I successfully explain my position, or I have to provisionally accept new truth. So, for example, when a student asks me if it’s ok to do something novel from a particular position and it appears to work, my first thought is to play devil’s advocate and look for what is wrong with their suggestion based on my ability to reference established jiu-jitsu principles. If I can’t immediately find a problem, then I must accept that the maneuver is potentially legitimate until I can further analyze the scenario. Classifying and labeling a technique helps me build relationships to known thought processes and inspiration, but it does not necessarily give me a physical and strategic truth that I can incorporate into my jiu-jitsu.

A case in point is 10th Planet. When coming from a traditional BJJ lineage such as the Gracies, it’s easy to make jokes about 10th Planet and dismiss the techniques within the system. Much like schools that emphasize sport vs self-defense, 10th Planet makes certain assumptions about goals which influences their overall perspective.

For me personally, there are big swaths of their system that I don’t use. However there are also chunks that I can find no reason to ignore. They are in active pursuit of their version of physical truth, and they do an effective job of apology for their system.

What is the SimpleBJJ lesson? It doesn’t matter if the source is a white belt or a black belt in a different branch of jiu-jitsu, or even a black belt in a different martial art. By implementing a rigorous apologia for your own jiu-jitsu, you can comfortably incorporate truth from any source.

Test yourself in sparring, and in your verbal defense of your approach to jiu-jitsu. Make your apologia rigorous and receptive to new ideas. For me, the greatest form of apologia is to take a contrary view, provisionally accept it, then argue for it’s invalidation based on its own self-contradictions, while providing a coherent view of my own consistent theory to replace it. This means that when you are presented with something interesting that you can’t immediately refute, accept its potential and explore the consequences of it.

Apologia comes in to play because a rigorous defense of your own position gives you experience in analyzing a scenario and presenting the physical and mental truth of your jiu-jitsu. If you determine that you can’t make a good argument against the contrary view, then you should begin the process of incorporating the knowledge into your jiu-jitsu. Figure out how to reconcile that view with your own. You may end up finding a deeper understanding of jiu-jitsu.

The Arctic, Jiu-Jitsu, and Perspective

What do backpacking in the Alaskan Arctic and jiu-jitsu have in common? They both can serve as a lesson on proper perspective, but only if you want them to.

It’s a fact of life that things that are worth doing are often not going to be easy. Sometimes during those endeavors, you’ll encounter situations where everything looks like it’s going downhill. One lesson I learned in the arctic gets applied all the time to my jiu-jitsu, as well as life in general.

A friend of mine and I were backpacking in the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. Incidentally, he is the first person that made me tap to jiu-jitsu, despite outweighing him by 50 pounds. Apparently it was a sign of lessons to come.

We were just finishing up our backpacking route into the remote native village of Anaktuvuk Pass after a long and fast hike in. All during our hike in, we saw numerous signs of bear and wolf tracks headed towards the town. We surmised that the animals were probably after garbage, and we made a mental note to be careful about where we made camp.

Both of us were exhausted by the end of the day, and we had to find a camp site that we didn’t have a clear idea of where it was. All we knew was that it was away from the town and located somewhere on the other side of the mile long gravel airstrip. We had jokingly referred to our destination as “The Ass-Pit”, because from the descriptions, it was clear the locals didn’t want to see us, and we would get the least desirable location to camp. We had no idea how accurate that term would be.

We resigned ourselves to another mile of hiking down the side of the airstrip and finally found a spot with a couple fire pits that appeared to be a likely spot. There was willow brush all around us, which sounds pleasant until you consider that those low willows are ideal bear territory, and you always avoid camping in those areas in the arctic if possible. They are called “grizzly mazes” for a reason.

I was tired, sore, and now convinced the locals wanted us to be eaten by bears. The ground was poor for setting up a tent, and there was trash and alcohol bottles scattered about (keeping in mind that Anaktuvuk Pass is a dry town). Periodically some of the locals would ride down in their trucks, stare at us for a couple minutes, then turn around and go back towards town. As the evening wore on, I was getting an early and unpleasant taste of the civilization I was trying to escape by hiking the barren tundra.

I ended up in an uncharacteristically bad mood, and our nickname for the campsite seemed prescient. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend my last night in the arctic. I sat there, munching on almond M&Ms, just wishing for the otherwise spectacular trip to be over.

My friend saw my bad mood, and started whittling down our situation. If we ignored the locals, bear territory, trash, bad ground, and long day . . . we were in the middle of the arctic, the sun was shining, the mountains were beautiful, and we just had just spent over a week of thoroughly enjoyable backpacking. I had even proofed out the utility of a experimental tent that I had built.

In that moment, my whole perspective of my situation changed. I previously had chosen to focus on the easy negative targets instead of seeing how fortunate I really was. The m&ms got twice as tasty, and my mood for the evening became bulletproof with enjoyment of my situation.

Just like my scenario in the arctic, I have found that Jiu-Jitsu will periodically test you and ask you what you choose to focus on. I have seen countless students quit for various reasons, others who decide to coast and just play with jiu-jitsu, and others who have hit frustrating walls. All of them made choices based on their own criteria.

When jiu-jitsu is going your way, it’s easy to be a fan and tell everybody about how wonderful it is. Yet how do you react when you are injured or frustrated or ready to quit? What about when school politics become an unwanted force? Like any human endeavor, there will be good and bad things that happen on your path. You certainly can’t completely control what happens during your jiu-jitsu journey. The one thing you can control is how you choose to react.

If you are training jiu-jitsu, you are in the small percentage of people who are doing it and reaping the benefits. The longer you train, the more you become a member of an even smaller percentage of people who have the right perspective and perseverance to get past the inevitable hardships. If you choose to focus on these positive aspects, and choose to have your perspective reflect how fortunate you are, your jiu-jitsu path, and your path through life will be easier and more enjoyable.

Injuries may temporarily force you out, but you may get more time to study. Brick walls of nightly defeat can spur you to focus on getting better. Inevitable politics or internal social issues become secondary to getting on the mat and improving yourself. Temptation to quit is tempered by realizing how far you’ve come and how much you’ve achieved.

How you to react to events is completely your choice, and your choice can trend towards the positive and uplifting by maintaining a good perspective that whittles away the meaningless negative aspects of what is happening to you. I do this all the time in jiu-jitsu and life, just like I had “The Ass-Pit” transformed into a beautiful valley. Perspective and choice are yours to work with. Choose your perspective wisely.

Wisdom Is Transcendent

Jiu-jitsu is often on my mind, but it is just one aspect of my life. When I read, I prefer philosophy over fantasy, political over fiction. As I read, I naturally test and apply concepts to areas not necessarily intended by the text. The Bible, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Hayek, the Art of War. . . So many books contain wisdom that transcends the immediate topic area. It is as if an abstract concept is made real through application, despite the various applications.

Sometimes, application to jiu-jitsu is apparent, as if the writer were advising a blue belt on how to learn and grow.

  • “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
  • “Look in, let not either the proper quality, or the true worth of anything pass thee, before thou hast fully apprehended it”
  • “As flattering friends pervert, so reproachful enemies mostly correct.”
  • “There is an advantage in obedience to such rules not being coerced, not only because coercion as such is bad, but because it is, in fact, often desirable that rules should be observed only in most instances and that the individual should be able to transgress them when it seems to him worthwhile to incur the odium which this will cause.”
  • “Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat.”

These thoughts were obviously intended for a purpose other than jiu-jitsu. Yet because jiu-jitsu is laser focused on the idea that “If it works, it’s good jiu-jitsu”, fundamental truths of the physical and mental are forced to the front. We are led to questioning, “is it life, or is it jiu-jitsu?” Simply put, yes.

True gems of wisdom can be applied to various contexts without losing potency. We all color our interpretation of what we read, and sometimes that coloring reveals a transcendent concept that can be applied concretely to other areas.

“The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.”

Abstraction allows us to apply mental models to concrete instances in jiu-jitsu. For example, allowing yourself to be picked up in the air for the sake of completing a submission works fine in a sport context since slams are generally not allowed anymore, but in a MMA or self defense context, a slam can knock you unconscious and have dire consequences. The abstract concept here is that a submission is not worth attempting completion if it puts you in a worse position. A reinterpretation of this concept is that when you have mount and are working on a submission, you should always keep mount rather than allow a reversal. The top mount is more valuable in any context than any guard.

Keep an open mind for wisdom, no matter what the source is. It may be a philosophical text, or it might be a white belt. The best wisdom does not need to be attributed to a source to be given weight.


(yet for the curious, quotes are from:
The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, The Apostle Paul
Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Confessions of St. Augustine, St. Augustine
The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver)