Do you need Jiu Jitsu anymore?
The last year and a half has been a slog.
Ask anyone who owns a brick-and-mortar business that depends on patrons to walk through their doors and they’ll tell you it was a year of dragging a dead horse toward a fake horizon. And while dragging a dead horse around for a year, the sun kept setting and the horse got heavier. There were moments in which we wondered whether we were doing the right thing.
The thriving, pumping, gnashing, energy that emanated from our mats had been deflated overnight in March of 2020. It was as if someone had pin pricked our big beautiful balloon and we watched the air seep out until it was just a wilted, lifeless, wrinkled piece of latex. Each week we held out thinking that the hole would be patched and that some magical force would pump it full of air again. It never happened. The longer we waited, the more our faith waned that things would ever be the way they were. The collective force of everyone’s ambition and focus to push, expand, and evolve themselves on the mats had dissipated. It was like we were in a weird holding pattern, simply surviving. We did our best to compensate with Zoom classes, remote discussions, and check-ins, but none of this could replace the camaraderie and appeal of connecting through physical hardship with other human bodies. There is something so powerful about bonding over sweat, knowing that no one in the room is having an easy time doing the same thing you are doing. We share in our suffering. The pandemic isolated us in an instant, and all of a sudden we were all suffering again, but this time–alone.
As the pandemic started to ease, we saw some old faces return and a number of new faces arrive. In observing this influx, this breath of life, I can’t help but wonder how many old faces will not return. As a business owner, nothing can prepare you for the fact that in the worst of times, everyone still expects you to consistently provide the service and the presence for which you’re known. Normally, this is a reasonable expectation, but this last year gutted so many of us; even those well-positioned to survive. It’s like the raging party suddenly stopped, everyone cleared out of the club and you’re waiting to have that great time again, but the crowd outside is slowly starting to go home. So you wonder, who will be there when you actually reopen?
How many partiers loved dancing and clubbing to begin with? Have they migrated to another club? Or is the conclusion even less complicated. Have they realized that they were caught up in a moment and have moved beyond it?
As the vaccination rollout has tamed the level of infections and the public is gradually feeling safe enough to resume pre-pandemic activities again, we see a wave of enthusiasm coming through our doors. But I can’t help but question why I’m still doing this, why you’re interested in reading this, wondering if you might consider returning to your school, go to a new one, or disapprove of anyone engaging in this sort of activity at all.
I know what my BJJ practice has given me. At the heart of all the various reasons I could still be involved is the fact that this art has always made me feel alive. Sometimes more alive than others, but it forces me to get out of my head and reckon with what exactly it is that I do every day. It concentrates on my actions, how I perceive them, and how they affect others. It’s still too early to say who will come sauntering back, and I try not to hold any expectations of much anymore. But I question deeply why people will come back–because we are inevitably changed by the pandemic, and our life and freedoms are too short to go on doing the things that don’t inspire our souls.