An Open Letter to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
The life lessons I have learned from my favorite extra-curricular
Dear Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,
When we first met, I was a chubby fifteen-year-old kid. I had no real experience with martial arts, nor any natural physical ability I could call “athleticism.” You first captured my imagination through reruns of the Ultimate Fighting Championship that aired late night on Spike.
You drew me in with a promise of a sport equal parts science and art. A sport based on the simple idea that a smaller person with knowledge of proper technique and leverage could defend themselves and defeat a much larger opponent through grappling. Your flashy joint locks and arm bars, your sneaky chokes and submissions called my name. From those early days, I grew to love your rough, tactical game.
Yes, I know I abandoned you in high school to wrestle. And I know that I was the worst wrestler on the team. Always getting pinned. And in college, you were too expensive for me to afford. Back then, you were just a hobby I wanted to pursue.
Little did I know how much more you would come to mean to me in the future.
These days, you are essential to my life. You bring me a physical sense of accomplishment to match graduate school’s mental sense of accomplishment. You are the hands to my mind. You are a place to refocus, to re-capture perspective when I feel overwhelmed. When I’m tunnel-visioned and unable to see past the day’s work, you remind me to be creative and expressive. When I forget the privilege of being alive and at MIT, you remind me that my arm can be snapped at any minute, or I could lose consciousness from a choke, and suddenly, my anxieties seem to evaporate. There are far worse things than a heavy course load or a difficult assignment, like a broken limb.
You’ve taught me to embrace the grind and to embrace difficulty. No, even more, you’ve taught me that there’s beauty in the grind. Some days, I show up and you find me ragged, weary, and slow-moving. I’m paired up with a teammate, and I tap out more times than I can count. (Tapping out is a signal to your opponent that they have the submission and have won.) Yet, it’s often through failure that I seem to learn the most. And the more and more I show up, even on the days I feel weak, the more I seem to learn and progress.
You remind me that my learning is never complete and that there is always room for improvement. Sometimes, it’s learning patience and calmness in sparring, while other times it’s learning not to leave my arm exposed or risk it being broken. And maybe most painfully and beautifully of all, you constantly teach me the importance of humility. Some days I’m the hammer and do well against my training partners. I find myself satisfied by the progress I’ve made in training. Other days, I’m the nail and get destroyed and wonder just what I got myself into.
What I love most is you’ve taught me that the challenges I face on the mat are not so different from the challenges I face in school. Being a student at MIT, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is a science and an art. It’s about expressing creativity within the logic of what we know to be true. When grad school wears me down, I heed your calling to embrace the grind, to put my nose to the mat and into the books. It’s in those moments of difficulty that I find true beauty, real learning; that I am reminded of what it is I am doing here.
Humility and patience in school means knowing I don’t have all the answers. It means knowing that I may find myself unsatisfied with the progress that I’ve made. It means not being afraid to ask questions when I don’t understand—in class or otherwise.
Thank you, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for teaching me that I haven’t arrived. I now know the journey is more about the process and passion than progress. Maybe one day I will arrive, and my learning will be complete.
I hope that day never comes.
Learn more about the fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
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