A man is not measured by age but by his achievements. -Robert Bradley
Not too long ago, a friend and BJJ student of mine, suggested that I write a blog about “relationships within the BJJ or Jiu Jitsu community”. Unknown to her at the time, I initially met the idea with resistance until I came to understand that what she meant was not “dating within the BJJ community” but rather to touch on the many friendships, bonds and connections that are formed between a vast and diverse group of people. It was in this topic which I found immediate interest, as it was vividly apparent to me that beneath the superficial joint locking and strangling that Jiu Jitsu is known for, there is a unique ability to bring people together unparalleled by other arts and sports. Part of the reason is that it demands complete and total presence in order to effectively synchronize techniques in a harmonious fashion with another independently thinking and reacting body. This is akin to a dance but with the choreography only existing to learn the basics of a technique which you must then learn to apply with people of all different types and sizes and reactions in what we refer to as sparring. This alone calls for variability in training partners to develop your timing and reactions to the most subtle of movements from a multitude of characteristics such as size, age, speed, weight, strength and skill. By engaging in sparring with such a wide span of partners, then will you arrive at the only true way to understand the effectiveness of what you are learning to apply while at the same time connecting you with people of different backgrounds. This also raises a need to develop people skills and learn how to treat people with respect and kindness, resulting in a myriad of training partners who you have won the support of. Failure to do so will result in you having no one to train with or ending up in a bad environment that is not conducive to your overall success and what success you do achieve being short lived.
On another note, there exists an interesting student/teacher dynamic in Jiu Jitsu or BJJ where a Sensei is often significantly younger than their students yet are looked to for guidance inside and outside of the academy. Quite honestly, many Jiu Jitsu professionals have no business giving advice that is beyond their domain but that is not meant to take away from the degree of responsibility that accompanies a black belt and the opportunity for one who takes their work very seriously down to each and every interaction. Something I have learned to do in my field of pain management and rehabilitation is to quickly assess whether or not something is beyond my scope of practice and refer them to someone who can provide a solution. For example while I may have little desire to offer relationship advice to students the mats, coupled with educating myself through books like Dale Carnegie’s bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, have taught a great deal about how to treat people. This desire to educate yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu and make an attempt to apply the same curiosity and passion that you dedicated to the art and sport is paramount for success beyond simply being the best grappler, and it is something that is lacking in my humble opinion. If you do not desire to educate yourself outside of a martial arts capacity, one would hope that you didn’t feel confidence offering financial advice to your students by instructing them to liquidate all their assets and throw a Hail Mary at the crypto market. Nonetheless we as Sensei often find ourselves in a position where students look to us for guidance and support in matters beyond fighting, not a matter that should be taken lightly by any means, seeing as some students have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for their teachers and oftentimes naively act on their advice out of good faith. While the Sensei might have the best of intentions it is important to recognize that they may not be qualified to give you advice on whether to sell or buy a home given the current market state. A good Sensei will remain humble and always look to learn and share their knowledge but will also know when they are just feeding their ego rather than helping their student. On the other side of the coin, being a Sensei can provide you with a wealth of knowledge at your disposal and connections with doctors, very educated and successful business owners, and people with skill sets in many different fields. This allows you to educate yourself on many different topics if you are humble enough and willing to learn. You can also solve many of your students problems by simply connecting them with other students who have experience in what is troubling them. I for one aim to take full advantage of the ability to learn from each of my students each day, understanding that teaching is a two-way street and regardless of their age there is much I stand to learn from them even as old as four to six.
There is also a connection that exists solely between those who participate in the art together. This is like many sports and arts, however it is unlikely that as a gym-rat you can travel across the world and simply be connected and accepted by the other gym-goers in that area. Through Jiu Jitsu I have been blessed with true friendships all throughout the world with whom I can visit and train with, teach and learn from while exploring some of the world’s most exotic locations from Singapore’s industrial city to the metropolitan Shibuya District in Tokyo Japan, or the clear waters of the Dominican Republic to the beaches of Niterói Brazil. Through training and sharing this art form we know as BJJ, mutual respect and bonds are formed and lifelong relationships are developed, through students, teachers and practitioners alone. While you could argue that this exists in other realms such as golf, cycling, tennis. Many of these lack the physical and spiritual connection that Jiu Jitsu presents. Physically I get to hug both my seventy year old parents in Jiu Jitsu while they try to kill me outright (especially my mom), at the same time it is interrupted by the occasional laugh, smile and feeling of love. I mean how many people can say they get to spar with their seventy year old mom? It is a great time and it is truly a blessing to be able to share this with them. I can also train with my six to twelve year old nieces in the same way demonstrating the gentleness that Jiu Jitsu is known for while also teaching them to defend themselves. On a more serious note, Jiu Jitsu will tell you a lot about who some people are. A mentor of mine, Saulo Ribeiro, explained to me years prior that Jiu Jitsu reveals who you are. Are you kind, crafty, manipulative, smart, tough, hard working? There is no denying that many of your characteristics are displayed on the mat over time. It has even guided me in a business capacity, revealing what people are made of and whether or not they will quit when the going gets tough or problem solve their way out of life’s endless adversities. To me Jiu Jitsu is not only a way to live but also a way to approach and solve problems, as Master Jigoro Kano believed “with maximum efficiency and effectiveness”.
While this may serve as an oversimplification there is a depth that BJJ offers just in terms of people. For some it is a family, others accountability, practicality, for many an escape, as well as social reasons. Whatever your “why” may be, it exists for an unbelievably vast demographic from the youngest ages to the most advanced. There will always be someone just like you that is having fun, achieving their goals and improving themselves daily with like-minded souls, and if not, maybe there’s someone out there just like you looking for a role model like you to pave the way for them with the confidence, compassion and security you represent from your journey through Jiu Jitsu and Martial Arts.