BJJ: Grind This Way

August 31st was my two year Jitsu-versary. The picture of my feet on the mat for my first BJJ class is a Facebook memory that I will always want to “share.” It is the inspiration behind so much of my writing these days that perhaps this blog should be called ‘Grind This Way’ instead.

my feet on the mat of my BJJ school
First steps, first reps

If you had asked me two years ago what the On Ramp class would mean for me, I might have said something flip about choking dudes out. And in my head, that’s all I was doing – taking an intro class that was meant to give me some basic skills applicable to self-defense. I didn’t think of myself as someone who had started to “train Jiu Jitsu” until my first night on the big mats. Maybe not even then. I still make flippant comments about choking dudes out but BJJ is so much more than that to me.

It’s the Challenge

I started BJJ during a time of major transition in my life. My divorce was final but I hadn’t figured out where I’d live next. I was going to begin a 50% custody arrangement with my dogs. It was a welcome activity and distraction. I did not know it at the time but I also needed a challenge. You know, because finding a rental that accepts two Boxers and hitting the Portland, Maine dating scene in my 30’s wasn’t enough…

I still have a hard time pinpointing why I need this particular challenge. A friend defined the basic human needs as “feed, fight, fuck, and crow.” While BJJ clearly fits into the “fight” category, that need doesn’t have to be fulfilled so literally. I took up BJJ at a time when I had other battles in my life. Life is a crapshoot, shit can get hard in any aspect of it without your permission. This is a challenge that I get to pick out and say “This is really hard and I’m going to do it anyways.” Not because life forces me to – because I WANT to do it. This is the fight I choose. A fight that I use to become stronger as I face all the other fights in my life.

Comparing bruises from the 1st month of BJJ and the 2nd year of BJJ

It’s the Puzzle

I’ve been addicted to puzzles for as long as I can remember. Possibly longer, as my parents have told me how I loved assembling jigsaws as a wee child. Jiu Jitsu, especially circuit training/rolling, is one big constantly changing puzzle. But unlike most puzzles, I have a hell of a time seeing where the pieces fit in. BJJ is wrestling chess – every move has a counter, going after one attack leaves you open to another, etc. Everyone is working on their own version of the puzzle but the rules and moves are roughly the same.

I’m in a never-ending (or so it seems) cycle of getting caught in traps of my own making. The first partner/lesson I recall was reaching up from the guard and getting caught in arm bars. Then I’d move my frames too far from center and get stuck in a gift wrap. More recently I learned a guard pass that involves putting an arm under one leg, which I thought I could use in rolling. After a few tough sessions it became obvious that if you don’t pull the pass off, you’re just asking for a triangle. (Non-BJJ folks – I considered trying to explain each situation above, but realized it would take a very long time for me to describe them clearly. Just imagine wrestling, moving for an advantage, and then having that squid guy from Star Wars pop into your head to yell “It’s a trap!”)

It’s the Community

This is the community I need. This is the part that is really hard to explain to other people. How this community is different from another gym or another team. Maybe it’s the crazy amount of physical contact that forces us to be more familiar and “intimate” with each other. (This article says yes.) I feel like even the more casual connections I’ve made at the gym are different from ones you’d make elsewhere. We’re all struggling separately but together. We’ve all found the fight in ourselves and we’re trying to honor it. Discovering our gameness.

In college, I chose to row crew. It’s a hard fucking sport. Long practices 6 days a week and 2 days a week of lifting on top of that. But (at least for me) it didn’t have the same feeling of being part of a community that this sport gives me. And we’re talking about something where you are all literally learning to move together as one! I stayed in the sport for 2 1/2 years out of sheer stubbornness, wishing for a community that never appeared. Others may have felt it but they didn’t feel it with me – I literally had someone talk over my goodbye at my last “hands in” after practice.

I am only starting to get close with a select few at the gym. But already I’m closer to most of the “regulars” at the gym than I was to any of my crewmates. In addition to a large group of supportive male training partners, there is a growing group of women who I’m bonding with on and off the mats.

It is so much more

Each of the items above are reasons that I choose this sport. But the sum is greater than its parts. There is an extra quality there that I find hard to identify or describe. I am drawn to this sport like nothing else in my life. Even in the heady, giddy early days of a new romance, I still sought out BJJ. I was 4 months into training when I broke my leg and I spent 7 months chomping at the bit to get back. Sometimes I joke about going to class to get my frustrations out, but BJJ doesn’t make me feel aggressive. It gives me a place to move and focus my energy. It takes me out of my head and into my body and helps me put the other fights in my life into perspective. BJJ is the thing I seek out when I’m happy, when I’m irritated, when I’m scared. It is a difficult, evolving, complex part of my life and I am so thankful that I found it.

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