Want to hear a joke?
Okay, so a Muslim, a Mexican, and a lesbian walk into a jiu-jitsu gym…
Actually, let’s save the jokes for later. I need to get serious about something for a minute.
Turning on the news or going on the internet these days has reminded me why I’ve chosen choking people as my stress reliever.
All over the world, people are being killed and having their rights taken away, and in many cases, the reasons why have to do with a divisive “us vs. them” mentality. We fear our own neighbors because they look, pray, or live differently than we do, and the results of that fear, as we’ve seen, can have devastating consequences.
Even though these messages telling us who we should and shouldn’t hate are plaguing our society, there is one place where race, religion, political stances, and pasts all fade away.
The jiu-jitsu gym.
As soon as you step through the door and put on your gi, you’re reminded that you’re a part of one of the most diverse families in the world.
Because just about anyone can do jiu-jitsu, it welcomes people from all corners of the globe and all walks of life. At any given academy, you can find police officers training with reformed felons and recovering drug addicts. You see Christians drilling armbars with atheists and Trump supporters passing guard with Clinton supporters. Those fundamental differences between us still exist, but when you’re training, they simply cease to be important.
Jiu-jitsu will introduce you to people you might have never otherwise met, let alone been friends with. If you work in a field that requires you to be highly-educated, you’re not going to end up becoming work buddies with someone who grew up in a low-income environment and couldn’t afford to go to college.
But you might end up rolling with him.
If your idea of a Friday night out is a bonfire on your dairy farm, you probably wouldn’t think to befriend a girl who parties hard at clubs until 5 a.m. on Sunday.
But you might end up getting triangled by her.
Sure, some of those personality differences might prove to be friendship barriers that are impossible to overcome. Nobody is expecting you to be BFFs with everyone you train with.
But jiu-jitsu has a way of rooting out the people who don’t know how to set aside those differences to at least have a civil and productive training session. Just like any activity or environment, you might encounter someone who refuses to roll with women or completely ignores your Indian teammate, but it probably won’t take long before they’ll either be forced to overcome their prejudices or leave.
Jiu-jitsu forces you to get close with people you might otherwise never even speak to, if only physically. And when you quite literally place your life in someone else’s hands, trusting that they’ll release that choke once you tap out, it begins to chip away at the mistrust that has been built up as a result of society and the media’s dividing narrative.
When we’re rolling, everything else about who we are fades away, if only for a few minutes. We are reduced to nothing more than human beings, stripped down to nothing but what we can do with our own bodies against another body. The things that cause us to block each other on social media stop being important, and we’re all united by something we love.
About a month ago, I experienced a moment that really highlighted this beautiful concept: I was attending a jiu-jitsu vacation camp in my adopted country of Costa Rica, and after training, I went out with the other attendees of the camp.
Our group was comprised of two Brazilians, one Costa Rican, three Americans, and one Peruvian. A stranger came up to us and asked me where we were all from, since he’d heard three different languages being spoken.
When I told him the situation, his jaw nearly hit the floor. As it turns out, he (a Canadian) also practiced jiu-jitsu. That made eight people from all over the world who would have never met had it not been for the one thing we all had in common: our love for BJJ.
Call me a dreamer, but I firmly believe that while jiu-jitsu alone might not save the world, the “open arms” mentality that comes with it could stop us from going down this destructive path of hatred and fear of our fellow human beings.
Maybe if the world’s political loud-mouths spent less time focusing on their differences and more time focusing on joint locks, they’d be able to see that we’re all made of the same stuff.
Maybe if we all took an hour out of each day to sweat all over each other, we’d be too tired to focus on the differences between us and instead allow ourselves to see the similarities we share.
So let’s try this again: A Muslim, a Mexican, and a lesbian walk into a jiu-jitsu gym. Turns out, it’s not a joke; it’s just a small sample of the reality that jiu-jitsu practitioners experience every single time we train.
The real world may always be a scary place full of crime and prejudice, but during our time on the mats, we get to escape from all that, fighting and loving the very people we’re told we should hate.