Age, Jiu Jitsu, and Mindfulness
Much has been said about mindfulness in Jiu Jitsu, but little has been said about the link between mindfulness and the battle we old guys go through to turn up, learn, study, overcome adversity and get better on our pathway from being subbed every 15 seconds to having “good” Jiu Jitsu.
There are many definitions of mindfulness in the zen and Buddhist arts – my personal view on it is that is the awareness of aversion, attachment, and delusion. Aversion: the false view that something can make you angry; Attachment: the false view that something can make you happy; and the last being the many types of pressure that a person puts on themselves and others trying to make something fit into a preconceived mould. Jiu Jitsu provides them all.
Jiu Jitsu as suffering
Jiu Jitsu involves suffering for many reasons, which is perhaps why people find it hard. It involves actual suffering; injury; muscle soreness; the threat of injury; and the mental suffering from deciding that you cannot reverse the situation and you need to tap, to give in, to fail. It involves the suffering of change: some days our Jiu Jitsu is amazing, we tap people, we don’t get tapped, our techniques work, and we feel strong. Other days, though, nothing seems to work. We leave the gym dejected, replaying the roll in our minds, wondering what we did wrong. We may get injured and gain weight, or get seriously injured and need to change our game partly or entirely. We get old and we grow weaker, and we fight against it because it makes the rolls harder to do, makes the positions harder to get to, makes the submissions harder to escape. Even though we know instinctively that the seasons change, and that today can never be replayed, we all struggle with time and change with Jiu Jitsu. We always want to be “getting better” and sometimes we simply can’t.
It also involves pervasive suffering, which is the most complicated. This is the suffering we have from the pressure we put mainly on ourselves and on others. We imagine what we could be, what we could achieve, what we should be achieving, and then when we don’t get there, it makes us unhappy. We want to have a “good game”. We imagine what we “should” be doing at our belt level. We feel pressure to be.
Zen, Mindfulness and Jiu Jitsu
We can’t wish away the risk and impact of injury or the vagaries of age. For those over 40, it is a reality that our bodies will fail us before we achieve what we would like to in Jiu Jitsu. We can, however, deal with the pressure we put on ourselves – the pressure of change and the ever-present pressure of “being the belt” or living up to whoever we think we were before we took a break from the mats.
The reality is that we will never conquer Jiu Jitsu, and we will always be on a journey to conquer ourselves within the various sufferings provided by Jiu Jitsu. We will all change over our time that we train – we will be stronger, and weaker, and fatter, and thinner, and more and less explosive, and more and less busy, over the course of our lives. Some days we will feel great, and confident, and spring out of bed, and some days we’ll struggle, we’ll get tapped, we’ll be a few pounds over weight and we’ll get owned by someone lighter or stronger.
The guys who make Jiu Jitsu part of their life, who grow with it, understand the impermanence of it and of themselves. They understand that its hard to get better unless you fail, they know the ups and downs, and they understand its impossible to progress without respect and compassion for others. They don’t feel the pressure of the belt. They understand that sometimes, obstacles appear and they have to overcome them in a way that doesn’t allow fixed views of yourself and where you think you should be. They get tapped when they try new things, or when they are slightly out of shape, and they bounce back and keep learning.
So the next time you roll, or reflect, or be hard on yourself for not subbing, or being subbed, or perhaps when you are lying in bed after a few months off, or a few years off, thinking you are too fat or too old or too sore or too broken to return, stop. Just stop. Be mindful. Remember that anything created by someone else is impermanent and can and will change. You are impermanent and you can and will change. Jiu Jitsu will be there when you arrive and welcome you to enter its complex, challenging, unsolvable world the same as it always did, but maybe in a different way than before. As fellow old man Chris Hauter says, it's not about who’s the best, it’s about who’s left.
Now, old man, go train.