May 11, 2021

What I learned from BJJ Training

This is the twenty-second in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

“Are you up for it?” my instructor asked me.

It was my first BJJ class. We had finished with drills for the day, and now it was time to roll.

I nodded. He started the timer, and suddenly I was on the mat, full-contact sparring with someone. It was intense. Two minutes into that first five minute round, I was exhausted. Laid on my back, breathing hard, I heard my instructor’s voice: “Don’t give up. Keep fighting.” I got back to it, adrenaline carrying me through.

The whistle blew. “Good job.” A brief rest, a change of partner, and another five minute round began. Then another, and another. It was gruelling. I didn’t know what I was doing and got submitted multiple times, but I was having a blast.

And so began my love of BJJ.

I became a regular at that club and learned how to play the submission grappling game of jiu-jitsu. But I also learned so much more. BJJ sparring allows you to test your limits because, once you find yourself compromised, you can tap out and avoid injury.

Being twisted up like a pretzel while someone drives all their weight into you is supremely uncomfortable. It will tempt you to quit and tap out even if you are not in danger. So you are forced to confront your mental limits. How much suffering can you endure before you reach your breaking point? When the going gets tough, do you dig in and fight back, or do you quit?

“Know thyself” was one of the three maxims carved above the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo. But the road to self-awareness can be long. If you want to take a shortcut to self-discovery, try BJJ. You will soon learn what you are made of.