What Are We Fighting For Anyway?

Bodies thrashing, twisted limbs, sweat squishing, desperate gasps for air.

This is the chaos of live training. It doesn’t sound appealing, and it’s not pleasurable as it’s happening. So why do we continue to fight?

Most of us can say why we chose this sport. Common reasons include getting into better shape, making new friends, exploring a childhood curiosity, overcoming trauma, or caving into a loved ones incessant pleas of, “Just try it!”

Whatever the reason, it’s usually enough to start you training. But what keeps you training? When you find yourself obsessed with studying online technique until the wee hours of the morning, distracting yourself at work by dreaming up all the techniques you plan to try in class that night, or spending all your recreational time at your gym, you might ask yourself, “Why am I still doing this? Am I here for the same reasons I started?”

Chances are, your answers might be, “I don’t know,” and “No, I don’t think so.”If this is the case, then there likely are new reasons that keep you fighting.

The missing feedback loop

As a teacher and business owner, one of the things I love most about what I do is that I get to spend the best part of people’s days with them. Students often train to shake off a bad day, clear their heads, or release some pent-up energy. Everyone usually leaves the gym feeling refreshed, balanced, and satisfied. Over time, I’ve learned that these benefits aren’t just the product of endorphins. 

I believe that practicing BJJ on a regular basis provides us with a feedback loop that we might otherwise be lacking in our lives. In our youth, there is so much focus and support placed on our development. In academics and extracurriculars, there is an entire village of people who are ready to guide and cheer you on as you branch out into the world. As adults with real jobs, obligations, and responsibilities, how many of us have the same level of support or focus on self-development?

One of the beautiful things that our training can provide us with is a sense of inclusiveness and accomplishment in the feedback void of adulthood. Our culture sometimes cruelly orients itself toward criticizing and complaining and it’s rare to hear or feel a compliment from the people who surround us. Promotions and raises are scarce at work, children cry and lash out, partners may be upset that you didn’t cook dinner last night. Often, there is no structure or format for how to improve these circumstances. Time passing or sucking it up and putting in more effort might do the trick, but we’re often taking a shot in the dark and attempting to hit a moving target. 

Making the ethereal tangible

Our barbaric little practice of grappling is concrete. You can’t escape the breath being knocked out of you from a hard sweep, or your partner’s unbreakable grip at the beginning of your match. There is no pretending here. BJJ takes the ethereal and makes it tangible — a medium that you can somatically engage with. 

Fighting stretches us to the limits of our capabilities. It teaches us that we can execute from our embedded repertoire, but signals areas where we are out of our element and need to level up. It provides a medium for resolving some of the personal issues we may struggle with. We may suffer from not knowing how to maintain or navigate boundaries, presence, stress, transitions, loss, ego, and self-development. Our time on the mat forces us to confront and work through these dimensions. We essentially put ourselves in a place where there are no excuses and there are no outs. Grapplers must be present in the fight, or they risk submission or defeat. They must assert their intentions, or they risk becoming reactive. Fighters must move forward in difficult moments or risk falling behind. 

Fighting for the true self

Fighting drives us to be one with our true self, because only the real shit, the stuff we know in our bones will work for us in a dynamic moment. 

I believe we fight because it allows us to connect to our authentic selves. The one that’s not always right or wrong, but the one that’s honest. Fighting creates an internal dialogue that is purely yours, where you confront your willingness to change at that time. It naturally prompts you to grow, because failure to do so results in stagnation. Fighting becomes a deeply personal and necessary practice and with time, even the most stubborn students see some progress. 

Whether we understand these principles on a conscious or subconscious level, I believe this is what drives us to fight. Fighting for yourself is one of the few liberties that you don’t need anyone else’s permission to do and it’s arguably the most important battle you’ll ever take on —  and it’s the one fight that only you can win.

Photo by Sacco Photo.

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  • Mohsin

    “I believe we fight because it allows us to connect to our authentic selves. The one that’s not always right or wrong, but the one that’s honest.”

    So true!

    I always thought the, “You never really know someone until you fight them” line from the character Seraph in the movie Matrix Reloaded was nonsensical until I started sparring with people in jiujitsu and realized how true it was. You DON’T really know someone until you fight them and they’re too busy for anything but brutal honesty. You can tell a lot about a person almost at first contact.

  • Sharon Schleif

    I know we have never met but I hear a lot about you.I enjoyed reading this a lot.I ask myself that question a lot.Almost 20 years of the struggle,and I always go back.Now at the age of 62 I can’t do everyday anymore but I teach and train now.My reasons have changed over the years.thanks for the blog

    • Emily Kwok

      Thank you so much for the read Sharon! I’ve heard so much about you. I hope we will cross paths soon, would be lovely to hear about your journey.

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