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"In a world where we increasingly have the option to avoid interacting with other people or, barring that,  many interactions are “managed” to a large extent, the value of daily exposure to a merit-based community like a jiu jitsu academy is huge."

About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a hard hobby, sport and lifestyle. There is a popular saying: 'Sometimes we are the hammer and sometimes we are the nail’, and that couldn’t be more true. In the beginning, most of us feel like we are the nail a disproportionate amount of the time. That reality - plus the fact that, on average, it can take ten years of training to earn a black belt - mean that more people quit than not. I started BJJ in 1998 and earned my black belt in 2007.  While this may seem pretty straight-forward, my BJJ path was akin to riding a roller-coaster of emotions. It was fun, challenging, harder than I thought it would be and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.  That said, I came very close to quitting two times: once at purple belt and again at brown belt. Each time, I was reminded of or given great reasons to “stay the course” and I continue to be grateful that I did, as BJJ has truly enriched my life.  Here are a couple of the things that kept me in BJJ  and I hope that they help others now and in the future continue their BJJ journeys!

BJJ Enriches Our Lives Off The Mat

When I started training, I thought that Jiu-Jitsu would work me out in a totally different way than anything I had done before.  I immediately got hooked as my body and mind were regularly challenged in new ways. What was surprising to me was how much BJJ benefited me “off the mat”.  For example, the more I trained the sharper I felt at work…I was far more likely to look for solutions than to dwell on problems and I pursued those solutions as enthusiastically as I practiced a new guard-pass or sweep I was trying to master.  I also found that my over-all mood got better and better with increased mat-time.  I was generally happier and more energetic and it was noticeable to those around me at work and in social settings.  I found that the smile that inevitably came to my face when I made it to BJJ class seemed to pop up more often in other places, as well. 

Over the years, I found that mine was not an isolated experience.  Many of my teammates and students have shared with me that these types of benefits are why BJJ would always be a priority for them.  While they enjoy the sport and some even compete regularly, the real value for them is how BJJ positively impacts the quality of the rest of their lives.

BJJ Brings Special People Into Our Lives

I am often amazed at how many special and kind people I have gotten to know because of Jiu-Jitsu.  People who come from all walks of life, experiences, belief-systems and vocations share the mat with each other every day and training brings us together in a way that few other things do.

Most grappling fans have heard of the D’Arce Choke. It is essentially a variation of the arm-triangle and it is named after Renzo Gracie black belt, Joe D’Arce It is Joe’s “claim to fame” but that is not how I know him and it is not why we are friends.  I met Joe when he was a 20 year oldish blue belt who had already won the Pan (the only IBJJF tournament in the United States at that time) and medaled at the Worlds. We met at a tournament and hit it off to the point that we would regularly hangout when we saw each other at the big tournaments even though we were on separate teams.  From time to time we would text and talk on the phone and we stayed in decent touch over the years.

Joe and I had not spoken for a year or so when he got word that I had a sick family member.  Some of my BJJ friends and I were competing with a patch to bring awareness to the situation and Joe heard about it via social-media.  Joe reached out to me and insisted that I do a seminar at his academy with all the proceeds going to my family.  When I tried to thank him for his kindness, he literally told me not to thank him and he would be mad if I did not take him up on the offer.  

This talented 20 year old who I used to tease and cut-up with at the Pan in Orlando had grown up to be a kind-hearted and compassionate man.  I remember marveling at how good he was on the mat…he was one of America’s brightest young BJJ talents, for sure…and, in the end, it was not his skill but his friendship that brought me up short.  That’s the quality of person we get exposed to when we choose to train BJJ…and, as the saying goes, “choose your friends wisely, as you may end up just like them”.  Well, I hope I do!

BJJ Allows Us To Work On Ourselves

In the cult-classic bodybuilding movie Pumping Iron, Arnold Schwarzenegger described bodybuilding as sculpting, but instead of an artist using clay a person would use weights and workouts over a period of time to bring their vision to life. BJJ gives us the same opportunity to mold ourselves in terms of our character in addition to our bodies.  

For example, it is impossible to train Jiu-Jitsu alone so it requires us to actively participate in a community.  In a world where we increasingly have the option to avoid interacting with other people or, barring that,  many interactions are “managed” to a large extent, the value of daily exposure to and experience functioning in a merit-based community is huge. We need our teammates and training partners in order to get better so we are encouraged to treat them in a way that shows them appreciation, benefits them or both.  The practices of consistently showing gratitude and creating win/win situations are incredibly useful in many facets of society:  from family to politics to the corporate world. This kind of behavior is fostered from day 1 of BJJ training and drilling as we are taught to be “good partners” for each other as well as to get our own benefit from training.   Recognizing this kind of value and taking the lessons learned and applying them in other areas of life makes BJJ a real invest in our overall betterment.  Like Arnold described, we are shaping ourselves over time.

BJJ Is Fun!

Fun is a key component in so many success stories and an important ingredient in happy lives but I feel like it still often gets overlooked. When we have fun, it and/or the positivity it inspires, tends to seep into other areas of our lives.  When I think of fun in BJJ, I think of my brother and old training partner, the late David Jacobs.   When it came to BJJ, whether David was teaching a seminar in Sweden, competing in Brazil or sitting in on a class in Maryland, he was having fun.   We had a heart-to-heart about his unquenchable enthusiasm for training years ago when we were purple belts and he told me his simple secret.  David simply focused on how much fun he was having and it made it easy to train as much as possible.  David had wrestled his whole life and he said by the time he got to college, where he competed at the division 1 level, he wasn’t having any fun.  Wrestling had become a job for him and by the time he realized that, his college career was over.  When he found BJJ, he was determined to learn from his wrestling experience and he refused to let anything take away from his enjoyment of the sport and lifestyle.  He soaked it all in and he always had fun.  David was well-known throughout the BJJ community for his smiling face and love for the BJJ lifestyle.   For him, it was all a good time. David understood the power of positivity and he knew he could channel that power by focusing on the fun that BJJ could inject into his life!  It was one of the things I admired most about him and I try to incorporate that into my BJJ experience daily because I know it will benefit me on and off the mat.

Reflecting on how I almost quit BJJ and what that would have cost me is sobering.  I would have lost out on some of my most valued friendships.  I never would not have gotten the same opportunities to work on myself using the lab that is the grind of training and competing.  And I would have missed out of some of the best times of my life!  Looking back, I am glad I was able to focus on the aforementioned reasons to continue my BJJ journey and, if you ever consider leaving the mat, I hope they help convince you to continue yours, as well.

See you on the mat! 

June 25, 2019 — Jiu Jitsu Style