This week is definitely rough for me in terms of work, as many weeks over the past year have been, so I draw much needed mental rest from the exercise aspect of jiu jitsu. But somehow the most grounding and peaceful element of training is just seeing and interacting with the regulars who are always there. From white belt to black belt, these are guys who follow their passion for this sport, and so I think the comfort I get is from the fact that we’re completely on the same page about this one thing.
We are the hobos reclining outside the same Seven Eleven for years and years.
There are not many of us “regulars”.
Each is in various stages of their jiu jitsu journey: everything from training hard for an up-coming competition to exploring the deep philosophical implications of the added leverage from curling your toes up on a counter to a counter to berimbolo.
I especially like seeing the lower rank regulars (the category I comfortably reside in). We are the foolish dreamers of the bunch. It’s easy to be passionate about something that you’ve only been doing a couple years. You eventually hit a wall. Some regulars seem to disappear off the face of the earth at that point, and others barrel on through. Reality inevitably sets in, and us dreamers have to deal with the disappointments of failed expectations. Any journey involves failure along the way. The test of a “regular” is their ability to deal with failure when they are forced to acknowledge it. Many white belts and blue belts that train every day (or twice a day) for months will disappear. I understand that struggle. That’s life. I understand the people that go. But I think I’ll stick around…
Most of my formative years (high school, college) have been in the United States. It’s in the U.S. that I was introduced to wrestling. For better or for worse, wrestling coaches (at least in my experience) are warrior philosophers. There is a definite aura of introspection, wisdom, and insight about them. Every sentence they put together, no matter how cliche and it’s usually cliche as hell, somehow always rings true in a way that nothing else does (at least for me).
And what school of philosophy do wrestling coaches hail from? It’s the school of Animal Farm’s horse Boxer, whose motto in all matters of life was “I will work harder”. It’s the Gable ideal. Americans romanticize the athlete who often takes himself to the limit and pushes beyond it. One way to view that is “toughness”. I think another way to view it is passion. And in my mind a passion for a goal doesn’t have to channel itself into toughness. It can be channeled into an obsession with perfect technique, an obsession with drilling the crap out of a set of moves until all you are is that set of moves. That system is your identity. It’s what you eat, sleep, think about.
I understand this kind of existence, and hold it as an ideal, not for sports, but for my academic life. But it very much influences the way I approach grappling. It’s important to be real tough, but you don’t have to be the toughest dude out there. It all depends on your personality, and where you’re best at channeling your passion for a goal.
So, it boils down once again to a question for the wrestling coaches: are you a Cael Sanderson or are you a Dan Gable?
I was always attracted to the idea of the kind of life where you give every ounce of your being to one thing. You embrace an obsession so fully that it defines everything in your life: every decision, every activity, every minute really. I never saw the “unhealthy” element of it. I always thought that “unhealthy” was something people would say about a life that they themselves don’t have the guts to lead. Crash and burn is just as healthy as anything else. I think “healthy” is an idea that it’s good to go through life peacefully, without trouble. But I think that assumption ignores the absurdity of our short little stay on this planet. So yes, to me, there is no such thing as “healthy”. It’s just a damn excuse.
That said, I’m willing to admit that I don’t have the guts to live a life like that, but I admire it, and strive to do it as much as I can (to a socially-acceptable degree). For me, mostly, my passion is my research. Sport (judo and jiu jitsu) is a “relief” from that daily grind, but I’m passionate about them as well. In fact, I call it a relief to justify doing them at all It’s the “healthy” thing to do. There is that stupid word again.
Anyway, when I’m feeling warn out by it all, by the lack of sleep, by the excessive amounts of coffee, by looking at pages and pages of math or code, I like to remind myself of Dan Gable. He is one of the rare individuals that lived exactly the kind of life I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Life is a god damn mess. Why the hell not give everything you got. I love that idea.
I’m becoming more and more of a fan of the Fightworks Podcast. A lot of the conversation is at times uninteresting, but there a few gems, especially when they interview world-class competitors.
They do a poll every week and on October 30, 2010, they asked “If your relationship with your significant other depended on it, would you quit training BJJ?”. Link to the poll
It surprised me that 49% of people said they would quit BJJ, and only 38% said they wouldn’t quit.
This got me thinking about my own relationships and what makes a relationship with a workaholic that trains jiu jitsu succeed or at least last longer than a week. I’m obviously passionate about what I do. And I think if the girl likes the “passionate” part, the relationship will work. Meaning, she doesn’t have to necessarily care about the activity (research, judo, jiu jitsu) at first, but in her value system an obsessive pursuit of a goal should be high up there. Otherwise, it will seem ridiculous to her the amount of energy that I allocate to work and when I’m dead tired from work spending the remaining moments on the mat training.