1. When/how did you discover your love for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
I discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu back in 2000. I was hanging out with my friend at Blockbuster Video and we were looking for some kung fu movies to watch. We saw this VHS tape that said Ultimate Fighting Championship on it. I didn't know what it was and neither did my friend, but it was about fighting so I figured why not have a look. By then the tape was seven years old. The event had taken place in 1993, but practically no one had heard about it. I certainly hadn't. The event was what is called a No-Holds-Barred match, meaning there were no rules. The fights were brutal and bloody. There were representatives of all styles fighting but it seemed that pure aggression was the determining factor in every fight. Then this skinny, meek guy wearing a traditional white Gi came out of the back and walked into the cage. I thought that he was going to get murdered, but what happened was way more insane. He won. The craziest thing of all was that he won quickly, and without much violence. He just grabbed the huge boxer that he was fighting, took him to the ground, then choked him and made him give up. He got up looking like nothing happened. He was calm. That guy proceeded to win the entire tournament pretty much the same way in every fight. I was sold. I wanted to learn how he did it. It took me fourteen years to start training, but I finally started, and I'm glad I did. "I've been practicing it for two and a half years now, and I'm at least another lifetime away from earning my black belt at my current rate of progress, but I'm okay with that.
2. Take us through what this art-form feels like in your body and how it affects your mind.
It is an intense martial art to practice. It is physically demanding and tough on the body. I equal parts look forward to class and dread going since I'm all cramped up from sitting and writing. After about the second sparring session I've got a good sweat going and I'm glad that I came to class. It's nice to leave the school with an endorphin dump, and I'm glad that I decided to get away from the computer for a couple of hours. I walk around sore all of the time even though I only train 3 to 4 days a week. Sometimes I'm more injured than sore, and that can be difficult especially when your body is telling you that you need rest, but you want to train. The soreness and physical exhaustion help to calm me, and sharpen my mental focus. I use jiu jitsu to clear cases of writers' block when I'm working through a tough scene that I can't get quite right. When I start to get super frustrated with my writing its time for me to get on the mats.
3. Give us two examples of how this practice impacts the rest of you life.
The biggest aspect of how practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has impacted my life is the one most people gravitate to it for. They want to learn how to defend themselves in an unarmed altercation. I'm not naive to the ways of the world since I grew up in a neighborhood where people got shot and stabbed on a frequent basis. I also understand that the statistical probability that I or any one person will ever have to defend themselves in a physical altercation is pretty low. Regardless of the statistics, there is no feeling like feeling vulnerable everywhere you go. I wouldn't go so far as to say that if you practice jiu jitsu you are somehow a badass or immune from getting assaulted, but it does give you realistic options to help you survive an unarmed attack. It is always good to have options.
The second aspect of how the practice has impacted my life is that it is something that I know is going to be very difficult for me to do for the rest of my life. There are no easy days in jiu jitsu. I've been practicing it for two and a half years now, and I'm at least another 15 or so years from earning my black belt at my current rate of progress, but I'm okay with that. I have a problem with always achieving things that I set my mind to, and though that sounds like a good problem to have, it sets you up for boredom and negative thinking, like "Did I really deserve that?" or "That was too easy so it doesn't mean anything." Eventually if I stick around this little blue dot long enough, and stay on the mats for some part of that time, I may have a shot at earning my black belt, and that would be arguably well-earned.
4. Why do you think it's so hard of so many of us to "surrender" to a practice that brings us joy/peace,and how could that change?
First, it is hard to find what it is that brings us joy and peace. Second, from my experience it is often the difficult things that bring us joy and peace. It's like sugar. Sugar is sweet, quickly digested, easy to eat and enjoy, and insidiously found everywhere in prepackaged inviting wrappers or cans. The problem is that sugar is a killer in the long run, and all that euphoria from ingesting it is as short-lived as a snickers at Weight Watchers convention.
The difficult thing is taking the time to prepare and cook the nutrient rich foods that will give you what you need to grow and keep you healthy for the long haul that is life. People generally like to take the paths of least resistance and they fall into the trap of doing the easy things. They get instant reward, whether it is in the form of a sugar rush, a shopping spree, a life of crime, or by ignoring their dreams and showing up to a 9 to 5 that they hate just because they're scared of starting that business or writing that book.
I think that the first step to changing that junk food mentality is to challenge yourself. It doesn't have to be physical. Just do something that you know that you are bad at and do it until you get a little better. Do something that you've always wanted to do, but have been to scared to do. The best lesson that I learned in my time in the Marines was to find comfort in uncomfortable places, and that's what I'm trying to continue to do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and through my writing.