In the 1980s, when I was doing karate, our running joke was that Americans would do karate and then all of a sudden, they’d have a Japanese accent. We laughed at them – they’d been practicing for five months and suddenly they acted like they were Japanese.
Then in the 1990s, I noticed the same phenomenon with Jiu-Jitsu. There were a lot of Americans that were doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and all of a sudden they had a Brazilian accent and acted like they were born beach bums.
It was a joke…until I realized that I had actually fallen prey to it myself. I didn’t have the fake Brazilian accent, but I did take on a laissez-faire, beach-bum, hang-loose, surfer kind of attitude.
For a long time, the efficiency of Jiu-Jitsu tricked me into thinking that I could behave like that in my life and still be effective in reaching my goals.
And I was really wrong. I ended up with my priorities way off-kilter.
One of the things that I didn’t realize till much later is that it might work in Brazilian culture, but it doesn’t work very well for the life that I was trying to create.
I thought that in order to practice martial arts properly – Jiu-Jitsu properly – I had to assume this alternative identity. And in the process, I subordinated many of the important relationships – personal and professional – in my life to how I thought I was supposed to behave.
The trick of it is that I thought I was becoming a more authentic practitioner, when really I was becoming less true to myself with each passing day.
I created a full-time fantasy…Jiu-Jitsu was my mistress, and we were off to exotic locales like Abu Dhabi, Rio and Tokyo. None of it was real. I wasn’t becoming a better practitioner. I wasn’t becoming more efficient or effective.
My actual identity was getting lost because I was “playing” Jiu-Jitsu instead of actually living it.
So the biggest lesson for me was that we can’t lose our identities, our relationships or our values in order to keep up appearances. Especially in Jiu-Jitsu, but really in all of the martial arts.
Jiu-Jitsu matters, so long as long as it’s a tool for better living our lives. If it’s just something to lose yourself in…what’s the value? You end up bankrupt.
Most of the guys who had taken on the Japanese accent quit karate. And most of those people in the 90’s that thought they were Brazilian quit Jiu-Jitsu, too. They lost this powerful tool because they’d been seduced by it.
So don’t put the things that matter most at the mercy of the things that matter less. Our values, our relationships, our family, our career, our well-being…those things need attention, they need work as well.
For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.
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