Have you ever experienced that moment when you were “on”, “in the zone” and just “feeling it”? Whatever it was, ping pong, chess, running, jiu jitsu, writing, you felt smooth, connected and most likely profoundly calm and satisfied. It’s a pretty amazing feeling, and it’s lost when you try to control it, worry about making it last, and become too caught up in the outcome of the action rather than the process. What if these same rules applied to happiness in our everyday lives?
Life Through the Lens of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
I have been practicing and teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for over ten years now, and while the name of the activity has not changed in that time, my perception and execution of it have changed drastically. What began as a sport and method of self-defense has developed into a personal philosophy. What does that mean? BJJ has transcended mere action and activity and has evolved the very way I exist. Just as there is a better way to execute an arm-bar, there is a better way to live; a skillful navigation of the infinite potentials we grapple with everyday.
I do not mean to imply that those who understand jiu jitsu live better lives than those who do not. These lessons can likely be found in any activity performed at a high level. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, for me, and many others is merely an opportunity and a chance to attain a better life; one possibility to recognize the serenity of flowing with your existence and not forcing a pre-determined reality.
As a beginner in jiu jitsu, you may focus on the end result: to get good enough to win more than you lose. As an intermediate player, you may recognize there is a style and identity to your technique that echoes your character and exposes you to the world of infinite possibility of action. But as a seasoned and experienced practitioner, you begin to realize there is no end. Yes some day you will die, but there will never be only answers and no questions, only victories and no failures. You will always require your technique and thus your philosophy to navigate these obstacles skillfully.
The philosophical practitioner of jiu jitsu develops sensitivity beyond the physical realm. He increasingly desires victory less because a submission held to end a match means only the flow has stopped and thus the purpose of the movement also ceases. Therefore, the experienced and philosophical practitioner plays with all the potentials, redefines success, removes himself from failure, and builds his technique not for the sake of his ego, but to establish flow and therefore increase his freedom through intuitive movement.
Flowing beyond the mat….
Often times our lives function outside of the wisdom and joy we obtain in sport and in art. We leave the microcosm of the gym, studio, academy, etc…, and return to tirelessly chasing our happiness on the coat-tails of our accomplishments, never realizing that likely happiness has been chasing us all along, we’ve just been too pre-occupied with the outcomes and running down success after success (submission after submission) that we’ve never paused, dissolved into immediacy, and co-occupied the present with happiness; the only place it can exist.
If happiness is experienced within moments of flow, how can we establish it as often as possible? Should we strive for no success, become nihilists, merely floating along and adapting to realities? No. None of those actions represent flow. Flow establishes and occupies a strong reality on a foundation of skill and wisdom. You are not chasing superficial accomplishments nor are you running from abstract fears. Flowing is the recognition that by acting skillfully there is the possibility for beauty in every action, not because you have the opportunity to be better than someone, but because you have the opportunity of freedom; the means to act with purpose outside of simulated pressures.
The gift of struggle…
There is something magnificent in a recovery, an escape, and a scramble, in jiu jitsu and life alike. If we understand that the process never ends and there will always be struggle, then we see the beauty in learning to flow with the struggle. Flow is the gift of struggle meant to be embraced as a necessary duality of existence; the Yin and the Yang, if you will, but foremost, it is a choice to flow.
What if you could move through life, smoothly, skillfully and beautifully between each obstacle and struggle, victory and defeat, just as an experienced jiu jitsu practitioner plays his jiu jitsu with a humble, yet confident grin? What if you could remove the fallacy of failure that paralyzes all beautiful movement, and recognize there is no end game, no win or lose in this zero-sum existence? If we could do so, we may find greater freedom in our lives, we may lighten our shoulders and realize our opponents are not always our enemies, but merely our partners and catalysts for beautiful growth all while we pursue the timeless rapture.