Monday, 1 February 2010
A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 10... the final chapter
Fade to blue...
On the tube ride to training the other day I slipped into a daydream. I imagined myself walking to my gym on a typical cold, dark, damp winter evening. As I continue to walk I become aware of some sinister movement in the shadows being cast on the pavement by the street lights. All of a sudden I am surrounded by a band of street thugs who viciously set upon me. I fight hard, taking a few of them out, but eventually I am overpowered and left beaten and robbed in the desolate street (I agree it is strange I get beaten up in a daydream of my own making, I am not sure what this says about my self-esteem).
I stagger to my gym, clothes ripped and bleeding, burst through the doors and slump on the dojo floor. My gym brethren pick me up, set me on the dressing room bench and begin exclaiming: 'Who did this to you!? Who did this to you?' After being administered a few sips of life giving water I manage to say between laboured breaths "A gang....a gang..." and weakly point in the vague direction from whence I came.
My instructors call everyone out from the mats and command them to organise themselves into belt rank, highest grades on the front-line. The whole army then march onto the streets bare foot and gi-clad in search of my assailants. I must be avenged. An insult to one of us is an insult to us all. We turn onto the street where the gang are lurking. They are laughing, joking and taking stock of their booty. I manage to weakly utter "that’s... them".
My team swarm on them like a crashing wave of white. It is like a scene from Kill Bill or The Warriors. Men scream from the cracks of arm-bars, are put to sleep from triangles and debilitated by judo throws to the unforgiving concrete. Inspired and moved by their warrior spirit I regain my second wind and grab one of my attackers by the sleeves of his shell suit and bewitch him with my spider-guard. I sweep him and then reign down ferocious elbows from the pit of Hades.
When the dust settles it is like a post battle scene from Saving Private Ryan. Our enemies lay strewn on the concrete moaning in pain. Those that are able, limp away, beaten and dejected into the abyss of the evening darkness. We all stand together in our bloodstained gi's victorious and united; a band of brothers.
So that was my daydream on the way to training the other week. I do have a penchant for the dramatic.
There is something in most men that desires camaraderie. It's why we enjoy having 'boy's nights out' and playing sport together. It's why we meet online and form teams to play 'Call of Duty' on X-Box live. There is something deep within us that craves that sense of unity, friendship and shared purpose.
Perhaps it is wired into our genetics? Early man had to hunt for his food. It was the sole responsibility of the men to provide the food for the community. The only way this could be successfully achieved was if the men worked together. They had to have each others' backs out in the wild and understand each others' strengths and weaknesses in order to work effectively as a pack. If they didn't then they would die and consequently so would their people.
Modern culture does not demand this kind of inter-dependence or struggle in order to survive. We have Tesco and credit cards. We drive in separate cars, shop online, interact via facebook and hide in our i-pods. Our culture has enabled us to become so self-contained that we find ourselves yearning to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to join up with other men and fight for something. We want to recapture the honour and adventure of a bygone age that has been robbed by and tamed by our domesticated culture.
After a year of training I approached the dojo both excited and anxious. It was grading day. I had been mulling over the progression of my Jiu-Jitsu for the last few days with this day in mind. Was I worthy of a blue belt? Was I even being considered? I had been trying to heed the advice of the wise and just concentrate on my Jiu-Jitsu and not worry about belts. "A belt is just for holding up your gi". I get this, but it feels great to achieve. To know you have come so far, to be able put a stake in the ground.
When I entered the dojo I had never seen it so packed, over a 100 guys at least. All gathered together under a common passion, all from different backgrounds, cultures and religions; Postmen, surgeons, musicians, business men, students, unemployed, firemen. No social hierarchy when in the dojo, all friends and brothers alike. People who have encouraged me, humbled me, inspired me, broken me, challenged me, tested me and taught me. It had been on honour to journey with them over the past year. Going to competitions together, talking about jiu-jitsu and life in the pub and developing healthy positive sparring rivalries.
Jiu-Jitsu has not only improved me physically, it has also improved my character, my ability to relate to and understand other people and perhaps, more poignantly, to understand and know myself. My ego has taken an almighty beating this past year. My self-perception has been rocked to its core with a stiff dose of reality that only being caught in a clock choke can bring. As clichéd as it might sound, fighting really is a metaphor for life. The discipline, resolve and passion required to keep coming back when you feel void of anything to give is definitely something you can translate into life outside the dojo.
My name gets calle out to go into the centre, in front of everyone, and square off against an opponent. One of the instructors then says "whoever wins, will get their blue belt". I take a deep breath, and think 'this belt is mine'. I fight my heart out. Not with winning in mind, but just promising I will give the best account of myself.
After initially sweeping my opponent I managed to rack up 10 points and get the win. It felt better than any competition victory. I had earned this, my instructors felt I was worthy of carrying the flag of their team. As they wrapped the belt around my waist I have rarely been filled with such pride. I have been decent at most sports in my life, but this was the first time I felt like I had really applied myself and achieved something tangible and significant. As I looked around the gym and received the applause and congratulations of my team-mates I knew this was something special, something beyond the humdrum predictability of materialism and social climbing. This belt symbolised a journey with myself and with other people.
A journey that was not finished but was merely just beginning.