Kevin Eng

How long have you been training?

8 years

Why did you begin training?

I did a lot of martial arts to make up for a natural lack of athleticism and coordination. The pajama wrestlers in my MMA gym were always trying to get me to try jiu jitsu. Besides getting punched in the face less often, an appealing idea that I kept hearing was this mantra: “just show up” — a martial art where development could be a matter of time and effort and not necessarily talent — and I thought it would be great to put it to the test.

What encourages you the most about your practice?

Practice is the right word: It takes a lot of repetition and grinding. I’m working on jiu jitsu and taking notes and trying it out on different people and sizes and situations. It never works right away, but there’s an amazing thing that happens a few months later when I forget all that work: When I’m physically or mentally tired, suddenly my hands and feet know what to do. That’s probably the feeling that I’m chasing the most in the gym.

What challenges you the most?

To me, jiu jitsu is just another academic discipline. It’s a puzzle to assemble or a math theorem to work out. Parsing my study of jiu jitsu this way is an ongoing challenge — learning facts is boring; different people have different solutions; finding ways to apply solutions in creative, surprising and elegant ways is a joy.

How have you evolved as a result of it?

Jiu jitsu may be one of the scariest things I’ve chosen to do, but it has led to a calm confidence. Somewhere around blue belt, I distinctly remember having to say “be brave” out loud before a competition round and this memory sticks with me every now and then. Most things are less intimidating after you’ve learned to keep people twice your size from injuring you.

What is something that you learned about BJJ that was unexpected?

Unlike striking or weapons martial arts, there’s a real conversation that happens during sparring or rolls. I think students develop a real empathy for their training partners instead of thinking in terms of winning; being faster or stronger; or knowing more moves.