Ever had things you already knew to be true confirmed at the expense of your ego? You know, like failing a math test when you already knew you sucked at math. Or looking like a nervous wreck while trying to give a presentation, knowing full-well that public speaking isn’t your jam?
To a lesser extent, in my second jiu-jitsu class last night, some of my shortcomings, which weren’t news to me, were highlighted. Not highlighted by people pointing and laughing, or being publicly called out in any fashion; rather, well aware of weak areas in my life, these personal limitations are accentuated in jiu-jitsu in such a way that I want them to be under the microscope; I want to embrace them; and I want to improve them. Because of these desires for awareness, acceptance, and betterment of my deficiencies, jiu-jitsu is showing itself to be an excellent vehicle for self-improvement.
Jiu-jitsu, at least the way it’s being taught to me, is stressing two broad areas in my life that need attention.
- I’m freaking out of shape, man.
- I need to get back to basics (in everything).
It’s no mystery that after many years of doing little for exercise, other than walking with my partner, I’m in poor shape. Really poor shape. Standing 6’ 2”-ish and weighing around 175lb, I have no major injuries to report, but also have little cardio conditioning and certainly no muscle to speak of. And at 44 years of age, I move pretty slow and my joints are a little stiff. Such is life, I guess. But it also doesn’t have to be that way.
After my first two jiu-jitsu classes, the parts of my body that are noticeably sore are my
- lower back
- and abdomen
As far as I can tell, hooking and bridging, basic techniques to which I’m being introduced, are the source of the soreness. Well, that and the fact that I’m a tall, skinny, stiff, old Gumby. Interestingly, as I’m being taught, there’s little in the way of physical power used in jiu-jitsu. So the soreness isn’t like going to the gym after having never been and on the first day trying to lift to failure. Instead, using my body in such a way to secure it to my opponent, or encourage them to move in a particular direction, seems to call upon strength I don’t currently have. In this way, I’m super-excited to be using my body in a new, demanding way.
Back to basics
Adding to that excitement is another highlighted shortcoming I’m happy to work on: getting back to basics. It seems as with most, if not all things, in life, learning and lifelong implementation of any skill set starts with basic building blocks. Certainly there are basic techniques in jiu-jitsu that can be built upon for more advanced practice. And just as learning how to properly fret one note at time on a guitar can lead to shredding like Herman Li, a solid foundation in basic techniques is a must for not only getting better in the art, but enjoying it as well.
Moreover, the getting-back-to-basics mindset applies to even the simplest of things. Just as Jordan Peterson speaks about cleaning your room, or Alcoholics Anonymous espouses “keep it simple”, jiu-jitsu gives me pause to reflect on neglected areas in my life. One such area is personal hygiene.
Now, don’t get all grossed out or think that by the previous admission that I’m some sort of gnarly, messy, neck-beard (although I do, at the time of this writing, proudly sport a bushy beard). But things like cleanliness are huge in spending an hour on a mat, rolling with another dude who is also sweating from the exertion. So focusing on washing before and after a class is important.
Taking it a step further, maintaining clean and short finger and toe nails is a must. For the first time in my life, I’m making regular use of fingernail clippers (as opposed to biting, peeling, or using a pocket knife to trim my finger nails) and, more surprisingly, staying on top of my toe nails.
To be honest, attention to my toe nails has traditionally been short and sparse, getting after them only when I couldn’t stand the sight of them. And that took a while. Now, the getting back-to-basics mindset (and care and respect for the guys I’m rolling with) forces me to clip and clean those nasty buggers so that I’m not contributing any grossness to the gym mats, or just generally looking like a freaking monster.
It’s all those simple things that add up to something much greater. Over time, with consistent practice in maintaining order and wellness in the simplest areas of life, I’m certain that I will be empowered to grow better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Back-to-basics doesn’t apply only to jiu-jitsu; it’s a mantra for life. Having lived in a tiny house and as a relative minimalist, I could go on about simple living, but the point here is jiu-jitsu and how it’s a welcome teacher of what’s important.
So I guess that’s it for now. Jiu-jitsu is revealing itself to be a terrific teaching tool; one that resonates with me. That it highlights some of my shortcomings -- with more on the way, I’m sure -- also rings true. It’s time to get back to basics, and get my body, mind, and spirit into good shape.