Last night I went to a Royce Gracie jiu-jitsu seminar in Scranton. There was no formal lineup or group warmup; we were all sitting there stretching and warming up individually to get prepared for the 6PM start time, and Royce was chatting and stretching.
All of a sudden, he stands up with someone else and starts explaining a technique for dealing with a one hand throat grab from a standing position. Everyone in the room rushed over to watch just in time for him to finish. We all went back to where we were and grabbed a partner and started practicing. Royce walked around for a minute or two, correcting as he went, then called everyone back in to correct common flaws. Then we moved on to two handed throat grabs, and another round of him walking around. Then we mixed the first two techniques and added grabs from behind. Then more random mixing of techniques that we learned up to that point. All the while, Royce walked around and corrected technique and encouraged people.
After two hours we all found ourselves in a simulated fight with striking, sucker punches, chokes, grabs, side kicks, takedowns, punch blocks on the ground, and a triangle for good measure. I’ve done the self defense styled seminar before, but this one encouraged us to deal with random attacks from our partner, and that was a valuable lesson, if for no other reason to help us all realize that being adequately prepared for random attacks is difficult without proper preparation.
After the seminar, we had an opportunity to have a meal and watch UFC 1 with Royce. Every once in a while someone would call out a question to him and he’d answer. He was friendly with everyone, and gracious with his time. I went over near the end of the video to ask a question about the kidney kicks (yes, they can be devastating from guard). I pointed to the screen where 20 years ago he was submitting an opponent, and told him that’s what inspired me to learn jiu-jitsu, even though it took a long time after that to make it happen. I thanked him for his contribution to my goals and went back to where I was sitting.
As I rode home, I thought about what it was like to be in his shoes. He fought in the first UFC 20 years ago. He could not possibly have imagined he would be in a martial arts school under his own national affiliation 20 years later with some random 41 year old late blooming jiu-jitsu guy pointing at something he did 20 years ago and calling that an inspiration.
Then I thought about my own future in jiu-jitsu. What if I treated my jiu-jitsu today as if it could serve as an inspiration to someone 20 years from now? What if a simple act now helps someone in their jiu-jitsu journey and they look back many years and point at something I did that changed their course for the better? This isn’t hubris. You don’t have to be a 4 stripe black belt on national tv to have an impact on others. Simply helping others with patience, kindness, and attention to their goals may be enough to help them achieve their jiu-jitsu goals. Even if they don’t point back at me as inspiration, it’s still worth it. So I’ll do my best to act as if what I do could have have a positive impact on everyone who gets on the mat with me, regardless of skill level.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if the best of jiu-jitsu mirrors life or the other way around. I’m reminded of a line from a Glen Phillips song, “life informing art, informing life again”. Either way, perhaps we should all be treating our own small actions on and off the mat with more respect. Much like Royce 20 years ago, we can’t chart the influence that we will have. The only choice we have is if we are striving to have a positive or negative influence.