Thursday, June 15, 2017

The rainbow IS the pot of gold; 6 years training with Robinho

RMNU Camp Tampa (with Shaolin in the white gi)

I don't want to become complacent in contentment so I'm constantly dissatisfied. - Ronda Rousey

Seminar, Grants MMA Toronto

It's been exactly six years since I first had the opportunity to train with Robson Moura, at a seminar at my now-defunct home gym, Dudu Barros Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

As I have previously described in other posts, I was simultaneously wowed and humbled by that experience. It was as if Master Robson opened a window into a world I did not even know existed.

Falling apart: My first Robson seminar 2011

My instructor at that time, Dudu Barros, was a teammate of Robson's from the days of the Nova Uniao Dream Team, and their games were not dissimilar. 

Dudu Barros was a child prodigy in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He began training at the age of 5 and was known throughout Brazil, as RMNU black belt Flavio "Viola" Kenup described him, as "Carlson Gracie's little baby." People like Xande Ribeiro recount watching Dudu's videos to learn. Just to give you some idea that Dudu is a legend in his own right. His jiu-jitsu is as free and slippery and unexpected as a killer whale frolicking in the sea. You have no idea what he's doing until you hear tapping and realize it's coming from you.

Watch Dudu fight (and hear his dad screaming "Ataca Duduuuu!") here:

Robson's game, too, is unexpected to say the least and in fact he described it on his Fusion dvd set as his "surprise game." But what Robson did for us that day in that seminar was to dissect a tiny section of his game to show the method behind the madness.

It was a revelation. We were used to being mystified and awed by Dudu's incredible jiu-jitsu. What was new was to see the behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of a high-level game. As Master Robson said that day, he likes to teach everything in what he calls a "flow," in other words, a sequence that is almost mathematical. If A, then B. If B, then C. If A-B, then D, and so on.

Robson Moura jiu-jitsu is not just a hodgepodge of random, if brilliant, moves. It is a system; or rather, it is a system of systems. Every move has a rationale and occupies its own proper place in a series of sequences that overlap and morph into other sequences.

When I mentioned this to a black belt not long ago, he said, "I don't really do that. I just pick a move and go for it."

And with all due respect to that black belt, I think that's one of the many things that sets Robson apart from everybody else or at least, from most people. In other words, that's why it works. When you're pushing 300 lbs, you can make a lot of things work. When you're 5'4" and 135, you need to have a plan, and a couple dozen contingency plans. And that's what I feel is one of the most unique features of Robson's jiu-jitsu.

I don't know how many people know how video games work. I don't mean how to play them, I mean how they're programmed. My understanding - and admittedly this is the understanding of a person who still doesn't know how to use her smartphone - is that the way video games work is that they are programmed so that every step of the way, every possible move by the human player is foreseen and provided for.

Video game

And I have frequently reflected that Robson's game seems to function very much along the same lines. Every possible move by his opponent has a preprogrammed counter. At the same time, since it is impossible to predict every move, it seems that a space in Robson's brain has been reserved for "unforeseen circumstances," and that part of his brain takes over on the rare occasions an opponent manages to surprise him.

In other words, even the unforeseen circumstances are foreseen, accounted for, and preventatively neutralized.

In rereading this post, you would think that I am describing a boring game, but as everyone knows or should know, the opposite is the case. Robson Moura is widely considered one of the most exciting jiu-jitsu fighters in the history of the art.

Many people, myself included, can say jiu-jitsu has changed them. But how many people can say they have changed jiu-jitsu?

In my opinion, the answer is, Not that many. And Robson Moura is one of them. People - especially large, out-of-shape people - like to attribute Robson's success to his athleticism, and there is no question that he is a phenomenal athlete.

He's a little bit athletic

But, speaking from the perspective of Robson's "number one stalker," I would say that what sets Robson apart, what makes his jiu-jitsu so otherworldly, is his mind. He's not just a super athlete drilling passes 50 million times. He's more like Captain Kirk boldly going where no man has gone before. Where others zig, Robson zags. Where others struggle to think outside the box, Robson has no box. He had one but he threw it away (he hates clutter).

And that's what makes him different. 

Six years ago, I got a glimpse into a new world at a time when I wasn't looking for it. After my experience with Dudu, I had begun training with Ricardo Pires, who introduced me to the beauty of the top game and particularly, side control.

Ricardo Pires teaching the beauty of side control

At last, it was something I could understand. Pass the guard, take side, finish. Jiu-jitsu can be that simple and the knowledge that it could be that simple was a light in the fog that had enveloped my brain since I was first introduced to jiu-jitsu.

So the last thing I really wanted, as a blue belt who had seen the light of the top game - which, for the record, I still love and go to whenever humanly possible - was to meet Robson Moura. But, as we all know, life, and jiu-jitsu, do not always go according to plan. To paraphrase John Lennon, The bottom game is what happens when you're busy making plans to play top.

Not that it's really fair to just put Robson into the bottom game category. As Parrumphinha, Robson's once and future opponent, described him prior to their match at the BJJ Expo in whatever year that was, "He has everything." He's good on the top, he's good on the bottom. Recognized as one of the top guard passers of all times, Robson's guard is one of the most lethal in the art. As one Brazilian announcer put it years ago, "Passing Robinho's guard is the most difficult thing there is in all of jiu-jitsu."

Check out the BJJ Heroes list of All Time Best Guard Passers here:

Listen to what Robinho and Parrumpinha have to say about each other here:

But suffice it to say that just as I was seeing the light of the top game, I saw a rainbow on the horizon and that rainbow represented this new world called Robson Moura jiu-jitsu.

When you see a rainbow, the traditional thing to do is to follow it. According to legend, you will find a pot of gold at the end.

In reality, modern life is not rainbow-friendly. The magic we feel quickly gives rise to practical considerations and often we tell ourselves that "I'll get to the rainbow tomorrow."

But the problem with rainbows is they're not there tomorrow. Their expiration date is RIGHT NOW. And if you see a rainbow that appeals to you, the only way you can hope to catch up with it is to drop everything and run like hell.

And that's what I did.

For whatever reason, that rainbow hit me at the right time. I had no social life (still don't, for that matter!), no family obligations, and just enough disposable income to make it possible to follow my rainbow. 

For the record, I'm not rich. People have told me "I'm so lucky" to be able to train with Robson as much as I do, but I make my own luck because I make my own choices. I have a 12 year-old car. I don't have TV. I have no social life, which saves me a lot. My phone cost me 32 dollars on eBay. I don't eat out and I make my coffee at home. I don't go to bars. I don't go on vacation except to train. Even my gis are crappy. Basically, if I'm spending money, it's for food, taxes, or to train.

Even so, if the legend says you will find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I can say I easily spent a pot of gold following Robson around to seminars all over North America. And if my goal was to fully understand Robson's jiu-jitsu, then I failed.

On the other hand, when I mentioned to one of Robson's black belts that I feel like a failure because I still don't understand how Robson's mind works, his reply was:  Nobody does.

So at least I'm not alone.

Anyway, if decoding the enigma that is Robson's brain was my original goal, it has since been amended. After six years, all I can say is that I have lived in a different jiu-jitsu world, and it has been worth it. Worth every penny, every minute on the road, every mile on my car and on my body, every brain cramp. It has been worth living as a jiu-jitsu outlander because when I chose to follow Robson, that automatically put me on the outside everywhere I go, and now it's too late to go back in.

It's too late because the local gyms see me as an outsider and as kind as Robson has been to me, I don't live in Tampa and I don't fit in there either. But despite the awkwardness of being always on the outside looking in, I have no regrets and I wouldn't have it any other way. Because you can go from black-and-white to Technicolor, but you can't go from living in a rainbow to 50 shades of normal-jitsu. At least, I can't.

And if I could go back and unsee the rainbow, I wouldn't, and I think a big part of that is because I had already passed up way too many rainbows in my life by the time I met Robson. Because I thought it was the responsible thing to do, or the right thing to do, because I didn't want to disappoint people, because I was afraid that I would fail to find the pot of gold and even if I finally found it, maybe it would turn out to be Fool's gold and I would look like a fool.

And maybe that's why this time I was determined to follow the rainbow. I wanted to see it, I wanted to feel it, I wanted to know what it was like to make the rainbows. Because that's what Robson Moura jiu-jitsu is. That's the superpower it confers upon you, if you open your mind and your body and your heart to it. You can learn to make rainbows, too.

You can make rainbows too

And maybe my rainbows are little tiny baby rainbows, but they're real.

What Robson taught me, and what I mean by rainbows, is it doesn't have to be boring. Your jiu-jitsu doesn't have to be the same as everybody else's. You create your own reality and your reality can be as beautiful and as weird and as wonderful as you care to make it. It still happens that I'll go somewhere, like to a seminar or something, and somebody will explain the RIGHT way to play spider (your butt goes this way and your head goes that way), or somebody will reference the "no hands on the mat" rule, or something, and I'm like, Huh? Robson uses his feet and hands interchangeably, and he plays spider pretty much any way he feels like playing spider, and if you do anything unusual on the mat, he's not yelling about your butt being in the wrong place, he's looking at you to see if your mistake is something he can adapt to make a rainbow.

Robson Moura personifies the philosophy somebody shared with me in salsa dancing class years ago: "There are no mistakes. Just new moves."

And new is what it's all about. Not necessarily new moves, but a new you. As Rickson Gracie said at a seminar: I'm not here to give you new moves, but new feelings. If jiu-jitsu doesn't change you, and your strategies for handling adversity, and if you're just going to have the same jiu-jitsu as everybody else, and if you can't even make a rainbow, I mean really, what's the point?

And after six years training and studying and, as we jokingly say, stalking, six years in which I literally wore out a set of tires following this rainbow, years in which I grew old, or at least, middle-aged, that's all I have to show for it - a gi bag full of rainbows.

But you know what I realized as I was chasing my rainbow? That mythical place, inside and outside myself, at the end of the rainbow, that place where I was going to attain all knowledge of Robson Moura jiu-jitsu, that place where my hard work was going to be rewarded with some kind of Vulkan mind-meld where I would finally not only understand but be able to predict Robson's jiu-jitsu, that place where the jiu-jitsu pot of gold resides, that place doesn't exist.

The only thing that exists, the only thing that's real, the only pot of gold that matters, is the rainbow itself. And when you chase it, when you chase your dream, then you already won.

Elite BJJ Newark, Delaware

Degerberg Martial Arts, Chicago (photo courtesy of Lucila Espedido)

Seminar at Ronin Training Center, Columbus, OH

Seminar at Cutting Edge BJJ, Harrison, NJ
photo courtesy of Josef Manuel

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

At rainbow's end the path leads home

Friday, May 5, 2017

Crybaby jitsu

You see that nowadays, nobody loses. It's always: "The ref screwed me," or "I lost by a little thing." I think that people need to get more mature, they need to assume their own mistakes. 
And train the right way. 
- Saulo Ribeiro

Quintessential badass Saulo Ribeiro

(from Submission Control interview Saulo Ribeiro Inspiring Words)

Today I want to talk about something that for lack of a better term, I'm calling in my mind crybaby jitsu.

The reason I've been thinking about this is I have noticed a few disturbing trends in jiu-jitsu. One is people getting mad and/or hurt feelings and/or running to their instructor and/or posting angry rants on social media to whine when they get beat.

Another is people posting long social media posts about how they didn't really lose the fight. How they should have been awarded the advantage and/or the decision.

It's embarrassing.

Let me say that I hate to lose as much as anyone. I don't like getting tapped, I don't like getting passed, I don't like getting swept. On the other hand, if I could turn back the clock and never get tapped and never get beat, I wouldn't, because getting beat a zillion times is what gave me whatever jiu-jitsu I can lay claim to today. Every time I get passed or swept or even if I just fail to do what I'm trying to do, I learn something. And that's good. But since I'm not a hypocrite I can freely say I don't necessarily enjoy it.

Granted, when I say I hate losing, I don't mean I'm losing sleep over it. I hate stinkbugs too. I hate cellulite. I hate it when people get "their they're and there" wrong. I hate spending money on boring things like tires and water softener salt. I hate cranberry sauce, especially when it runs into my mashed potatoes. GROSS. I deal with all these things and go on with my life.

The first 6 years of my jiu-jitsu life were all about getting beat, and beat up, in every way imaginable. I got tapped. I got passed. I got swept by a guy who every time he swept me screamed "Ro-bin-hoe" (literally pronouncing it as if the last syllable were the garden instrument). I got injured. 

And I didn't like it but I accepted it because a) I knew it was part of the game and b) I knew that someday it would be my turn if I held on long enough, and I think that's probably a big part of the reason I did hold on that long. I wanted to experience success.

And when people are sitting around wondering why blue belts disappear, maybe it's because they were allowed to experience success too early. Maybe it's because you let them win. And they got used to it, they thought it was their right because they're just so gosh darn awesome. They were led to believe they didn't have to lose. And when they found out everybody loses, they felt betrayed. I don't know. I'm throwing it out there.

Whereas if the only way to experience success were to try harder and hang on for dear life, maybe people would try harder and hang on longer. 

I'm not saying I didn't get frustrated because I did - a lot - but not with my opponents. I got frustrated with myself. How many times can one person make the same fucking mistake? A lot, apparently. Now, when I say that, people get all disapproving. Ohhhh that's not good. You should leave your ego at the door.

Meanwhile these same people are the ones hiding in the corner hoping the good blue belt doesn't ask them to roll.

And because I can be honest about it, I don't try to blame my opponent. I mean I might say, That girl has an amazing guard and she's also really pretty and nice and she choked me. I hate her.

It's the same as the girl in high school who was class valedictorian AND homecoming queen AND a cheerleader AND got outstanding in the science fair every year. Whereas I was a lumpy dork who still did the science fair project at the very last minute and did shitty (with a distinct resemblance to comedian Brian Regan who says his science fair project was a cup of dirt. "What's that, Brian?" "It's a cup. With dirt in it.").

I don't hate the girl from high school just like I don't hate the girl (or guy) who taps me. I say "I hate her/him" to make fun of myself. And by admitting it, I let it go. I don't go off in social media rants and embarrass myself and my team. 

It's normal to like winning and dislike losing. What I'm saying is, Own it. Don't play the blame game.

The blame game

Granted, we all have our things we don't like. I don't like jaw crushers. The person who can't get a legit choke because they have like one hook in so they just put their forearm across your face until you tap. 

I don't like illegal grips. I don't like steroids. I don't like it when people keep playing when you're moving away from the wall or something. I don't like backstabbers, the people who friend request you with one hand while they shove a knife in your ribs with the other. Do you really think I don't know what you say about me behind my back? I don't like it when people suddenly get a cramp in their foot in the middle of a submission. It can happen. It has happened to me, especially lately since I feel like barfing all the time. The way to deal with it is to tap.

The way not to deal with it is to go running to your instructor, or social media, to bitch about something your opponent supposedly did wrong. If they won, they did something right and you did something wrong, not the other way around.

There's a name for that. It's called being a crybaby.

Throughout history, crybabies have been regarded with contempt and have been, in consequence, properly ashamed of themselves.

But now all that has changed. Now the crybabies want to use the war heroes' bathroom at Target. And in today's climate of entitlement, we let them. 

It used to be, in life, love and BJJ, that when you lost, you tried to figure out where you went wrong and fix it. If you didn't get the job, you went back and looked at your resume, you worked on your interviewing skills, you took another class. You tried harder.

If you didn't get the guy, you looked in the mirror. You thought about how you handled the situation. You looked at yourself and figured out why he didn't pick you, and/or what you did to sabotage the relationship.

And if  you got submitted, or at least if you lost the decision, you went back and thought about what you could have done differently. And the question in your mind wasn't, "What submission attempts could I have faked more convincingly?" but What mistakes did I make? What opportunities did I throw away? In other words, How could I have finished the fight?

Now, when people fail, they don't ask themselves what they did wrong. They look for what YOU did wrong.

You were too rough, too big. You weren't nice enough to them. And my personal favorite, You HURT them.

Oh really? What did the doctor say? What did the ambulance say when you called 911? Oh, you say you didn't call 911? You didn't go to the doctor? You didn't even get a bruise?

Then you're not hurt so shut up and train.

I don't know how many people saw Robson's viral video where a big guy comes into the Robson Moura headquarters in Tampa wanting to fight. If you haven't already seen it, you can watch it here. 

And the fight went pretty much as you would imagine. Robson murdered the guy. It was like watching a diabolical mouse play cat-and-mouse - but backwards - with a fat, delusional cat.

Robson with the big guy (and every big guy)

Around the same time, a 300 lb. guy of solid muscle drove up on his motorcycle one day to open mat at the gym I was training at. He had no proper jiu-jitsu clothes but I felt sorry for him because he seemed like a nice guy and he was just sitting by the wall with nobody really wanting to train with him. The first couple of times rolling with him it went ok, although I didn't get the submission. But the last time, he evidently decided he had had enough. He pushed me off side control, basically with one arm, and himself took side. He then somehow (and don't ask me how) managed to get ahold of my far side arm and pull it under my body and his body which was on top of my body. And I tapped. In jiu-jitsu terms, I'm not sure if you would call that a kimura or what. The point is, he won - with zero jiu-jitsu - and I lost.

And I was reconfirmed for the millionth time in the knowledge (that somehow everybody feels the need to point out to me) that I'm not Robson. Does that mean it's ok for me to suck? No.

What did that guy do wrong? Nothing. What did I do wrong? A lot of things.

We're so used to training with jiu-jitsu people that we forget that jiu-jitsu wasn't invented for having fun on the mat with other people who know jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu was invented for people like that guy. And if, after 7 years on the mats, I still managed to get myself in a situation where in real life, the guy could have ripped my arm off my body or worse, then I've wasted 7 years. Or at least I'm not where I should be.

If you lost a fight by decision, you're not where you should be, or could be. That's it. End of story. There's nothing more to say. Even if it was the worst decision in the history of the sport, you shouldn't have left it up to the referee. You should have submitted your opponent. That's what we're here for.

Granted, we are all imperfect. We all make mistakes, we are all guilty of some douchey behavior on and off the mat. The goal, in life and jiu-jitsu, is to recognize our own flaws and grow out of them, or at least grow.

I believe jiu-jitsu can help us grow. I believe jiu-jitsu is, or can be, a rite of passage. Joseph Campbell said the point of a rite of passage is to destroy the child ego to allow the adult ego to take its place.

It's not about achieving perfection. It's about taking responsibility for ourselves and our mistakes. It's about being able to say "I lost" and have that be a complete sentence, without qualifiers or excuses. And it's very hard and there are lots and lots of people who get to black belt without being able to do that.

And coupled with that is the inability to accept that jiu-jitsu is, above all, a battle of wills. I hope you're sitting down because I'm about to say something controversial which is that jiu-jitsu is not about technique. Jiu-jitsu is about imposing your will on your opponent. The moves help us do that, but they are the vehicle, not the destination.

Every jiu-jitsu match is a battle of wills. It is my job to try as hard as I can to dominate you and it is your job to try as hard as you can to dominate me.

And that's not always pretty and it's not always elegant. Choking people and attempting to break their limbs can look pretty crude. That's part of its charm. I don't mean sending people to the hospital. I mean getting physical and that can be uncomfortable. 

It gets real.

In the words of Mario Sperry: "In jiu-jitsu, you're gonna get bumped. You're gonna feel pain. If you can't take that, then maybe you should do something else. Like, I don't know, play cards or something."

Saulo Ribeiro

Years ago, I overheard a conversation between Robson Moura and one of his black belts comparing two students.

"X is very technical," Robson said. "But not as tough as Y."

Robson Moura

So keep that in mind when you're bitching about your opponent's technique, or lack thereof. If one of the most technical practitioners in the history of the art sees "tough" - and not "technical" - as the ultimate compliment, maybe we all should toughen up, physically and mentally. Maybe we should grow. Maybe we could even grow up.

And if we do that, we all win.

Brasa badass Deon Thompson and kids' team

If you're really hurt, that's one thing. But if you yell every time your opponent touches you, the ref is going to stop the fight and you go home. You have to learn to put up with some things in this life.

- Brasa black belt Deon Thompson addressing kids

Monday, March 20, 2017

What jiu-jitsu isn't

Winning doesn't mean winning. Winning means not losing. 
- Saulo Ribeiro

I was thinking the other day about jiu-jitsu. Yes, really.

Specifically in the context that I haven't been feeling well lately. Actually, I haven't felt well in a long time. It started a year ago when Robson lost at Abu Dhabi and I almost died from kidney failure and hyponatremia. And then it just went on from there, with various physical problems punctuated by random people behaving unpleasantly for no reason.

And as far as the random people and their wackness, welcome to the human race. Pedro Sauer told me to "Stay away from the crazies," but that's about as easy, in our 1% world, as staying away from drunks at a frat party. But as far as my body goes, I think I just didn't give myself enough time to heal. And when you do that, you set yourself up for the next injury.

It's kind of like submissions, but in a bad way. If every submission is the gateway to every other submission - which, if you think about it, is absolutely true - then every unsolved challenge is the gateway to every other challenge.

Health challenges lead to financial challenges and psychological challenges, because if you're not training, you're losing your mind and wasting all your money on doctors and new gear you can't use because you're not training. You know that.

And psychological challenges lead to physical challenges. What happened last April is, I got very upset, not because Robson lost by one advantage point - because let's face it, losing by one advantage is exactly the same thing as winning by one advantage - but because Soca got him in side control. And side control, as we all know, is the Bottomless Abyss of Fear and Horror. And seeing Robson, who I thought had supernatural powers - and in fact there have been times, while talking to Jesus, that I have accidentally called Jesus "Robson" and I'm not even making that up - on the bottom like that, in the position I fear above all other positions, freaked me out.

"He moves better than a hypothetical Jesus."

And so I trained really hard that day, because I had had a shock, and I wasn't really feeling my body, and then bad things started to happen. All of which resulted in about 800 dollars worth of doctor bills because my family doctor, Dr. Dumpling, whose idea of exercise is waddling to the kitchen to get another package of Oreos, just thought I was making shit up and I didn't get a diagnosis until I saw an actual nephrologist. And I felt crappy for a long time.

And then, because I was feeling crappy, I wasn't really working out or training and when I came back on the mat, a guy put his knee on my rib, in SIDE CONTROL (in a drill), and boom! broken rib. Which is ironic, or something, because all those fears about what that guy might do to Robson came true in my own body. And then I tried to lift weights too soon after the broken rib and boom! - pinched nerve (agony). And so on until my present condition of recovering from a ruptured mystery organ.

And the bad news is, I just got the bill from ER, and there goes my trip to San Diego. By the way, I think that a diagnosis of "abdominal pain," when your complaint was "abdominal pain,"  is absolutely worth 3000 dollars. Not. And I can't even blame Obama, since I had shitty insurance before. 

But the good news is, I am learning jiu-jitsu.

And that's what I was thinking about.

I've heard a lot of people say what jiu-jitsu isn't. It isn't this, it isn't that. It ain't a sport.

And I was thinking that I respectfully disagree.

I understand that the natural urge of humans is to cut a thing down to size so they can control it. If jiu-jitsu ain't a sport, you don't have to learn the berimbolo, and you can look down on all the people who are berimboloing you from the moral highground of a guy who just got beat but kept his principles intact.

And I do get that. Apparently saying "S/he beat me" is too hard. People have to make it so that the tap didn't realllllly count. The guy was playing sport jiu-jitsu, the girl is bigger and/or stronger and/or a bitch, whatever it takes to keep our fragile egos intact.

And the refrain is, That's not jiu-jitsu.

But I have news for you: Yes it is. It's all jiu-jitsu, and none of it's fair. 

Jiu-jitsu. It's not supposed to be fair.

I'm heavier, you're younger, nobody cares. Did you die? Then stop whining. And stop trying to say what jiu-jitsu isn't. First of all, it's not up to you, or me for that matter, but I'm not the one trying to define the undefinable. 

At the same time, just because I beat you, or you beat me, doesn't mean we can decide who's better based on that. If I beat you, that simply means that I beat you this time. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm better. Same thing goes if you beat me. It's not that big a deal.

Or we could just train.

When you beat me 100 times, and you also beat everybody else, then it's safe to say you're better, but at that point it should be so obvious that it doesn't need to be stated. Does anybody still doubt that Robson is better than them?

But what I'm saying is that that's not really the point. We don't need to come up with a hierarchy, who's better, who's worse. That's what the IBJJF is for. That's what God is for. All we need to worry about is this fight, this submission. We don't have to worry about what others are doing. We have to worry about what we're doing.

And the funny thing is that the more we try to make jiu-jitsu in our own image, the less jiu-jitsu cooperates. The more we try to submit it with definitions, the more jiu-jitsu escapes. The more we try to say what jiu-jitsu isn't, the more jiu-jitsu reveals what it is.

And it reminds me of an interview I did with my ex-husband for my capstone project when I was finishing up my master's. I wanted a physician's perspective on healing and various themes associated with healing.

And I asked him to define love. I asked everybody that. I wanted to know because I feel like love is one of those words that everybody uses and few really understand - especially me. Forgiveness is another one. And jiu-jitsu is another one. 

Anyway, Tommaso's response was as follows: 

Love is an absolute and, as such, it cannot be defined. Anyone who tries to define love wants to trap it in a definition, and love is not love when it is trapped. 
Love is free. 
Love is something you live but you can't define it in a concept, because defining it would mean limiting it. 
- Tommaso Capitano, M.D.

And first of all, now you know why I love my ex-husband. I love the way his mind works. We weren't meant to be, and now he has a beautiful family to prove it, but he's quite the guy.

Tommaso 1995 ca. I already had jiu-jitsu instincts :)

And secondly, you could swap out the word "love" and substitute "jiu-jitsu" and Tommaso's non-definition would be equally valid.

Jiu-jitsu is not jiu-jitsu when it is trapped. Jiu-jitsu is free.

But the path that I traveled on in my mind to arrive at that conclusion was when I was driving down the road, and thinking about how I don't feel well, and how that has changed my game. Because my priorities used to be: a) don't get injured and b) don't get tapped. And now my only priority is: don't throw up. But as challenging as that is, it occurred to me, as I was driving down the road, that this is jiu-jitsu.

This is where the rubber meets the road, at least for me. This is where the fears meet the will, where the heart meets the brain, where strength meets skill. 


This is where I prove myself to myself. And as much as it would be nice to have a little recognition sometimes from the outside world (but apparently that's asking way too much), the inside world is the one that matters to me. Do I meet my own standards? What are my standards?

Illnesses and injuries have sapped my strength. Random people's bullshit outbursts have eroded my will. Age isn't helping anything and neither are the doctor bills and, just on a side note, how many times can they bill you for the same fucking thing?

The passion I used to feel for this art is dead - or at least, I can't find a pulse. The rose-colored glasses through which I viewed my instructors have been smashed into smithereens. The crazies are everywhere and they're winning, because you can't fight crazy if you're not crazy and you can't fight gossip, period, because in the gossip wars, she who stabs the first back, wins. The honeymoon is over. Big time.

Honeymoon's over

So why do I still put on a gi?

Because the salmon swim upstream. That's why. Because, in the words of Valerie Worthington, "I can't not."

And the crazy thing is that I feel like, in a way, it's only now that I'm starting to learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now that there's nothing left in my body, nothing left in my heart or my mind, now that there is only emptiness where all that passion used to be, now there is room for jiu-jitsu to come and work through me.

At the same time, I'm not saying that what I did before wasn't jiu-jitsu. I'm not saying that all the 20somethings duking it out at the Pans last weekend, with their steroids and their sponsors and their hair and their coaches (idea: why not have a "virtual" BJJ competition where the competitors don't even show up and the coaches just scream until the loudest coach wins?) aren't fighting jiu-jitsu.

It's just a different jiu-jitsu.

All I'm saying is that I think we get in the habit of thinking that is true jiu-jitsu, that the young, healthy, rockstar jiu-jitsu is where it's at, and, in one way, it is where it's at. I love that kind of jiu-jitsu too.

At the same time, I think the idea that jiu-jitsu comes from a place of strength is, at the very least, incomplete. As far as I know, jiu-jitsu was invented to trump strength. But yeah, Xande vs. Rodolfo is amazing jiu-jitsu. Terere and Saulo and Sperry and Shaolin and Glover. And did I mention Robson? And whatever the names of these kids today are, they're fighting incredible jiu-jitsu too.

But when you get hit by a bus - especially when the bus is called life - and you shrimp out of the way before the steamroller behind the bus can flatten you, that's amazing jiu-jitsu too. There's no oohing and ahing by the crowd, there's no glory, it's whimper-not-a-bang jitsu, but it's still jiu-jitsu, baby. There may come a time in your life when it's the only kind of jiu-jitsu you have left. And there may come a time in your life when you realize it's the only jiu-jitsu you really need.

Sometimes jiu-jitsu is about surviving

It's not the jiu-jitsu of winning. It's the jiu-jitsu of not losing.

It's a different layer, a different level.

Jiu-jitsu is like those matryoshka dolls from Russia, where you open one and find another inside, and you keep opening them and you keep finding more of them, and every time you think you've reached the end, you find another one. All the way to infinity.


Robson Moura says jiu-jitsu has no end. And I think when we think of infinity, we think of expansion, growth, we (at least I) think of wide horizons and big skies. But there's another kind of infinity, and that's the kind of infinity we have inside us.

It's the kind of infinity where every time you lose something - your strength, your passion, your health, your energy - you open that matryoschka doll of jiu-jitsu and you find another one inside. Every time you think it's over, it's not over. Every time you hit rock bottom, you find a diamond. 

Every time you think you have given everything you had to give, you realize that then, and only then, is when jiu-jitsu can start giving back to you.

Interestingly enough, that's what forgiveness means. I mean literally. Forgive comes from the German vergeben which originally meant "to give all." Ver + geben.

Maybe it's not until we can forgive - our bodies and our minds and our instructors and our training partners and the hotties and the haters and the doctors and our parents and gluten and beer - that jiu-jitsu can forgive us. Maybe it's not until we can stop trying to define love that we can find love. Maybe it's not until we give all that jiu-jitsu can start giving back to us. 

Maybe it's not until we stop trying to figure out what jiu-jitsu isn't that we can begin to understand what jiu-jitsu is.