Personal Optimization Through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

The topics of this blog are varied from nutrition, exercise, mobility, stress management and it can all be summed up through the label of "personal optimization." In other words, how can we be more awesome? What knowledge do we need to gain in order to be what Kelly Starrett calls a "skilled human"? It starts with learning what your gaps are, and trying to educate yourself and learn how to improve in those areas.

For many things--nutrition for example--you can read a couple of books, make some judgments about your own habits, and then shop differently at the grocery store. Do you feel better? Different? Are you aware of how your body feels? You start asking these questions and it further refines your understanding. You then go learn some more, or you call it good and stick with what you've learned. This doesn't take a huge effort and you don't have to put your body into any stressful situations to make it happen, but some things can't be learned this way.

But some things--like undergoing new physical challenges--require that you put yourself out there in uncomfortable situations and put yourself under stress in order to get that understanding. That's why I wanted to write a post about my experiences with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) over the last 6 months.

My Journey into BJJ

I started after having been a fan for several years. Once I was exposed to Jiu Jitsu through watching mixed martial arts competitions I thought it looked like the coolest thing ever. For those that have no idea what it is check out this video which gives a basic intro:

Essentially, it's a ground fighting or grappling system that was developed and expanded from the original Japanese Jiu Jitsu by the Gracie family in Brazil in the early 1900s. Since then it's become recognized as one of the most effective martial arts in the world.

Ever since seeing the techniques of BJJ put to use in real competition I had wanted to try it, and thought it looked like an awesome way to learn new skills, exercise, and challenge myself. I had no idea what I was in for. 

For one thing, you have to get right up close and personal with strangers right off the bat. When you're in a BJJ class, there is no bubble. The technique involves close contact and control of your opponent through your own weight, position, and leverage. Don't like getting sweat on by other people? You're out of luck. Don't like having your arms and legs twisted and your face smashed under people? Too bad. In a class setting you mostly do drills and slow practice sparring, so no one gets hurt beyond a few bruises, and it's all about learning together with your training partners, not about winning anything.

The Importance of Discomfort for Learning

So, in order to learn a martial art you have to actually DO it, you can't just read a book. Even if its at 50% intensity in practice, it's still fighting. This means you have to spend time in the thick of it, with someone on top of you, controlling you and blocking you from making any progress. You have to experience being put into an armlock and forced to give up. You have to get over the blow to your pride that comes from having a grown man easily block all of your best attempts and then force you to tap out. Without becoming accustomed to being in these bad positions you can't get good at avoiding them and you can't know what it really takes to escape and then gain a dominant position yourself. You have to get used to a certain level of discomfort, and that's where the biggest learning experience has come from out of training in BJJ, even beyond learning any specific technique.

Without putting yourself into some discomfort, you can't learn Jiu Jitsu. When I came out of that first class I remember thinking, "Was that fun? Or did it just hurt?" And honestly I didn't know the answer, but I wanted to keep going. After a few weeks I realized that the discomfort I was experiencing wasn't a negative of the experience at all. In fact, it was the most important part of it. It was then that it became really clear to me that you don't get ANYWHERE without accepting discomfort and pushing through it, not just in Jiu Jitsu but in life. This is something that I would have said I understood before starting BJJ, but I would have been wrong.

Starting this training has shown me how downright important it is to be uncomfortable in life. If you aren't scared, unsure, or out of your comfort zone, you're just stagnating, and that's moving you further away from your potential to be a highly skilled human. So you have to find a way to not only accept discomfort, but to embrace it to some degree. I'm striving for constant progress throughout my life, and although I'm still a beginner at Jiu Jitsu it has taught me some incredibly important things about how to achieve that goal in all areas.

My Gym

For some reference, I go to a gym called Impact Jiu Jistsu. They have several locations around the region and turns out my naturopath even attends their strength training classes! He has high regard for the one of the founding members of the school who I've also taken classes from. Small world (but it's a good sign when your healthy, fit naturopath recommends the workout you're already doing!)
Source: Impact Jiu Jitsu

It's been great to get to work with the talented instructors and other students there, and further motivating to improve my BJJ skills and mobility in other areas.

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