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: 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 and it really irritates him. 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. 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 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, 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 crumbs.

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 if you try to pull the tricks, if you fill your bag with lies and dishonor, your medals will turn into deadweight and your rainbow will turn to oblivion and you'll be back in Kansas with your tail between your legs before you can say Wicked Witch of the West.

Jiu-jitsu giveth and jiu-jitsu taketh away.


Hands off those ruby slippers!

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.

But you have to get off the couch.


Believe in your rainbows



Friday, October 5, 2018

Salt

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.


Dad

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Getting there! The Art and Science of Being Human



When I first started training jiu-jitsu ten years ago, I thought I was learning to fight. Then, as I got closer to blue belt and met my teacher, whom I affectionately call in my mind "Side Control Freak" Ricardo Pires, I realized that I was learning about control. As time went on, I came to the conclusion that control has no meaning without power. In other words, if there were no power, there would be no need for control. We need control when we meet something that is stronger than us and our choices are, as Lance Armstrong said some years ago when talking about disease:  Give up - or fight like hell.

Over the years, my ideas about what jiu-jitsu is, what jiu-jitsu is supposed to be, have evolved. Most recently, I was struck by what my teacher, Robson Moura, said:  If you fight strength with strength, you're probably gonna lose.  Stop fighting and start feeling.

Robson's words had a magical effect on my psyche, a kind of "Open Sesame" of the soul, and the floodgates opened and I began to feel. 

What I felt, mostly, was pain.

Physical pain, emotional pain, every kind of pain you can think of and some you can't. Pain in my back, my arms, my legs, my knees, my feet, my bones. I felt pain in places that I'm pretty sure have no nerve sensors.

And I thought: "What the hell am I doing here?"

At the same time, I was awed by all of these feelings, all of the emotion, that had been hidden inside me, crouching in the shadows like a wolf that has spotted a rabbit but is afraid to come out in the open to make the kill. And even if I wasn't madly in love with those feelings, I recognized their right to exist.

Because, as Kurt Osiander put it: If you're comfortable in jiu-jitsu, you're doing the wrong fucking thing.


Lessons from a legend

But recently, a post popped up on Facebook by some acquaintances of mine who just got married. They are both young, and beautiful, and hard-working, and crazy about each other. They both say the same thing: I married my best friend.

That post made me experience another kind of pain.

I didn't understand it, so I looked inside myself and I asked:  What's wrong?

To make a long story short, I realized that I was jealous. Jealous of their happiness, of their love, of their youth, of their beauty - they're both gorgeous and they look gorgeous together. I was jealous because they have something that I never had. I mean I had it for a few weeks until the guy died. I was jealous because they won, in the Russian Roulette of Life, Love and BJJ, and I lost.

And so I prayed. I prayed for God to take away the jealousy from my heart, but as I was praying, or trying to pray, I stopped, and I said, "Forget it."

Because either God gave me a gentle nudge in the kidneys, or I was actually lucid enough to realize, in that moment, that I was asking God for the wrong thing.

I was asking God to give me a kind of spiritual anesthetic, a vaccine against being human. Instead of asking God not to feel things, I should have been asking for the humility to accept that I was human, just like everybody else, not better, not worse, just human.

I feel, therefore I am.

I didn't want that. I wanted to be special. Most of all, I wanted to be safe. I wanted God to calm my feelings like Jesus calmed the waters to allow me to walk safely and serenely across my life, just like Jesus.

But that's not what life, love or jiu-jitsu are about. I was just reading a Facebook post by a teacher about "Lawnmover parents," the parents who mow down all adversity so that their children don't experience it until they're like, 40. I wanted God to be a lawnmower parent for me but that's not how it seems to work.

How it seems to work is that life, love, and jiu-jitsu are not about not feeling things. Life, love and jiu-jitsu are about feeling things, especially the politically incorrect things, and doing things, and trying things, and fucking up, and making an ass of yourself, and having people be mad at you for no good reason, and in love with you for even less reason.

That doesn't mean you should just go hog wild and do whatever. It means that you have weaknesses like everybody else.

As Mestre Ricardo says: Know your weakness and block it.

But what if your weakness is being human? What if your weakness is really a strength? What then?

When Robson told us to stop fighting and start feeling, I felt like I had made a huge discovery, and I had, but only in part. Because Robson didn't really say that and I know enough about Robson, after years of observation, to know that he will never, ever, ever stop fighting, nor would he ever tell anyone else to stop fighting.

What I believe he meant to say was that you have to fight and feel; not either/or, but both. And the more uncomfortable you feel - whether you ended up in somebody's side or were born in a favela with bullets whizzing by your head or simply felt pangs of jealousy reading a Facebook post (note to self: why are we even still on Facebook?) - the harder you have to fight.

And when I was praying, I realized that what I was praying for was to not be human. I was praying to be above the rest of the common mortals, those pathetic creatures so obsessed with those tiny little things they call lives. I wanted to be among the humans but not of them, free to observe their ant-like scurrying with a compassionate eye from the safety of my ivory tower, up above the world so high.

I was praying, in short, to be a ghost. The Ghost of RMNU.

The problem being that I already am. When I got sick ten years ago, actually almost 11 years now, it wasn't like I got sick. It was like I died. I abandoned everything, my furniture, my car, everything, in California, and I came to Ohio to die, and I did die. Not physically, although the disease attacked every system of my body until I became a kind of human gelatin - in other words, ectoplasm - but the Deborah that I was, the Deborah who believed in a good God, the Deborah who believed in love, and life, and herself, died, and left nothing but a ghost behind, and that ghost is writing this post.

I am here but not here. I can see but not feel, and you can't see me or feel me. You can only hear me, faintly, in this blog.


I can see you, can you see me?


And I was ok with it. This isn't the story of how I fought my way back from ectoplasm into real girl. I thought I was safe on the mat, in this blog, safe in that twilight space between life and real life, free to feel jiu-jitsu emotions in pleasant pastel shades without ever really having to go back into that messy arena called Real Life, and then one day Robson said Feel.

It was like when Jesus said to Lazarus, Get up and walk.

Maybe Lazarus didn't want to get up. Maybe Lazarus was just as happy being dead at that point but Jesus made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He gave Lazarus his life back, and commanded him to take it. And that's how it was when Robson told us to feel. I didn't expect it, I didn't want it, and I mostly didn't want to look inside myself and see a whole petrie dish of feelings and emotions that I would rather not own up to, but I am so programmed now to respond to Robson's voice that I obeyed without thinking about it and yes, Mom, since you ask, if he told me to jump off a bridge I would do it in a heartbeat.

But the even bigger problem with feeling things than the pain is that you kind of have to do something about those feelings. I mean, if you feel pain, you have to move away from the pain. If you love somebody, you kind of sort of should move closer to that person. With the caveat being that maybe that person doesn't love you, or maybe they do love you but they're the wrong person, the wrong age, the wrong size, whatever you ordered out of the life, love, and bjj catalogue, they're definitely not it but you love them anyway, and then we're right back to pain again, in stark contrast to life in the ectoplasm which is nice and anesthetized.

But the point is, when you start feeling, you have to start moving. The two are inextricably interconnected. And when you start moving, you are inevitably going to move yourself into danger.

Whereas we were all taught - and those of us who were blessed to have Ricardo Pires for our teacher were taught with some force, charmingly applied - that the cardinal rule of jiu-jitsu is: Don't get there.

How do I get out of side control? Don't get there.

How do I get out of a ridiculous, nonsensical, undignified, age-inappropriate and doomed love story? Don't get there.

But I am beginning to suspect that life is not about not getting there. Life, love, and even - I venture to say - jiu-jitsu, are about getting there (or at least, taking the risk of getting there) and being secure in the knowledge that you will be ok.

Life, love and jiu-jitsu are not about the IBJJF rulebook, or whatever rulebook you've been using. Life, love and jiu-jitsu are about making your own rulebook, about doing all those things you're not supposed to do. I mean, first you have to learn the things you're supposed to do, and then you let all that go and just do whatever feels good, and you make it work.

As Bruce Lee said: You have to know the rules before you know which ones you can break.

And even though at first glance it may appear that I am contradicting Mestre Ricardo, I don't think I really am. Don't get there is what he says but in reality, Ricardo himself is a man who has always been the first to get there, and to enjoy fighting his way out again, sometimes by the skin of his teeth.


I'll contradict Ricardo as long as he's not actually in the room


It's not that Mestre Ricardo doesn't believe his own words. Don't get there will keep you safe, and every good instructor's first task is to give his students the tools to stay safe. But as Mestre Ricardo will tell you, if you ask, and maybe prod him a little, staying safe isn't fun.

I thought jiu-jitsu was giving me the tools to triumph over life, love, and jiu-jitsu, but not so. Jiu-jitsu has been working for ten years to give me the courage, not just to fight, but to feel.

I thought jiu-jitsu was helping me get tougher when all the time, jiu-jitsu was helping me get tough enough to be vulnerable. I thought jiu-jitsu was teaching me to win, but anybody can win. Jiu-jitsu's greatest gift to me has been to give me the courage to experience defeat and hold my head up and know for a fact that losing doesn't make me a loser. I can lose every match and still win because I had the courage to try and you didn't.

I don't mean that defeat is the goal - it's not. The goal is still, and will always be, winning.

But somebody smarter than me once said: You can't win unless you're willing to lose. Granted, that person had not yet read the new IBJJF rulebook. Much of modern jiu-jitsu could be categorized under the heading "Whimper not a bang: how to win without really winning and lose without really losing." 

But we don't care about that.  At least in the IBJJF if you stall for ten minutes and win by one advantage, you take home a medal, and if it's a medal you really, really want, then good for you. But in life, if you stall for 80 years, waiting for a safe moment to gain one lousy advantage point, you don't get a medal. You lost at life, game over, sucks to be you.

You didn't get there. Congrats. Bye.

In life, in love, and maybe even in jiu-jitsu, you have to get there. You have to take the risk. You have to be willing to look ridiculous. You have to be the asshole, the one who reaches out and grabs the forbidden fruit and then posts about it on social media.

We all want to be the hero, but it takes even more courage to wear the mask of the villain. I don't mean become a serial killer. Please don't. I mean stop making little boxes to put your soul in. You're not a perfect person and neither am I, but your imperfections are not your weaknesses, they're your strengths. It's like you have a dogsled and no dogs and you have to get across the arctic tundra, and you have an army of ravening monsters with a lot of energy who would be only to happy to pull your monstersled for you and you're like "Nah, I'll wait for my A-Team."

And you spend your whole life waiting for your A team when the truth is, your B team is your A team. Your imperfections, those flaws you've stuffed deep into a cardboard box in the basement of your soul, those pesky, embarrassing, loud, smelly monsters, that's your team. They're not afraid of anything and they don't care about results or little details like right and wrong. They just want to fight, and they can win, if you let them, but not the way you wanted. It's not going to be pretty and it might smell weird.

It's your choice. My choice. Sweaty, stinky monsters and the chance (but no guarantee) of winning the money or Febreze-scented ectoplasm and a guaranteed third place medal for showing up in a three-woman division?

What I'm thinking, at least right now, is let the monsters out. Let them pull you into places you never consciously wanted to go. I don't mean let the monsters destroy you - I mean let them work with you, let them fight for you.

Life, love and jiu-jitsu are long, and the truth is, you can never stop fighting. If you stop fighting, you're dead, and if you stop feeling, you lose.

But it's not really about winning or losing. As Saulo Ribeiro said years ago in an interview: "What means winning? If you go out there and give 110%, for me you already won."


Quintessential badass Saulo Ribeiro

At the time, I thought he was being politically correct. Now, I know that he was just stating one of the great truths of life, love and jiu-jitsu.

It's not about winning.

It's about getting there.