Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Where you're coming from: The pass

In the pass and in your life, 
before you know where you're going, you need to know where you're coming from. 
Ricardo Pires

I know where I come from, 
I know where I am, 
I know where I'm going. 
Erberth Santos

This post by Erberth Santos immediately made me think of the words said to me years ago by my teacher Ricardo Pires.

Erberth, as you probably know, has a reputation for being jiu-jitsu's "bad boy." His behavior both on and off the mat has been criticized. His early experiences with jiu-jitsu were complicated by prison sentences.

Although Erberth came from humble beginnings, where there was never enough money to buy gi's and pay for tournament registration, he himself said that his life of crime had more to do with excitement than survival.

"'I was hunting adrenaline, not money to survive. I did it because I was running with the wrong crowd, and that complicated everything' - he said." ('Estou vivo' - 2014 globoesporte.globo.com)

Adrenaline junkie Erberth Santos

Now, Erberth is one of jiu-jitsu's most exciting competitors, known especially as a ferocious passer.

Check him out here:
Pass the Guard with Erberth Santos

And I think, in light of Master Ricardo's words all those years ago, that it's interesting that both men place such a high value on the connection between past and future.

Ricardo himself is a formidable passer. His style is completely different from Erberth's, and not just because of the decades separating the two men in age. Where Erberth is explosive, like fireworks going off in your hands, Ricardo is overwhelming, like a tide rising inexorably to cover the land in side control.

With either man, one thing is for sure - you're going to get passed.

I asked Ricardo to explain his words.

"The pass is a change," he said, "from one position to another, and anytime there is change, there is risk. And that's not just in jiu-jitsu, that's in life, in business, in everything else. You get vulnerable every time you take a forward step."

What does that have to do with where you're coming from?

"You have to know who you are, what are your strengths, what are your limitations. I always say 'If I know my limitations I can achieve my goal.' For me, I used to have a very athletic passing style; stand up, go back down, I could do it all day. Now, I can't do that anymore. I have to secure the legs, be sure I'm passing. There's going to be only one chance to pass. And it's exactly the same in business."

You're only going to get one shot. Make it count.
(Passing advice from James Bond and Ricardo Pires)

By now, we should all be used to the idea that all of life is jiu-jitsu. Hell, I've been talking about it for ten years. But what is the pass, in a business sense, in a life sense?

For the answer, we can go back to Master Ricardo's words: the pass is a change. It's a step forward, a step from a not-so-awesome position to a better position. It's conquest: of an opponent, of a situation, but most of all, of yourself.

All of jiu-jitsu boils down to the self:  Conquest of the self. Control of the self. Transcendance of the self.

Your opponent is just there to test your self-control. He (or she) is not important except as a human litmus test of your jiu-jitsu, and your jiu-jitsu is you. Jiu-jitsu doesn't change you - it is a catalyst to bring your best you to the surface. And yes, it can also bring out your worst you, or your middle-of-the-road you, depending on how much resistance you put up.

But even at maximum resistance, jiu-jitsu will win. Jiu-jitsu will enter you and become part of you and work through you in all phases of your life until you see every situation as jiu-jitsu, every challenge as a fight, and if that sounds warlike, so is life.

Life is conquest. That's it. And if that's not politically correct, neither is life. Neither is love. Neither is jiu-jitsu.

All of conquest involves some form of a pass, from one position to another. Every pass is a change. All change makes you vulnerable.

And that's why you need to know where you're coming from. You need to embrace your vulnerabilities, your fears and your weaknesses, look them in the face, know them as your own, and then, as Ricardo Pires said to me all those years ago, block them.

Know your weakness - and block it. - Ricardo Pires

Erberth said in a long-ago interview that on the fifth time he was arrested in a short three-month span, the police told him that if they caught him again, they would teach him a lesson.

The rest, as they say, is history. At 24, Erberth Santos is one of the undisputed kings of jiu-jitsu, and if people don't like his personal style, they're kind of stuck with it.

Love him or hate him, jiu-jitsu is stuck with Erberth Santos

The truth is, you can't see inside a person. You can't see inside their past, and even if you could, it wouldn't be the same as living it. 

Ricardo told me that when he was little, he decided he wanted to have a paper route. He took the newspapers around in a grocery cart that was actually bigger than he was. Now, Ricardo runs a jiu-jitsu business and a real estate business. At the risk of annoying him, it seems to me that Ricardo is always pulling a cart that is bigger than he is - and likes it.

Ricardo's cart is always just a little bigger than he is

That doesn't mean he doesn't care about conquest; quite the contrary. He's out to conquer the world just like everybody else. It's just that with Ricardo, one world is never enough.

But in every world, Ricardo's motto is the same: Stay on top. Stay in control. Don't lose position. And most of all, Stay in the game.

Stay in the game, Deborah. Always stay in the game.

Bruno Bastos said when he was just a kid and started going to competitions, his coach told him that if he didn't win, he wouldn't give him a ride home. Moral of the story: Bruno won and continues to do so.

Bruno Bastos: still winning

Robson Moura came from a favela
where he had to step around dead bodies to get to the store to buy bread. He learned to step very carefully and I think one of the hallmarks of Robson's jiu-jitsu, and his life (at least as far as I can observe), is that he steps carefully and he's good at dodging social and professional bullets. He's precise, he doesn't make mistakes, and if he does, he does it so sneakily that the "mistakes" end up turning into submissions anyway and everybody thinks it was Robinho's plan all along.

Robinho: He doesn't make mistakes
Check out some early Robinho: Robson Moura vs. Muzio de Angelis

And Erberth - whose words, along with Master Ricardo's, inspired this post - found himself, early in life, at a crossroads, where one path led to prison and making his mother cry, while the other path led into the unknown - the world of competitive jiu-jitsu. As it turned out, Erberth still managed to make his mother cry but with tears of joy. And yes, Erberth is still Erberth; explosive, unpredictable, unmanageable, a cross between a shooting star and a land mine, taking medals the way he used to take motorbikes, an uncomfortable presence in the polished world of modern jiu-jitsu.

A cross between a shooting star and a land mine

Erberth passing from guard pull

All of these men had to pass in their lives before they learned to pass on the mats. They had to pass, not just from one situation to another, but from childhood to manhood before it was really time. On the other hand, it could be said that all of life is just a pass - from one position to another, from one you to another, and that, just like in jiu-jitsu, the right time to pass is when you're stuck in the guard, no matter how old you are. The time to pass is when you realize that if you stay where you are, you die. And the only decision to make is what to take with you and what to leave behind.

The time to pass is when you realize that if you stay where you are, you die.

The one thing you know you're stuck with, the carryon bag into which everything else must be shoved, is yourself. You: your quirks, your fears, your demons and your angels, those things that make you laugh and those things that make you cry. The people who love you and the people who hate you, and the people who you can't tell which is which. Your strengths, your weaknesses,  your rainbows and your clouds.

All that you can't leave behind

You can't change who you are because you can't change your past. You can't change your future because there is no such thing. The future is a chimera, an abstract concept that is always just outside our grasp. There is only now. The moment you are living in, the moment you are reading this post in, the moment you got stuck in a moment that you can't get out of.

Now is the moment to know where you're coming from - your fears, your monsters, but also your joys and your gifts. Now is the moment to know where you are and who you are and most of all, what you want, from this life, in this body, on this Earth. And when you know those things, when you can look at yourself and your past, your fears and your desires, with your eyes open, then and only then can you begin to get a glimmer of where you're going, in the pass and in your life.

And pass.

"When the guy pulls guard I want to kiss him." - Ricardo Pires

Iconic Robson pass:
Robson vs. Baret Yoshida

And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring...
And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind

"Walk on" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind - U2

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Positive guy" Robson Moura: Reality is just another opponent to submit

All we need to do to allow magic to get ahold of us is to banish doubt from our minds.
Don Juan Matus, nagual (Carlos Castaneda)

Just over a year ago, Mr. and Mrs. Robson Moura welcomed twins into the world - a boy and a girl. Without being indiscreet I think I can share that Mrs. Moura did not have the easiest pregnancy in the world and although I've never been pregnant myself, it doesn't surprise me that carrying two children with Robson's DNA might have been exciting to say the least.

After the babies had been safely delivered, a month and a half early, and everybody survived a hurricane, we all gathered as we do every year at the RMNU Camp in Tampa.

Hurricane Irma

That's when Robson told us that when the doctor came to his wife's hospital room with a long face to warn them of the risks and possible outcomes of the pregnancy, Robson cut him off at the pass.

"I'm a positive guy," he said to the doctor. And he kicked him out of the room.

We giggled, but later I asked Robson: Did you really kick the doctor out?

When I asked that question, Robson's face hardened.

"Not just one," he said. "All of them." 

As the Number One RMNU stalker, I have seen Robson in a lot of different moods, but whether he is teaching or rolling or hanging out with his team at a sushi restaurant, he is invariably kind, patient, and observant. He may be remote, but he is courteous, like the captain of a very attentive starship who is politely listening to your question while navigating distant galaxies.

Robson listens to your question while navigating distant galaxies

But when he talked about the doctors who had the nerve to foretell anything but a fairy-tale outcome to the pregnancy, I saw something in his face I rarely see: anger.

Personally, I always like to know the worst-case scenario in any situation, so I had to really use my powers of imagination to understand his feelings.

So I asked him:

Did you just not want to hear it, and you figured if things didn't go the way you wanted, you would find a way to deal with it? Or were you just that positive that things would go your way?

"I knew things were going to go my way," he said.

That gave me quite a lot of food for thought, especially because my own approach is so different. I like to identify all threats, map out worst-case scenarios, and plan accordingly, along the lines of "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

And my question, or my doubt, has always been: What good does it do to think positive? Aren't you just setting yourself up for failure?

Some years ago a couple of movies came out. One was "What the Bleep do we Know?" and the other was "The Secret." Both talked about the influence our thoughts have on our reality, basing themselves on ideas from Hermetic Law such as "As above, so below," and on quantum physics, namely that observation changes reality.

In quantum physics, there is something called particle-wave duality. It just means that there are things called particles, and things called waves, and if that sounds confusing, just think of it as little tiny passers and pullers. And what they found is that particles can sometimes behave like waves when they are observed, which is somewhat counterintuitive. You would think that the universe just goes about its business without worrying whether or not it's being observed, especially when we're talking about particles which presumably don't have a consciousness. But these particles can behave like waves if they are observed, just like pullers can behave like passers if someone is yelling at them to get off their backs. But if you're sitting there going "So what?" the point is that we have this idea that there is an objective reality out there and that reality plays itself out like a film reel, and is not influenced by its audience.

But particle-wave duality is like a film that changes according to energy from the audience.

And I think that is an important key to Robson Moura's personality, his jiu-jitsu, and his overall success. I won't say THE key because it isn't that simple. Getting into Robson's mind is about as easy as getting into Fort Knox. He is generous about opening doors and windows into his mind, either because he's just a nice guy or because he knows that the more doors he opens into the labyrinth, the more lost you will get.

Robson's mind: Attempt to enter at your own risk

But one thing that is easy to understand about Robson Moura is that, as he said himself, he is a positive guy. He decides what he wants and bends the Universe to his will. It's that simple.

I don't think he overthinks it. I doubt he's ever heard of particle-wave duality. There's no theory behind the practice. He just decides what he wants, believes it with all his heart and mind, and does the work.

That last bit should not be underestimated. Yes our attitude can influence reality, but attitude won't pay the bills. Attitude alone won't win the Worlds. You have to do the work. Do the best you can, be the best you can be, and then believe.

As a Pagan priestess whom I interviewed years ago put it:  Magic is not enough. You have to get off the couch.

We tend to think of reality as a film that's playing on the screen with or without our help. You can watch the film or hide under the bed and wait for it to be over, my personal approach.

But I don't think Robson sees it that way. To Robson, reality isn't reality, it's just another opponent to submit.

And if you think that sounds difficult, or crazy, I agree with you, but I also think it's possible because if Robson could do it, at 120 lbs., why can't you? Why can't I?

Robson says people tell him often how "lucky" he is, but was it really luck? Nobody handed him anything. He came from a reality most of us couldn't survive for a week, a tiny little guy with hunger in his belly and a dream in his pocket and a lot of what used to be called grit. And yeah he had talent, he still does, but there are a lot of talented people out there who never amount to anything. Think about it. I guarantee you know at least one super-talented person who has disappeared into oblivion, the parallel universe where the super-talented people go when they fail to set the world on fire.

That's why, incidentally, I don't even feel bad when I encounter those white belts who know more in six months than I've learned in ten years. I assume they'll probably be gone before they hit purple.

As one bjj friend who is now a black belt put it years ago: I don't even bother to learn their names until blue belt.

What is the difference, then, between Robson Moura and all those other super-talented people? I think it boils down to the ability to set unrealistic goals. (Yes, I said UN-realistic goals). Mostly, we hear how bad unrealistic goals are, and I think in the short-term, that's true. But in the long term, our goals need to be unrealistic, the more unrealistic the better, because you know what another name for unrealistic goals is? Dreams.

And yes, on a day-to-day basis, stick with realistic goals, and climb those realistic goals, rung by rung, until you reach your rainbow. Your rainbow will lead you to your dream.

That dream, and nothing less, should be your long-term goal. What is it, in any part of your life, that you think you can't achieve, can't have, don't deserve? Winning the Worlds, meeting Prince (or Princess) Charming, healing from disease or heartbreak?

That dream should be your goal and the farther it is from your current reality, the better, because we wouldn't want life, love and jiu-jitsu to get boring, now would we?

And I think that no matter how awesome Robson's jiu-jitsu is - and it is awesome, and it gets more awesome all the time - the most important thing he can give all of us, in and out of his association, is this positive approach to life.

Decide what you want, believe it with all your heart and mind, and bend the Universe to your will.

Jiu-jitsu is Halloween for adults. You dress up in a belt that only covers two inches of your ass and you go knocking on doors practically naked, at least psychologically, and you slap hands and say, timidly, Trick or Treat? At the white belt level it's mostly tricks, in your rolls and your competitions and in your open mats, and you go home with a bag heavy with experience but light on submission candy. 

But if you keep knocking, if you stick with it, jiu-jitsu will fill your bag with joy and fun and laughter and love, and yes, submissions, too many beautiful things to count, and cover your naked soul in rainbows until one day, if you are like Robson Moura, jiu-jitsu will come knocking on your door, begging for candy.

Jiu-jitsu is a give and take. It will give you more rainbows than you could ever fit into one lifetime and ask nothing in return but one thing: Don't quit. 

But be advised: there are no shortcuts and there are no guarantees. And if it's easy, if it's comfortable, as Kurt Osiander put it, You're doing the wrong fucking thing.

Jiu-jitsu can take you places you never even knew existed. Robson Moura went from the favela, as he himself says, to the Royal Palace in Abu Dhabi. But the most interesting places - and the weirdest, and the scariest - are the places inside yourself where you go to visit the you's you never knew were there. The hero, the coward, the saint, the asshole, the bully, the bitch, all those you's you keep locked in the darkest closet of your soul, all those you's come out on the mat like werewolves in the Full Moon.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
who is the most shameless exhibitionist of all?

Jiu-jitsu shows you yourself, as you really are, and it also shows you who - and everybody else - who you're not.

Jiu-jitsu giveth and jiu-jitsu taketh away.

But if knowledge is power - and it is - then even finding out that you're not the person you thought, that you're human, you're not perfect, that you have weaknesses and insecurities just like everybody else and that maybe, just maybe, those "weaknesses" are the best part of you, is a gift. It might not be the gift you wanted, but it could be the gift you needed.

Either way, you're stuck with it. You're stuck with you. You are who you are.

Believe in your rainbows. That rainbow is a promise, a path in the sky that will take you, not to your goals, but to your dreams. Those dreams are who you are. Reality is fine, that's where your body and your mind live, but your soul lives in your dreams.

You have something to offer, to the world and to jiu-jitsu; something special, something unique. You don't have to be a world champion to change the world.

But you have to think positive. And get off the couch.

Believe in your rainbows

Friday, October 5, 2018


The King secretly loved his youngest daughter best

Once upon a time there was a King, not a great king, not a powerful king, but a King all the same, who had three daughters. 

And one day the King said to his daughters:  Do you love me? 

The eldest daughter answered promptly: My father, I love you as the Sun loves the Moon, as the stars love the night, as the heavens love the earth, so much and more do I love you. 

The King thought this was a pretty good answer. 

My daughter, he said, Well have you spoken. I give to you my lands to the North. 

Now it was the turn of the middle daughter. 

My father, she said, I love you greatly, far more than my sister, for my love for you is as deep and as wide and as infinite as the sea, which evaporates into the clouds only to return to Earth, and so will my love ever return to you. 

The King thought that was a pretty good answer too. 

My daughter, he said, And you have spoken well. I give to you my lands to the South. 

Finally it was the turn of the last daughter, the daughter the King secretly loved the best. The King saw himself reflected in his youngest child, he heard his laughter in her laughter since they both laughed at the same jokes, they both liked beer and Chopin and tacos, and they both liked to sit on a log by the river and watch the boats go by. In short, they were two peas in a pod, and the King eagerly awaited her answer. 

My father, said the youngest Princess, I love you as the salt. And she said no more. 

The King found that response a bit anticlimactic after the more grandiose responses of the other Princesses, and said:  Did you want to, you know, add anything? 

But the youngest Princess replied: My father, I have spoken.

The King flew into a rage. 

"Get thee gone, ingrate" he cried, "and return to my sight no more! If you set foot in my kingdoms again, it will be on pain of death!"

And the Princess, heavy of heart, left that very hour, never to return, and the bridge burned as she crossed.

The King was greatly grieved. He began to think he had overreacted, or perhaps he had missed something in his favorite daughter's response, but he couldn't figure it out. He was too proud to try to find her, but he secretly told the guards to change the "pain of death" thing to grounding. But the princess did not return.

The princess, in turn, could have explained what she meant perfectly well, but among the many characteristics she had inherited from her father was pride, by which sin fell the angels, which ran in her blood alongside the music of Chopin and hot sauce and politically incorrect humor.

And there they were, the King and the Princess, growing farther and farther apart physically, but reflecting each other as two mirrors in their pain and in the pride that would not allow either of them to explain, to ask forgiveness, or to shed a single tear.

Meanwhile, war had broken out in the lands to the east, cutting off access to the sea. The war waged on and on, the years went by, and gradually there began to be a shortage of salt. At first it just meant cutting back a little, which was healthier anyway, but the day came when there was no salt to be had in the kingdom.

It so happened that that was the day the King was having a wedding feast for his two elder daughters, who were marrying princes from adjacent kingdoms. The feast was prepared and beautiful it was to see, the tables groaned with delectable-looking viands of all kinds, and the guests sat hungrily down to the banquet, but as they began to eat, the King noticed strange looks on the faces of the guests, and one by one, they put down their forks.

The King, who had been kind of busy what with the guests and everything, picked up his own fork and began to eat, but he, too, eventually put down his fork, and called the cook to his table.

"What have you done??" he cried. "This food has no flavor!"

"Your highness," said the Cook, "we have run out of salt."

The King sat as if turned to stone and silence fell over the Hall as the true meaning of the Princess's words finally penetrated the King's mind and heart. Then it was that the King began to weep, softly at first and then with the frenzied sobbing gasps of a child - a very old and weary child - great tears that splashed into his plate of insipid food. He wept for his own stupidity, for his unfairness, for the daughter he had lost. The tears welled up in his dry eyes like fountains in the desert, and as the salt tears ran down his cheeks and onto his lips, he tasted all the love that his youngest daughter had felt for him, and would always - he now knew - feel for him, wherever in the great world she wandered.

He sent scouts to search for her but he never found the Princess, for a very good reason which was that the Princess was no longer the same person. You see, in the real world, the supply of princesses far exceeds the demand, and the King eventually died of a broken heart.

But some say that on fine summer nights you can hear the faint music of Chopin and the sound of laughter in the Kingdom of the East, as the sea caresses the shore with its fine salt spray, and many believe that the voices on the wind are those of the King, who found a way across the burnt bridge, and the Princess who loved her father like the salt.

Love is the salt of life

"Salt" is a traditional Italian fairy tale. It is the story of Eve's ousting from the Garden of Eden, the age-old tale of rejection by the father, but it is also, fundamentally, a love story. It is the story about how love is the salt of life. It is also the story of my father and me, imprisoned in a fortress of the intellect, in dungeons of pride, estranged by our similarities. 

My father's wife banned me from the family way back in 1998 and my father let her do it, with no more protest than if she had fired the maid.

I didn't know about jealousy and envy then. Jealousy and envy are not young emotions. They are the emotions of people who have tried and failed and who look around to find someone to blame their failure on. I didn't realize that my stepmonster blamed me for the fact that my father couldn't love her. I thought my father couldn't love me, but I had it all wrong. I didn't understand then that a father could love a child and still throw that child under the bus, as my father later summed it up, "for convenience," the convenience of a younger wife who my father hoped would be better than nothing if he ended up old and sick and alone.

I was ostracized for 11 years. 

Then my dad started dying, and all of a sudden everybody wanted me around because misery really does love company. When he called me, I didn't pick up. I occasionally listened to the voicemails. It was his voice but in words so mangled I could barely understand them, because he had had half his cancerous tongue removed. I eventually caved and called him back.

Our conversations were those of old college chums. We talked about politics, movies, music, things like that.

One day, as Dad told me for the umpteenth time about how proud he was of my little brother, I said, I wish you were proud of me too.

My father was flabbergasted. To him, it was obvious that he was proud of me. In my father's eyes, I was the smart one, the beautiful one, the interesting one, the only one in the family with a sense of humor or any sense of any kind, for that matter.  He thought that with all my brains, all my Phi Beta Kappa pins, all my world travels, all my blogs, I would have figured that out for myself. But as my smart father should have known, brains aren't a big help with feelings. And that day, my father finally told me in a fatherly way, in sharp contrast to the casualness of our usual conversations, that not only was he proud of me, he saw himself in me. "You're the most interesting person I know," he said, and added, like a child confiding a secret to a grown-up:  You're my favorite.

You're not really supposed to say that kind of thing to your kids, but when death approaches, there is no more time for bullshit. I sat in my car, in the gym parking lot, listening to my father's mangled voice finally telling me how much he loved me, how proud he was of me, after over 40 years of feeling like an extra in a B movie, and I cried, salt tears that ran down my face like the tears of the King in the fairy tale.

Around Christmas of that year I had a dream that my father, my older brother and I were sitting in a cafe in Germany in a bright light. The light was so bright that we eventually sought refuge indoors.

I know what the bright light means, so when Dad fell shortly afterwards and ruptured his spleen, just before my birthday, I was ready.

I went back to Indiana to see Dad but his wife kicked me out of ICU. I thought Dad would stand up for me, just once, when I had travelled so far and he had nothing left to lose, but he didn't.

At first, he didn't even really understand.

"It's ok," he told his wife. "You can go to work. Deborah will stay with me."

"Deborah," she replied, "is going to find someplace else to be."

And that's how it ended. My aunt called me to let me know Dad had died.

Losing your father is tough. I don't care what kind of relationship you have, it's excruciating. In a way, I think it's harder to lose someone when the relationship has never been that great, because you are mourning, not so much what was, but what could have been and wasn't and never will be. As long as someone is alive you can tell yourself it will be okay, somehow, you can tell yourself there's still time, and you wait for enough time to pass and you wait for someone else to fix it for you and you wait for people to change, them, not you,  because you didn't do anything wrong, and then it's over, and you lost and death won, by submission.

And you're standing there with your grudges and your principles intact, those principles that seemed so important, and there's nothing left to do with them, now, except wipe your ass, but you realize that principles and grudges aren't even good for wiping your ass.

Toilet paper: worth more than principles

For me and for my Dad, death was a liberation. His wife can't stand between us anymore, not that she ever did in any real way. My father and I shared the same blood, the same heart, the same mind, and if we spent almost my entire life with swords crossed, it didn't change the fact that I knew my father like a favorite song you know by heart, that is worn so deeply into your consciousness that you couldn't forget it if you tried, just like he knew me. And what is love if not to be fully known, as it says in I Corinthians 13, to be witnessed, to be seen naked, not physically but emotionally, in a light as bright as the light in my dream, a light that illuminates your darkest secrets with all-enfolding warmth and even joy, joy that counts each flaw as a blessing?

Why am I telling this story in a blog that is ostensibly about jiu-jitsu?

I guess I came to jiu-jitsu to find the family I had lost, the family that kicked me out, and I did find a new family, but the new family came with the old me. Whoever said "Wherever you go, there you are," was right.

And the same situation kept recreating itself, on the mats,  with jiu-jitsu people, because I hadn't changed. The same pride, the same emotional ineptitude, continued to run in my veins with the rest of my father's inheritance, along with the Chopin and the hot sauce.


Some years ago one of my jiu-jitsu friends said to me:  Everybody loves you and you just can't see it.

He was right. I can't. I don't know if I was born that way or if I became that way and it doesn't really matter. There are people who are color-blind, there are people who are tone-deaf, and there are people like me.

I know I have hurt a lot of people just by not understanding that they liked me and they wanted me to like them too.

But it's not just that I don't know how other people feel about me, except when they obviously hate me, I don't know how I feel either, and I don't really want to. Jiu-jitsu, for me, has been an anesthetic, a safe space to have watered-down emotions about things that don't matter, like jiu-jitsu. 

But while my emotions were #fakenews, my body was continuing to feel real feelings, in secret, like the King in the story and like my father, and then came the day I almost died, ridiculously, because I had turned off my emotions and my feelings, I had turned off hunger and thirst and fear, and I trained and trained and trained until the fear went away and my body ran out of salt.

And I still haven't gone back to normal, whatever normal is. The doctor gave up on me because, at the end of the day, I'm still healthier than the rest of his patients who are on dialysis and really, really old.

Then, at a camp, Robson told us all to start feeling, in other words, turn on that switch that I keep switched off, and I did,  magically, and I don't know what to do now. My body has gone completely haywire, filling up randomly with water until I feel like a water balloon that wants to burst and can't, and then shrinking back to normal as the tides in my body ebb and flow, crazily, as if  under the sway of a rogue moon that has escaped from its orbit to roam the Universe in search of something I have never wanted to name. Tommaso says maybe it's nephrotic syndrome. 

But water is the traditional element of emotion, and I suspect there's more to what's happening with me than a little kidney damage. I spent so many years, not just jiu-jitsu years but life years, with my finger in the dyke, holding my feelings at bay, and now the dam has burst and it will take a while for the floods of feeling to recede. But the main thing I'm feeling is that I don't know if I love jiu-jitsu.  

Keeping the feelings away

I did, or I think I did, ten years ago, but now I don't know.

What I know is that this shit hurts, and somewhere along the line, the pain began to get boring. I don't mean pressure or the discomfort of moves properly applied. I mean people who hurt you because they can't be bothered to control themselves, or because they can't beat you so they settle for hurting you instead.

It's not because I'm a wimp. Or maybe I am. Guess what, I don't care anymore if you think I'm a wimp.

A few weeks ago a purple belt accidentally face-slammed me on a mat that had nothing but poured concrete below it, and days later a black belt mat neighbor kicked me so hard in the head that he complained my head hurt his leg.

I started crying, bawling like a baby, because it hurt, and because I was frustrated, because if I can control myself, why can't you? and everybody thought I was an asshole, and Mario Sperry, who had just called me a "legend," looked like he didn't think I was a legend anymore. 

There was nothing I could have done differently to avoid getting hurt, and both guys were really, really sorry, and in the past I've just tried to laugh that kind of thing off, but it's not funny anymore.

I'm not blaming anybody, or maybe just a little. I've spent years trying to be one of the guys. I didn't want to play the girl card.

But the fact is, I actually am a girl.  What card should I play?

People - women -  have accused me of hurting them, of "training too hard," whatever that means, but if you get hurt because you didn't want to tap, sorry but fuck you. I'm talking about a lack of control.

I recently remarked to a white belt I was training with that a certain move hurt my hand and he said: "You're just going to have to learn to deal with the pain," as if I hadn't spent the past ten years dealing with the pain.

When I started training, I expected jiu-jitsu to hurt, I craved the pain as an anesthetic for other pain, or because it made me feel alive, or because I didn't know there was any other way.

I still don't know if there is any other way but I don't want it to hurt anymore. If someone had said that to me a few years ago or even a few months ago, I would have told them that they were in the wrong sport.

So maybe I'm in the wrong sport. 

I embraced the path of the warrior because I wanted to become a knight. But after all these years of tilting at windmills, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I'm not, and never will be, a knight. I'm just a low-sodium princess in a sport where the supply of princesses far exceeds the demand.

The supply of princesses exceeds the demand

I came to jiu-jitsu to find something, a father? a kingdom? answers? but what I found is myself, not different, not better, not stronger or more courageous, just me. I also found control, and rainbows, and heroes and a few villains, but also some new strategies, and a new mission, should I decide to accept it, to use those strategies to get what I want out of life, love and jiu-jitsu. 

Jiu-jitsu didn't anesthetize me; it woke me up, with a question, and that question is:  What do you want?

The answer is easy.

What I want, what I need, is salt.

Please pass the salt