Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Bruce Lee Quotes to Live and Train By

All types of knowledge are self-knowledge. 
The students come, not so much to learn how to defend themselves, but to learn how to express themselves. 
They pay me to show them, in combative form, how to express the human body.

Today is Bruce Lee's 79th birthday. It's easy for me to remember his age because he was born exactly a week before my mom, aka "the Other Little Dragon."

The Other Little Dragons

Lee is one of those people who really needs no introduction, at least in the martial arts world. Besides being arguably the greatest martial artist that ever lived, he was a philosopher who could kick you in the face and blow your mind at the same time.

Bruce Lee inspired countless martial artists of every genre and continues to inspire, through his art and his words, almost 50 years after his death.

Inspired by Bruce Lee

The following quotes are some of my personal favorites:

The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.

This quote comes to mind when people start preaching about whatever jiu-jitsu style or martial arts style they happen to prefer, or their political or religious beliefs. Without mentioning any names, there are definitely some people who believe jiu-jitsu should still be practiced as it was 100 years ago. But I also think of this quote when martial arts people get into a pissing contest about which style is better.

According to Lee, it's not about picking a style, eenie meenie minie moe, karate or TKD or??? It's about saying, as Lee himself put it:  "Here I am as a human being; how can I express myself?"

Only when the individual frees himself from the need to adhere to a particular style can his martial art - and, dare I say it, his life? - become, as Lee put it, "a process of continuing growth."

I'm not in the world to meet your expectations and you're not in the world to meet mine.

This is deliciously self-explanatory, as are all Lee's quotes, but in the constant high school-esque peer pressures of the martial arts world, it's an easy one to forget.

Everyone has a different idea of who and what you should be and how you should train and fight and just generally be. If you get caught up in it, you're dead, or at least your jiu-jitsu is dead. No matter how good your jiu-jitsu is, if you allow people to get into your head - and believe me, they will try and try again - you will know defeat until you get them out of your head again.

Just play by IBJJF rules and let the haters hate. As Katt Williams says: That's their job.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. 
Willing is not enough; we must do.

Jiu-jitsu is a rabbithole that sucks you in and it's easy to get lost in there. It's easy to become fascinated by the intricacies of the game and to forget that - at least theoretically - we are here to learn to fight.

You might know 1000 variations of the armbar from the guard but if you're hiding in the corner nursing a fake injury hoping that tough new blue belt doesn't ask you to roll, there's something wrong.

In the same way, you (I) might have theories about life, love, and jiu-jitsu, but until you put them into practice, nobody will care.

The problem is, fighting takes courage, whether you're fighting in a competition or fighting for your job or fighting for a relationship. It's so much easier, so much more dignified, to throw in the towel, to be a good sport, to give up the submission or whatever it is you care about because at least you won't look ridiculous when you try really hard and fail.

But then you're missing the whole point. Maybe trying hard and failing isn't ridiculous. Maybe spending your life trying not to look ridiculous is ridiculous.

There are no limits, there are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

I don't know about you but for me, there is a point, in my training and in my workouts and in my relationships, that is the point I can go to and feel like I'm on familiar territory. I guess that would be called the comfort zone. And beyond that point is just utter blackness. I have no idea what's out there and I have not ventured beyond that point very many times in my life. Actually, I usually try to stay well below that limit.

My unconscious goal, I guess, has always been to excel inside the comfort zone. Only recently have I crossed the Rubicon, as it were, and it was exhilarating. I didn't die and I didn't get lost. And what I saw there, what I felt there, is my best jiu-jitsu. My best me.

When I was a blue belt, my teacher Ricardo gave me some noncommittal compliment - he's not a big complimenter - and he said, "There's something, I don't know what it is, that's holding you back. If you could get beyond that, you could be good."

I know now that I can go beyond that point with training partners I trust, which is like four people, including Robson. How do I do it with people I don't trust? Good question. Years ago, I was assigned to read an article entitled "In Trust We Trust." This article was just saying that basically there is nobody you can ever completely trust. Even the people with the best intentions can hurt you, either on or off the mat, because we all have different ideas about what hurts. The article was saying that we need to get to the point where we place our trust, not in other people, but in our own ability to handle whatever is thrown at us.

Using no way as a way; using no limitation as a limitation.

It's a balancing act, or that's what it seems like to me. It's a tightrope walk across this great chasm of life, love and jiu-jitsu. Nobody can guarantee that you're not going to fall but guess what; at the bottom of the chasm is a nice, springy mat. We all learned to breakfall on the first day of class, or at least, sometime over the past 11 years.

And really, if we never fell, if we never ended up flat on our backs, we wouldn't need jiu-jitsu. In judo, the fight is over when you're on your back. In jiu-jitsu, that's when the fight begins.

Only you can find your way, and every time you find your way, you have to be prepared to leave it when a better way presents itself. In the same way, every time you accept your limitations as limitations, you have to be ready to find a way to transcend them.

There's only one immutable rule on the great tightrope of life, love and jiu-jitsu:  Don't look down.

Be water, my friend.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Control, Pressure, Submission

Yesterday - almost exactly ten years after opening the doors of Ricardo Pires BJJ in Cleveland - Master Ricardo gave a seminar at nearby Edinboro University.

It is difficult to assess the impact Master Ricardo has had on the jiu-jitsu scene in this particular section of what the politicians call "flyover country." He brought, not just a scary top game, but a philosophy - a philosophy of what Master Ricardo calls "good control."

Control is almost a dirty word in today's "let it all hang out" society. We don't want to be thought of as control freaks (which does not stop many people from actually being control freaks). We demand freedom, not so much for others but for ourselves.

And it takes tremendous humility - or a life-changing event - to realize that the thing that  really scares you about control is self-control. For me, meeting Master Ricardo was that life-changing event.

I was a white belt at the time, in early 2010, training under Nova União prodigy Dudu Barros. Dudu was and is a slippery, sneaky guard player, but what I remember most about training under Dudu is that it was so much fun. Dudu Barros BJJ was a warm and welcoming environment where however you were, was awesome.

When I started training under Ricardo, I encountered something I had not met with previously on a jiu-jitsu mat: expectations. However you were, in Ricardo's mind, might be more or less okay, but it could certainly be improved upon. Ricardo often quoted a Brazilian proverb: The enemy of good is better.

Ricardo's philosophy made sense to me. I have often reflected that the difference between a professor and a master is that a professor can help you give the best of yourself on the mat, while a master can help you live your best life.

Master Ricardo and Master Robson Moura have been the Alpha and the Omega of my jiu-jitsu, and indeed, of my life, for many years now. I met them only a few months apart and I was initially struck - and disturbed - by how seemingly different they were. I knew that Master Ricardo's jiu-jitsu was the truth; but Master Robson's jiu-jitsu was also, undeniably, the truth. I knew it, not because of the medals or magazine covers, but because I felt it.

I lived with the apparent contradiction for years. Master Ricardo's mantra is Control - Pressure - Submission. As he puts it: 

"Control is like putting someone in a box. There's no pressure at that point - I just take away their ways of escape. Pressure is the next step. That's when I start to smash the box. And with enough control and enough pressure, sooner or later something will come out of the box. An arm, a neck. Whatever they give me, I take."

Master Robson, on the other hand, seems to just whiz around in a cloud of fairy dust plucking up submissions as if they were so many dandelions sprouting from the most unlikely places on the mat. But over time, as I've gone deeper into this art, it occurred to me that Master Robson follows the exact same mantra as Master Ricardo does, albeit in a faster and sneakier and, as Ricardo says, "wigglier" way. While Ricardo suffocates his opponent like a tidal wave rising gently but inexorably over your chest, Robson controls his opponent with the aforementioned speed and agility and fairy dust. Robson says he can feel what his opponent is going to do. Whether he means he can feel micromovements on a muscular level, or whether he is referring to an intuitive "I just have a feeling" feeling, is a mystery, as so many things are with Robson Moura.

Don Juan Matus, Carlos Castaneda's shaman mentor who instructed him on the path of the warrior, said: "Nobody knows who I am or what I do. Not even I." Those words often come to mind when I think of Robson. When asked to describe how he swept Parrumpinha at the BJJ Expo a few years ago, Robson responded: "I don't know. I haven't seen the video yet."

Master Ricardo, too, struggles to put his deceptively simple jiu-jitsu into words, for good reason: his jiu-jitsu cannot be described in words, but only felt. I don't know - and Ricardo doesn't know either because he said so - if "invisible jiu-jitsu" would be the right term. All I know, after ten years of trying to understand what he's doing and occasionally teach it, is that it feels completely different from other kinds of top pressure.

Years ago, Ricardo described his side control to me:  "I know it sounds crazy, but it feels like this part of my body reaches in and grab's the guy's heart." 

Ricardo grabbing hearts in jiu-jitsu flyover country

I think Master Robson could describe his jiu-jitsu in the same way, if he wanted to, by substituting the word "mind" for heart. But he doesn't want to. First, I don't think he's really that interested in words, at least not the verbal kind. I think Robson's words are those he says with his body, in passes and sweeps and submissions. Second, Robson is giving nothing away. He throws open the doors of his jiu-jitsu and his mind and invites you in and you think, "Well isn't this nice!" and you can wander around in there a long time before you realize you're in a labyrinth and the farther you think you're going, the farther away you're getting from the center. There's a good reason for that. The center of Robson's jiu-jitsu - and his mind - isn't in his mind. It's in his heart.

The point is, both men control their opponents - whether they happen to be living, breathing, jiu-jitsu opponents or challenges great and small - by controlling themselves.

And when you control the body and/or the mind, but especially the heart, and the pressure starts to mount, the submission comes of its own volition. And that's when you win.

One of the few things Master Robson has been very verbal about is how he feels about winning.

"If I tap somebody," he says, "I want to know why they tapped. Of course if I put my arm across my opponent's nose, he's gonna tap, because he doesn't want his nose broken. But I don't want that. Anybody can do that. You don't have to know jiu-jitsu to do that. I want to know that I tapped someone with my jiu-jitsu."

He doesn't "give up" jaw chokes because he doesn't choke people on the jaw

And although I've never heard Ricardo talk about it, I guarantee he feels the same way. Top doesn't mean sloppy, at least not to Ricardo. One thing I have heard Master Ricardo say is that he doesn't "take" submissions. He induces you - with the aforementioned control and pressure - to give them to him.

And I'm pretty sure Robson would say the same thing, if he felt like talking.

A friend said to me a while back: "Do you mean to say Robson would give up a choke just because he was on the guy's jaw? Because I don't believe it."

And I struggled to explain that that scenario is, at least until someone proves otherwise, impossible, for both Master Ricardo and Master Robson, because precision is so much a part of their game. They're not on your jaw, ergo they will never have to give up a jaw choke. That's the "art" part of the martial arts but it's also an essential part of the human spirit. It's called pride in workmanship, professional ethics, whatever you want to call it. 

But despite their similarities, I'm pretty sure neither man would feel comfortable playing each other's game. I can't see Robson as a heavy top smasher any more than I can envision Ricardo as a wiggly Cirque de Soleil-esque magician. Their jiu-jitsu works because they each found a way to be themselves, fully and unapologetically, embracing their strengths and their weaknesses and their quirks and their physical and mental idiosyncrasies to achieve success - as they each define it - in their personal and professional lives.

And that's really the takeaway for me. I've been tracking Master Robson and Master Ricardo for just on ten years now because they each had something I lacked, or thought I lacked, and I wanted to find a way to get it. But now, ten years down the line, I am starting to understand the same thing Dorothy finally figured out in Oz and the same thing everybody always understands as they near journey's end: I've always had the power. 

It's said that the things you don't like about other people are the things you don't like about yourself but just can't see in yourself. I have come to believe that the opposite is true as well. The things you admire in others are sometimes the things you have inside but just can't see because you can't believe they are there. If seeing is believing, it's also true that sometimes you have to believe first in order to see.

This is one of the few things Robson has ever said to me, and I mean literally. He's not a big talker, at least not with me, and over the past ten years we've rarely gotten past hello how are you. But when I did my last competition, which was Master Worlds in 2017, Robson advised me: Acredite em você. Believe in yourself.

At that time, I wasn't able to do it, because I was focused on what I thought I lacked. But gradually, my focus has shifted to the one thing I have that everybody else lacks: me. Myself. Whoever and whatever and however I am. I have come to realize, 11 years almost to the day since I first stepped on the mat with Dudu, that he was right. However I am, is awesome. I've always had the power.

I've always had the power.

Does that mean I'm everyone's cup of tea? No. Does it matter? Equally no.

There are always going to be haters. As my new best friend Rich says, "They gonna hate on you no matter what you do. If you lose, they gonna hate on you, if you win, they gonna hate on you more, so you might as well do you."

Haters gonna  hate on you no matter what so you might as well do you.

When I started training, I thought jiu-jitsu would help me change, but now, I realize that jiu-jitsu won't change you but it can transform you. It won't make you different than you are; it gives you the opportunity to be even more who you are. It lets you be you, and do you, until you are the most you you can possibly be. 

Control is, fundamentally, control of the self. The pressure comes when you allow yourself to be yourself to the point of making others feel discomfort and even pain, if they choose. It's their choice because yes, your opponent - or your partner, on or off the mat - they did sign up for this. They signed the waiver and if you are too much for them, in any way - whether it's your side pressure or your personality or your relationship needs - they can always tap.  They don't have to train with you. They don't have to be with you. But if they choose to train with you and/or be with you, it's on. It's not up to you to protect people from you. You're not their mommy. In jiu-jitsu, and in your life, the only real rule - besides the IBJJF rules that keep us all safe and on the same page - is "Go big or go home."

And if you live by that rule, the submission - which is whatever you want it to be, however you want it to be - will come.

"The submission is always the same.
How you get there is up to you."

Monday, October 28, 2019

180 Steps

This past weekend, RMNU hosted its annual camp in Tampa.  Although I wasn't able to attend this year, I followed the event on social media. 

The thing that stands out in my mind is the huge smile on Master Robson's face in the group photos. In the midst of the chaos and the tidal waves of human emotion that are always really overwhelming for me personally at these events, Robson is sitting there smiling, cross-legged and beatific like a featherweight Buddha.

He has a lot to smile about. Besides his eight world titles and countless other jiu-jitsu titles, Master Robson can really be said to be a man who has it all. He has reached the top of every podium that matters and maybe even a few that don't (although I guarantee they all matter to Master Robson), he is considered a legend by the other legends in the sport, and he is surrounded by a loving and close-knit family - the family by blood and the family by sweat, which is what Saulo Ribeiro calls the jiu-jitsu family. 

The RMNU association is well-established in a big chunk of the globe and constantly growing and evolving. 

Plus, the icing on the cake, Master Robson gave his son a very well-deserved brown belt at this camp, and I can guess what an incredible feeling that must have been for both of them.

Anyone would have good reason to smile at those results.

But as I looked at the pictures, I remembered something Master Robson said years ago describing his childhood in the favela.

Favelas are hard to describe to Americans. They're slums, shantytowns built high on the hilltops surrounding Brazilian cities. As the crow flies, maybe they're not so far from the cities, but there is an abyss separating the favelas from normal city life. Robson's father built his family a tiny home on a favela outside Teresopolis, itself a sort of suburb of Rio, by carrying 80 lb bags of cement up the hill one at a time.

Favela in Brazil

Master Robson said years ago that there were 180 steps to go up from the road to his home. Since the weather in Teresopolis is often crappy - we think of Brazil as this warm and sunny place but Teresopolis gets cold and misty and depressing in the winter, which coincides with our summer - Robson had to tread very carefully on those steps. He says he used to put plastic bags over his shoes to protect them from the mud.

Also, there was the small problem of bullets whizzing around in the air and criminals and violence of every description turning an already difficult reality into a reality show of survival.

As I looked at the pictures from the camp, I thought about those 180 steps, and I thought about all the steps Master Robson has had to climb in his life from that first moment, at the age of 10, when he realized that he needed to find a way out of the favela, and that second moment, right around the same age, when he realized that jiu-jitsu could be, had to be, that way out.

I don't know what those steps were in his life and in his jiu-jitsu career but I'm pretty sure he has had to tread those steps just as carefully as those early steps through the mud to his home. Master Robson mentioned years ago that he was very young when he bought his first house, and he said the seller looked at him like he was crazy. Robson knew that if he didn't pay the mortgage on time, he would lose everything - the house and all the money he had put into it. But he says he never hesitated. He would win a tournament, or teach some seminars, and every month he was there with the money in his hand.

But I think it's really important to understand that those steps were there, and probably are still there, and Master Robson is still scaling them very carefully, one at a time. Master Robson can't fly. He can't evaporate and then rematerialize in another point in time and space. He just looks like he can. Master Robson makes everything look so easy that it's easy to fall into the trap of believing it is easy, or it was easy. 

And that's just not true. Last week I wrote about embracing the chaos and Master Robson was foremost in my mind as I wrote that post. I wanted to ask him how he handles fear, if he feels fear at all, but then I realized that I know the answer. 

The answer is, he embraces the fear. He embraces the chaos. Whatever challenges come his way, he embraces them and flips them over to where he can dominate them.

When asked about his jiu-jitsu strategy, he said: My strategy is simple. I'm either going to take the guy down, or pull guard and sweep him.

He's not worried about the details. The details work themselves out in the moment. When he was asked after BJJ Expo a few years ago to describe his sweep of Parrumpinha, Master Robson said: "I don't know, I haven't seen the video yet."

And I think his strategy for life, and all its challenges, is the same. He is either going to dominate a situation from the outset or he is going to find a way to turn the situation around so he can be in a position to dominate it.

He has found comfort in the chaos. He is at home in the rabbithole.

Jiu-jitsu is a rabbithole. You think you're going to go in just long enough to catch the rabbit and then you find yourself in a different world, like Alice in Wonderland, and the deeper you go, the deeper you want to go. You want to find the bottom of the rabbithole but you also want to see everything there is to see. And at some point, you realize that there is no bottom to the rabbithole, and you can never see everything, because everything is constantly changing, morphing into something else, and so are you. So even if you somehow managed to see everything in the rabbithole and find the nonexistent bottom, you would still never be able to leave because in the meantime you changed, your eyes changed, your mind changed, and you have become a whole new person with new eyes, and you have to start everything all over again.

Jiu-jitsu: Down the rabbithole

Life itself is a rabbithole, or can be. And the thing about the rabbithole is, it's confusing in there. Sometimes you take what you think is a step forward and it's really a step backwards. Sometimes you think you're in a good position and next thing you know you're fighting for your life. Sometimes success can feel like failure and vice-versa and sometimes no matter what you do, you can't move from the place you are stuck. 180 steps in the mud of the favela were not easy; 180 steps in jiu-jitsu, or in your life or in your love life, can feel like 180 million steps and you're still nowhere.

It's the same for everyone. I'm pretty sure it's the same for Master Robson as well. The difference is, or at least, I think the difference is in belief.

Shaman Don Juan Matus said: "What we need to do to allow magic to get ahold of us is to banish doubt from our minds." And I think that sums up Master Robson's approach to the 180 slippery steps on that slippery slope of life, love and jiu-jitsu.

Don't expect it to be easy. Nothing is easy, not for Robson, not for me, not for you. I mean, sometimes there might be something that's easy and when that happens, it's either meant to be or it might be a mistake. But most things in life that are worthwhile require effort, and the more worthwhile it is, the more effort it requires.

Making it look easy is part of Master Robson's mystique. I'm sure that back in the favela, as he was climbing those 180 steps in the rain with plastic bags on his feet, he made that look easy too. That's part of what makes Robinho Robinho.

Master Robson told me years ago that pride has no place in jiu-jitsu, but, although I see what he means, and I agree with him, at least partially, on principle, I don't really believe him.

I think pride, like everything else, is bad when taken to excess. That's the kind of pride that goeth before a fall.

But there's a kind of pride that is the same, or almost the same, as self-respect. It is that pride that keeps us walking up the steps, of our jiu-jitsu and of our lives, through the mud, through the rain, even through shit, with our heads held high, and if we fall, we get back up and keep going, because something in us tells us to, and because we don't want to give the haters the satisfaction of seeing us wallowing around in the shit.

Everybody who attended the camp is on a different point in their jiu-jitsu journey. A lot of people got promoted, a lot of people didn't, and a lot of people stayed home. Even if you are wearing the exact same belt with the exact same number of stripes as someone else, you are at a different place on that staircase with 180 steps that is taking you from point A to Point Infinity.

And I think it's normal to get to a point in the journey where it all starts to seem a lot harder, and a lot longer, than what you bargained for.

Personally, I am at a point where even the mat seems really hard on my old bones. I was telling a friend of mine that I have dinosaur bones and he said they would probably taste good with BBQ sauce. So that's a positive way of looking at it.

Plus, I don't have anyplace else to be. There's no place I'd rather be than climbing these steps, there's nobody I'd rather be than me, there's no way I'd rather be than alive in this life, on this mat, with these dinosaur bones, with these realistic short-term goals and unrealistic long-term goals because another word for unrealistic goals is dreams.

Master Robson's favorite quote is: If you can dream it, you can do it.

As I looked at the pictures from the camp, I saw a man whose dreams have come true, not because he wished upon a star, but because he made them come true. Every dream, every step on that stairway to heaven was a fight, and every fight ended in a submission, and I don't think any of it was easy. 

I bet there are parts of it that still aren't easy. But I'm pretty sure Master Robson is having fun and the reason he is having fun, instead of lying awake at night panicking, is that he has banished doubt from his mind.

And the takeaway from this is that I can do the same thing. My challenges are exactly the same as his challenges. They're just differently the same. He was ten. I'm five times that. It's the same because it's an awkward age to take control of your life and your jiu-jitsu. He grew up too fast; I'm just starting to grow up now, thanks to jiu-jitsu. I feel like if you never have a childhood you can never really grow up but there is a quote I like by Tom Robbins that says: It's never too late to have a happy childhood. Jiu-jitsu can be your happy childhood like it was mine and jiu-jitsu can take you by the hand and lead you to a happy adulthood. I truly believe that and I believe that, on some level, Master Robson and I and you are all the same. We were all dealt a hand in this life with gifts and challenges. The difference is in how we use those gifts and how we handle those challenges. We all have a stairway to heaven to climb; the difference is in how we climb it.

It's about becoming conscious of what we are doing and taking control of ourselves and our lives. It's about understanding that nobody can climb those steps for you and that if you don't start climbing, you will be left behind in the shit with nobody to blame but yourself.

And that's a hard thing to realize. But the good news is, we have the tools because jiu-jitsu gave them to us. Jiu-jitsu gives us grace and control and power and patience and wisdom to climb the steps. We can get where we're going. And we can have fun. 

The key is to banish doubt from your mind.

Congrats to Master Robson and the RMNU team for another great year and another great camp. We'll see you next year!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Embrace the chaos

Embrace the chaos

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

I don't know about you but my life has felt crazy lately. And I literally don't know what to do with the fear.

I guess outwardly, everything looks pretty much the same, but inwardly, it's chaos. I'm changing and I don't know what to do about it. I don't just mean the physical changes that come with the years. I mean the mental and emotional changes that come with the years of jiu-jitsu.

I feel like the hard part of me got broken, somewhere on the mat, or off the mat, or both, and there's nothing left between me and the world but, well, nothing. I'm a turtle without its shell. And I am pretty sure that that's a good thing but I'm also scared out of my mind.

It feels chaotic, like the bottom has dropped out of what I thought was solid ground and I've always been a fan of solid ground. Solid ground is called solid ground for a reason - it doesn't just float off into the air or stop answering text messages. Solid ground is money, solid ground is career, solid ground is relationships. Solid ground is everything you can see and feel and count and touch and believe in.

According to Joseph Campbell, solid ground is the ego. The ego, Campbell said, is everything you believe about yourself. While we mostly tend to think of ego as overinflated self-confidence, Campbell saw it as the opposite - a limiting belief system, that thing where you say, "Oh I could never do that. I'm not good enough, smart enough, my guard sucks, I have no takedowns."

The ego isn't Satan. It's the human condition. It's the walls we build around ourselves, around our minds and our hearts, and incidentally, around our jiu-jitsu.

Ever since I discovered the top game at blue belt, I thought of myself as a top guy. I spent all of purple belt working on my guard, and it got better, but I still used to have panic attacks when I ended up on the bottom. 

But lately, the weirdest thing is happening. I am actually having fun playing guard. I'm not saying I'm great at it but being great at it or not is not my top priority right now and maybe that's because I'm playing, not fighting, not even working on my guard, just playing. And playing, by definition, is not something you can really quantify. It just is.

Which doesn't mean that there isn't the competitive aspect to playing. When I was a kid we had the typical neighborhood scenario that I don't even think exists anymore because there are so many perverts everywhere and people are afraid to let their kids leave the house.

Back then, it was the opposite. My mom used to literally lock us out and tell us she didn't even want to see us until sundown. It wasn't child abuse. It was my mom keeping her sanity, because kids back then didn't move in two's or three's. We moved in tidal waves, rushing into a home, eating everything, messing everything up, and then rushing out again.

And we were super competitive. We were always having bike races or sled races or beauty pageants, which involved standing on my friend Debbie's bed in our swimming suits lip synching Elvis songs, or kicking people out of the tree house or having arguments about ridiculous nonsense. Somebody won, somebody lost, and it was fine. It was part of the game. And the best thing about the game was that it was never game over. Every day was a new day in the same game and every day you woke up either eager to consolidate your dominant position or get your own back from whatever losses you might have sustained the day before.

The risk of losing was never a good reason to stay home.

Nobody would have ever considered staying home just out of fear that they might lose.

And I don't know when it was in my life that it started to seem like the fear of losing was a good reason to stay home.

Maybe it was my first dating fiascos in college. Up to then, boys were my friends. You called them up and they answered the phone. It was really pretty simple. Or you went to their house or they came to your house and no matter what time of day or night it was, no matter if you were dying of the flu or mosquito bites or whatever kind of kid disease you had, you were always ready to play. Then all of a sudden puberty happened and somehow sex got thrown into the equation and the boys started to act bizarre. Actually, everybody started to act bizarre. And all of a sudden the games weren't fun anymore.

When we were kids, love was so easy. I met my best friend Tony when I was two and he was four. My mom said I bit him on the face and after that, we were inseparable until his mom came and took him away when he was like 7 or something. I think that was the first foreshadowing for me that love could hurt, and then adulthood came along and I forgot there was any other way for love to be except excruciating.

Me and Tony when love was easy

I don't mean just guys, I mean the people you love, the animals you love, and they go away, they die, they're just gone, from one moment to the next, and nobody tells you how much it is going to hurt, and even if they did, you wouldn't believe them. One time I was talking about my dad's death to my mom and I said, "You know when you cry so hard you feel like throwing up" and my mom said, "I don't think I've ever cried that hard."

And you just get to a point, or you might, where you don't want to try anymore because you don't want to cry anymore.

And then jiu-jitsu comes along and the pain of jiu-jitsu is an anesthetic for other kinds of pain. The homeopathic principle states that "Like cures like" so it only makes sense that the knee pain and the shoulder pain and the general feeling of being put through a trash compactor every day that is one of jiu-jitsu's many gifts can make the other kinds of pain feel less, well, painful.

Jiu-jitsu can be a healing space, and it can be a hiding space as well. When life is too scary, the mat feels like a safe space. It feels like the solid ground that you used to have in your life. But the thing about jiu-jitsu is that it will find a way to make you grow and at some point you will realize that jiu-jitsu is not better than life or different from life and the solid ground is not as solid as you think.

What jiu-jitsu offers that life does not always offer is tools.

Saulo Ribeiro says "If you have a weakness, jiu-jitsu will find it," but I think it would be even more accurate to say that whoever you are, jiu-jitsu will find you. It will hunt you down like a mother looking for a lost child, it will look inside you where you are hiding and it will coax you, the real you, out of the shadows and send you back into the backyard to play, to find out who you are and to be that, to fall down and to get up again.

But, unlike life, jiu-jitsu shows you the technical stand - the way to get back up without getting kicked in the face again. Jiu-jitsu shows you sweeps so you can come back on top of life and love and jiu-jitsu. And jiu-jitsu shows you submissions so you can dominate whatever challenge you're facing and move on to the next challenge, without getting frozen in a kind of paralysis of fear.

We're all unique and we all have different challenges. Me, I take everything way too seriously so jiu-jitsu has been teaching me how to play. You have no idea how hard I've had to work at it.

You probably have different challenges. 

Jiu-jitsu takes everything and everybody into its orbit, it sucks you into the chaos, it shines a light on your strengths and weaknesses and there is literally nowhere to run and no place to hide from it. You can't hide from the chaos, you can't fight it, you can't turtle up and wait for it to go away because it's not going away because the chaos is life. The chaos is love. The chaos is jiu-jitsu. You are part of it because you chose to be part of it, yes you did sign up for this, and there's no backing out or backing down now so you might as well embrace it because the sun is going to go down on your life and my life so much sooner than we think.

I believe in eternal life. Everybody has their own beliefs and I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. I've had some pretty crazy experiences and let's just leave it at that. I believe in reincarnation, but I also believe we spend a lot of time in this other dimension without physical bodies. And I believe that when we decide to inhabit a physical body, it's like going out into the backyard to play. We know we're going to win sometimes and lose sometimes, we know there is going to be pain, but also a really good time.

As a guy I once sublet an apartment from in Brooklyn put it:  Spirits on the other side are lining up for this shit.

The craziness, the chaos, are not just the price we pay for fun - they are the fun. Because one day, when we are in that other dimension without our physical bodies, I don't think we're going to look back at this all-too-brief time on earth and regret that time we lost a fight by one advantage or that time it didn't work out with a really cute guy or whatever it is we marked down in our brains as an L on our life record. It's kind of like when I think back on all the amazing food I ate when I was living in Europe, I'm not regretting the calories I consumed or the money I spent. If anything, I wish I had eaten more more more pasta, more gelato, more of the really incredible things there were to eat. In fact, now I wonder why I wasted so much time on silly things like working when there was so much amazing food I never even tasted.

I don't even regret the bad meals because there was always a good meal literally just around the corner.

And in the same way, I don't think we're going to regret the times we tried and failed, and in fact, I doubt we will look at our failures as failures because if you failed at something, it means you tried. It means you were in the backyard playing, not in the house hiding under the bed. If we have any regrets at all, I think we will regret the times we said "No, thank you" to a new experience.

Yesterday, one of my students from Italian class came to try her first jiu-jitsu class. She was a wonderful student in my college class. She was so supportive, she always had a great attitude, and she has stayed in touch with me and she has really become a friend. 

We did a very simple progression from scissor sweep to mount to cross-collar choke which may seem like a lot but to me, it's always important to know where we're coming from and where we're going in any given scenario. Jiu-jitsu is like a story that we tell. It starts with once upon a time and it ends with the happy ending. And I think, speaking as an educator, that one of the biggest mistakes jiu-jitsu instructors make is to want to teach disembodied moves without any kind of story line, assuming everyone is on the same page. In this world where you can't get two people to agree on anything, don't assume your students are on the same page in your jiu-jitsu story. For me, the details can come later. I wasn't worried about teaching the perfect sweep or the perfect mount control or the perfect choke. I wanted her to understand the storyline. Anyway, I told my student it was so ironic because she was one of the few students I didn't ever want to strangle and here I was choking her.

So that's life for you. You end up choking the ones you love. But anyway, we talked about the closed guard as a means of embracing the chaos. And really, that's pretty much the foundation for all of jiu-jitsu. When something scares us, and we can't run away anymore, we embrace it so that we can control it.

It's taken me 11 years to figure that out but my student, who as I said is a very special kind of person, got it right away. 

But - and here's where we go back to the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of this post - in order to embrace the chaos outside, we must be prepared to embrace the chaos inside. You have to be prepared to open that seething bubbling Pandora's box of your mind and heart and look inside. It's scary as fuck. You see things you don't want to see, you feel things you don't want to feel, you may even realize that you are someone you don't want to be and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it except embrace it so you can at least control it. Or not. But the point is, it's there and it's not going away and maybe that's the way it should be.

If you, like me, are a fan of solid ground, I have some bad news for you. Solid ground is an illusion, just a thin layer of dirt hiding the chaos. And at some point, you're going to have to get your hands dirty and embrace the chaos that's waiting for you just under the surface.

And when the chaos inside embraces the chaos outside, together they give birth to a little tiny dancing star. 

And when that happens, it's game on.

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. - Nietzsche

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Art and Science of Forgiving the Unforgiveable

I don't know about you but I talk to God. Sometimes He even talks back. Sometimes I talk to Him about jiu-jitsu and sometimes I think God is jiu-jitsu.

I think that jiu-jitsu and God are both expanding, benevolent forces that move in us and through us. It's said that "The Lord moves in mysterious ways" and the same can certainly be said of jiu-jitsu. I think our understanding of both jiu-jitsu and God goes in layers. At blue belt, you know everything. At black belt, you know one thing only: that you know very little, and even that which you know is more working hypothesis than absolute certainty. I can say this, even though I'm not a black belt, because I've heard Master Robson talk about it. He's always learning, always growing, always exploring this dimension we call jiu-jitsu.

When I started training jiu-jitsu, I thought it was moves and I thought that when I learned enough moves, I would get my black belt and live happily ever after. Now, I know a lot of moves, but what I'm looking for now is not more moves, nor even a belt. What I seek now is a feeling. I want to feel jiu-jitsu moving through me, not me and my thoughts and my fears and my ego moving through jiu-jitsu. In the same way, when I was growing up, I thought religion was about good deeds, and if you did enough good deeds, you went to heaven. Kind of like when you do all your chores and you get ice cream. 

But I don't believe that or want that anymore. What I seek, in both my jiu-jitsu life and my regular life, is a feeling and I guess the word we usually use for that feeling is flow. And I think that another name for that flow is love, not the personal kind, but the expanding energy that literally (not figuratively) makes the world go 'round. I mean, there is some kind of energy that is powering this Universe - and incidentally, jiu-jitsu - and maybe that energy really is love, and maybe love really is the verb form of God, and jiu-jitsu. Maybe. 

And you can say you don't care and you only really want to think about jiu-jitsu and talk about jiu-jitsu and dream about jiu-jitsu and train jiu-jitsu and I get it. But what I'm trying to say is that if you go deep enough into this rabbit hole, and you start to realize that when Robson says "Jiu-jitsu has no end," he's not just saying that because it sounds good. He's saying that because it's true. And when you realize that, it is, or should be, kind of scary, because it means that the rabbit hole is infinite, it has no bottom and you don't know how or when you are ever going to get out and there are only a couple of other things that are like that. One is love. Just regular love that you have for a person, that comes out of nowhere and you're never, ever the same, because the relationship may end but love never ends. And another is God.

Some people think God is a fairy tale, and you might be one of those people. And you might be right. But as the Italian author Italo Calvino said: "I believe this: that fairy tales are true."

I love fairy tales, which is probably why I'm so fascinated by Robson Moura. Not only is his life a fairy tale, but every fight, every roll is a fairy tale. It's David vs Goliath, Jonah vs the whale, Jerry vs. Tom. Every roll is a hero's journey, the little guy against the world, and every roll has a happy ending, the hero triumphant and order restored in Middle Earth. 

Robson comes from a favela, which comes from the word "beanstalk." And if you think about it, Robson's story of climbing out of the favela into the clouds is a modern-day story of Jack climbing the beanstalk to the kingdom above.

Fairy tales take the wrongs of life and they make them right.

Which is what God is supposed to do but doesn't always. And that's why I talk to God. I don't know if "talking" is the correct word. Nagging, berating, scolding, whining, you get the drift.

Don't get me wrong. I know I've been very blessed.

On the other hand, I feel that God could do a lot better if He would just take a little coaching (from me, obviously).  

So today I was talking/nagging/berating/scolding/praying and I was telling God how hard He makes it to love Him because He has done so much that is frankly unforgiveable.

And I said: How do I forgive the unforgiveable?

And He said: That's why I gave you jiu-jitsu.

And I had to laugh because He was right (for once).

Fundamentally, we can define jiu-jitsu in a million different ways. My teacher Ricardo likes the term "the Art and Science of" and I stole it from him. The Art and Science of Control. The Art and Science of Relationships. The Art and Science of Screwing the Odds.

The Art and Science of being Ricardo

The Art and Science of Forgiving the Unforgiveable.

In life, people hurt you. Your husband/boyfriend hurts you. Things hurt you. God hurts you. And yeah, maybe it's not God who's hurting you, but He lets it happen. He's like the bystander who doesn't call the cops. So he's guilty by association.

And when that happens, it's hard to know what to do with the hurt. It's hard to forgive. Anyone who says it's easy, I call bullshit. And it affects the relationship and sometimes it ends the relationship.

In jiu-jitsu, people hurt you, but in jiu-jitsu, we expect it. Arguably, all of jiu-jitsu is about hurting you. The Art and Science of Inflicting Pain. Sometimes, you get hurt in a submission, but that's probably your fault because you didn't tap early enough. Sometimes, you get hurt when your partner spazzes out. Sometimes, you get hurt because people act like wackos.

And what do you do? You train.

It's not a meme. It's real. I'm that person who questions everything. I'm the person who is ready to walk away from any relationship in four seconds if something goes wrong, if someone does something unforgiveable. I'm Robert De Niro in the movie Heat. I've walked away from jobs, I've walked away from my family, I walked away from my marriage, and I never looked back.

Because you can't forgive the unforgiveable. Just by definition, the unforgiveable is, well, unforgiveable.

And I thought, I assumed, I could do that with jiu-jitsu as well. 

I've been doing this for eleven years (almost) and I realized that the pain doesn't make sense anymore. The money doesn't make sense anymore. The time, the energy, the emotion, just don't make sense anymore. And I walked away.

Except I didn't. I didn't because I couldn't. I was like a cartoon character whose feet are running but they're not going anywhere.

I could tell you I love jiu-jitsu and it would be true, but that's not why I'm still here. You can love somebody and leave. Sometimes you should. As a hypnotherapist I interviewed told me she tells her clients to say to their loser boyfriends: "I love you, now get out."

And I've done that. In fact, I'm a black belt in that particular martial art. Not the martial art called love, but the martial art called ending relationships.

The point is, the emotion is one thing. The relationship is another thing.

Love knows no rules. Love is an expanding energy that cannot be trapped or defined or confined in any way. Kind of like jiu-jitsu. Relationships are built on rules. You can do this but not that. Kind of like IBJJF rules.

The tricky part is putting love in bed with relationships. That's where a lot of us fall down.

And it took jiu-jitsu coming into my life to make me understand that the fight isn't over when you fall down. In jiu-jitsu, when you fall down, that's when the fight begins.

For "fight" read "relationship." Read "love."

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. It doesn't matter what the mistake is, or where the person, or the relationship, falls down. Maybe the guy cheated on you. Maybe he emptied your bank account and blew the money in Vegas. Maybe he begged you to give him a chance and when you gave him a chance, he disappeared into the mists of Facebook Messenger. I don't know what the unforgiveable things in your life are and I'm not saying you have to forgive them, necessarily.

But you can.

And that's what Jesus came here to say. And I'm sorry to go all Jesus freak on you, for those of you who were just here for jiu-jitsu, but I feel like Jesus and jiu-jitsu are kind of the same thing. So if you don't believe in Jesus, you can still believe in jiu-jitsu.

When Jesus came here, nobody really knew about forgiveness. It wasn't a thing. They still had the Code of Hammurabi which is the thing that says "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." And believe it or not, the Code of Hammurabi was considered progressive for the time. It was politically correct. Because up til then, there was the obligation of vengeance, for whatever happened to you. If someone did something to you, you had to do it back. And then they had to do it back to you. And then you had to do it back to them. You didn't even have the option of saying, You know, I'm good, let's just drop it.

And Jesus came along and said, You don't have to do that. You can forgive.

And at first, people were relieved, and then they started to feel deprived, when they forgot about what a pain in the ass vengeance was. But the point was that forgiveness was seen as something hard. And it's not easy, I'm not lying to you, I suck at it.

Except with jiu-jitsu. In jiu-jitsu, forgiveness is built in. As one of my former instructors, Darren Branch, used to say when I accidentally kicked him in the face, "Sorry is implied."

You know going in that you're A) going to hurt people and B) going to get hurt.  And yes, it's annoying when they act all spazzy or they stab you in the back or whatever it is, but what are your alternatives? Take your ball and go home? Good luck with that.

And so the next day you're there. And if it's not the next day, it's the next week or the next month, but sooner or later, you will come back to the mat, not because you even want to, necessarily, but because you can't not.

Meanwhile, the people you did unforgiveable shit to, at least in their minds, also come back to the mat, and there you are, you, and them, training and sweating and sometimes bleeding together. And maybe you didn't forget but somehow, you got past it, and as time goes by, it doesn't hurt so much anymore. And as even more time goes by, you start to see a glimpse into why that happened. It doesn't mean you necessarily deserved it. It means that when you see a person's soul naked, then you see that they did what they did because they couldn't do anything else and still be them, just like you couldn't do anything else and still be you, and when you realize that, there's nothing left to forgive.

And if you can forgive the unforgiveable in jiu-jitsu, why stop there? Why not forgive the unforgiveable in your other relationships too?

If we can learn from jiu-jitsu, and I think we can, then the relationship doesn't end when someone does something unforgiveable. That's when the relationship begins.

Because if you really think about it, another way to define relationships is "the Art and Science of forgiving the unforgiveable."

And if you think about it even harder, maybe learning to forgive the unforgiveable is not the greatest gift of jiu-jitsu. Maybe the greatest gift of jiu-jitsu is allowing yourself to accept forgiveness for the unforgiveable things you have done. Maybe the greatest gift of jiu-jitsu is learning to forgive yourself.