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BJJ Is Life-Affirming
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BJJ Is Life-Affirming

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I wasn’t having the best day.  To start off, it was a Monday. Add to that, I had my annual “wellness” exam bright and early.

Beginning in our late 30s, the name “wellness” exam is ironic…because they’re always going to find some little issue to worry over.  It’s really an “un-wellness” exam. They’re looking for trouble.

My near-psychotic love of cheese and dairy pretty much guarantees that my doctor is going to bring up my cholesterol.  At this point, I expect that.

But this year, there was another hiccup.  It doesn’t appear to be anything too serious at this point, but it means that I’ll probably end up adding another doctor to my ever-growing medical posse.  More time spent in doctor’s offices instead of being out in the world having fun. More “keeping an eye on it” when I’d rather focus on living instead of just staying alive.

It’s also a reminder that I’m well on my way toward the inevitable decline that’s always tied to old age.

I hate that.  I’ve still got a full head of hair.  I’ve got a healthy layer of muscle on my bones.  And my weight is down. On most days, I can still pretend that I’m in my late 20s or early 30s—even though I’m close to two decades past that point.

But you can’t pretend you’re still young when your “un-wellness” exam is telling you the exact opposite.  So, I was feeling pretty down that day. No, actually, I was feeling really down. Awful, in fact.

But that evening I packed my gear and headed to open mat.  Even on a good Monday, open mat is a nice reward for surviving the start of a new week.  But, on this ugly little Monday, it was essential.

I walked in feeling old.  I left feeling young. And happy.  

There’s something life-affirming about Jiu Jitsu.  You come out of it with an endorphin kick, but—more importantly—you come out of it having survived.

Blowing out the candles on your birthday cake is a mark of survival, too, but it doesn’t make you feel more alive.  What is it about surviving a roll in BJJ that makes us feel so alive?

I’m convinced that it has to do with confronting our negative emotions.  When we roll, we have to face our fear and our anxiety. We have to walk into a “dangerous” situation.  

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In a weird way, it’s all of those negative emotions that we have to stare down that make BJJ such a life-affirming activity.  It’s like the stress or jitters we get riding a roller coaster; those seemingly “negative” emotions are what make us feel like we are really living when we walk away.

No one feels that way after a few rounds on a carousel.  There’s no sense of danger or challenge when you’re sitting on a painted wooden horse going in a lazy circle.

Our genes have groomed us to instinctively look for comfort over confrontation.  We like to feel safe. But that safety doesn’t allow us to grow. Safety can quickly turn into hibernation.  We climb out of our comfortable beds, long after we should have, with a growing waistline from all the comfort food that we ate.  It may have been comfortable, but it wasn’t rewarding. It doesn’t make us feel like we are really alive.

In the movie, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks’s character erupts when one of his players complains that playing baseball has gotten too hard.  He says, “It’s supposed to be hard! If it weren't hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great.”  I’d say the same thing about Jiu Jitsu.

We need that discomfort to grow.  And we need to grow to feel alive.  We need challenges and difficulties and good teammates who are willing to be tough adversaries that will make us better.  BJJ offers us all of these things. That’s why I keep coming back. “The hard…is what makes it great.”



If I were you, I’d start with “Pin Escapes & Turtle Escapes: BJJ Fundamentals – Go Further Faster” by John Danaher and “Ripped in 12 Weeks Intermittent Fasting & Easy Bodyweight Fitness” by Tom DeBlass.  These two video instructionals will help you build a strong healthy diet, while building functional strength and a foundation of Jiu Jitsu fundamentals from the best in the business.  You’re welcome in advance!

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