How to Find Happiness in Jiu Jitsu

By: Joe Hannan

Last week, I wrote about the pitfalls of seeking validation in jiu jitsu, something which I am guilty of doing. Looking back, I offered a critique without any alternatives. Hopefully this post will serve that purpose.

Eradicating validation-seeking behavior on the mats is accomplished when the grappler realizes that Jiu Jitsu is a process without a specific outcome. This thought bubbled up in my brain while reading the polarizing Jordan B. Peterson’s “12 Rules For Life,” which I (sort of) wrote about before. This quote crystallized the idea of jiu jitsu as a process for me:

“Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

In the original text, the sentence is repeated twice, with the second iteration italicized for emphasis. It falls under Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

How to Find Happiness in Jiu Jitsu

Even if a person thinks of jiu jitsu simply as a march toward black belt, what happens when you get that black belt wrapped around your waist? I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing one person receive their black belt, but can you guess what they did once they put it on? They rolled at the open mat following promotions. This black belt continues to teach. This black belt arrived at a new beginning. I imagine this black belt would agree.

It’s hard for me — and I believe others — to wrap their heads around it sometimes, but this is a journey without a destination. But that doesn’t mean that we are aimless on this road.

The modern stoic Ryan Holiday wrote a fantastic book a couple of years ago called “The Obstacle is The Way.” In addition to much of the thoughts it contains, I’ve downloaded the title itself as almost a defacto ethos. It took Peterson’s book to make me realize that I had strayed from it on the mats.

I am happiest training when I am focused on the immediate obstacle: mastering a submission, passing a guard, contending with a highly skilled training partner, or my own stubbornness and stupidity. In other words, I’m not focusing on a distant peak, but instead the rocky terrain that is already under foot. All else is either a distraction or a portion of the path I have yet to traverse.

Rule 4 of Peterson’s book also underscores another important component of the jiu jitsu journey. It is an individual journey. I’ll even go as far as to use a word I was instructed never to use in journalism school: It is a journey unique to each grappler (I gagged as I wrote that).

Speaking from experience, comparing your progress to anybody else’s on the mats is the fastest route to self sabotage. This is your journey and yours alone. You decide what it means. You have the power to find that meaning in the daily uphill journey of competition prep, every nagging injury, and every class and open mat.

Are you a better grappler than you were yesterday? Yes. Good. Now go train. Keep climbing.

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


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