How fatherhood is transforming my Jiu Jitsu


Everything changed, and nothing changed. When people ask me what it’s like being a new father, the best answer I can offer is a paradox. In some ways, it feels like I’ve always been a father. That’s not to say that I was born to be a father, and every moment leading up to this one was preparatory. Far from it. What I mean is that I can hardly remember who I was before I became a father. That is the everything that changed.

The nothing that changed is the architecture of my life. Jiu Jitsu is a cornerstone of that architecture. From a first-principles standpoint, that architecture still functions similarly, it just looks different now. That change is perhaps the most difficult to wrap my head around. My relationship to Jiu Jitsu has morphed into something I do not recognize, and that scares me.

I turned to Jiu Jitsu because it was impossibly difficult and it brought me outside of my own head. I stuck around because Jiu Jitsu made me sharper, physically and mentally. It provided the ultimate playground for principle-based learning and the lessons could be extrapolated from the mats and applied to life’s myriad arenas. I rooted deeper into the art through competition, realizing that it was never my opponent, but some shadow version of myself that I was facing. 

Then my son was born, and that competitive work, at least temporarily, got put on hold.

The ultimate transition

Perhaps the technical aspect that I’ve struggled with most in Jiu Jitsu is transitions: knowing when to let go of a submission, switch to a different guard, or accept that my guard is about to be passed and initiate a scramble. I have a tendency to chase the wave that just rolled past, rather than ride the wave that’s welling up ahead. 

As luck would have it, Mother Nature gave me a full nine months to prepare for this transition. Plenty of time to accept that the coming wave would be a beautiful, king-kong bastard and the ride of a lifetime–but only if I stop chasing yesterday’s waves and paddle into this one. 

I paddled in, popped up, and the wave hasn’t stopped rolling.

I haven’t stopped rolling either. In Jiu Jitsu, it’s not that the competitive streak has left me completely, but the volume has been lowered by about ten decibels. What’s more salient to me now is something more nurturing, softer, paternalistic. Everything I do on and off the mats feels as if it’s done under my son’s inquisitive gaze. I’m charged with this imperative that everything I do needs to be done to the standards and example he deserves. 

How can I learn to teach him? Maybe learning to teach others the art I love, the art that has given so much to me, will help.

There was the Joe who fights. That’s the wave that has since broken on the sand. And there’s the Joe who teaches. The daddy version of Joe. That’s the wave I’m on. 

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” — Hunter S. Thompson


Joe Hannan

Joe Hannan is a writer, consultant, and purple belt. You can read more of his work here, subscribe to his mailing list here, or follow him on Instagram here.

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