Behind the Steel Door

Behind the steel door.

Behind the Steel Door

As I made the half-hour drive to Performance Jiu Jitsu in Fairlawn, N.J., I wondered why I ever let Joe, my coworker, talk me into this. I parked and looked down at my phone, hoping there would be a message from him — a sturdy blue belt with a poet’s mind, a mohawk and cauliflower ear — saying that something last-minute had come up, and he could no longer make it. There was no such text.

I stepped out of my car and into the July heat, looking for something that would tell me where to go. I was behind a strip mall that contained, among other things, a grocery store, a travel agency and a Halal restaurant that pumped delicious aromas into the summer air. Between the grocery store and the travel agency was a heavy, steel door. All it said was, “JIU-JITSU,” in bold, black, capital letters.

It felt ominous. My stomach was twisting, and though it was at least 80 degrees out, I was shaking and cold. My body was in primed for a fight or flight response. You can probably guess which way I was leaning.

If you think about it, how many new experiences do you have as an adult? Once done with school, adults settle into a comfortable routine that revolves around the same group of family, friends and coworkers. I was 28 years old at the time, engaged for about a year, six years out of college, working a good job and wearing a smug smile. Life was very comfortable. Until I stood in front of that heavy, steel door.

Standing there, the pain and anxiety of every first day of school, every failed test, and every breakup was back from the grave of memory. Except inside was real violence, skilled men and women, and most important, the unknown.

But I couldn’t walk away. Joe was inside waiting for me. I had an obligation to show. I pulled at that heavy, steel door with both hands. It swung open with a groan, and I stepped into the humid air of the academy for the first time.

Two years into this journey, and the hardest part of Jiu Jitsu was and is starting. Somewhere out there, there’s a heavy, steel door waiting for you. Maybe it says Jiu Jitsu. Or maybe it says, Career, Project, Education or Excursion. What’s behind that door might not be right for you. But you gain nothing by standing outside. Regardless, the path to growth is paved with experiences, and the path takes you through that door.

Joe Hannan is a journalist and writer. You can find more of his work here.

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