“When thinking about what to do next with your life, don’t ask yourself what you would succeed at, but what you would most enjoy failing at.”
― Clifford Cohen
“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.”
― E.E. Cummings
You come in slowly, unsure of what to make of everything. Guys and a spattering of girls huddle in groups on the mat, stretching out and screwing around with new moves. Your friend, the one who dragged you here, claps you on the shoulder with a big lopsided smile on his face. He shoves a gi in your arms and points you in the direction of the bathroom.
The material is so stiff you think it could probably stand up on its own, although the thick white of the fabric has given way to the graying effects of years of use. You put it on anyway and bow in with the rest of the guys, feeling like an idiot. Every move feels awkward but you still roll and roll and roll….
Later that night, you text your friend:
You: Hey how do i get out of that arm thing?
Him: What? an armbar?
You: yea sure whatever. the thing you got me in.
Him: yeah that’s an armbar. come next practice and find out :p
The phone screen blinks at you expectantly, waiting for an answer. You shut it off and go to bed.
It’s early, way too early. The sun has barely come up and yet here you are. Some of your teammates are carrying gallon jugs and coconut water, some are sleeping, some have already started stretching. Your stomach is growling, and you wonder if the two bowls of Lucky Charms were a bad idea.
The kids are up first, and you realize that a six year old definitely has the capability to end your life.
Just when you were starting to get bored, they call your name over the speaker. Suddenly, your legs feel stiff and there’s a buzzing in your head. You follow the assistant coach down to Mat 5 and wait for the match ahead of you to finish, foot twitching in anticipation.
Someone puts a hand on your shoulder. “Don’t be so nervous.”
You turn to the assistant coach and shrug, “I’m fine, don’t worry.”
He laughs, “It’s totally okay to be nervous. You’re supposed to be nervous. But don’t let it get the better of you. Before my first lifting competition, my coach sat all of us down and said ‘what’t the worst that can happen? You lose. And you know what? The sun is still going to come up, you’ll still be alive, and the world will keep turning.'”
Before you can reply, your match is up. You walk away with bronze that day.
The medals on your wall clink together as you swing open your bedroom door. You hurriedly shove your new gi into your gym bag along with a ratty white belt.
During training, you feel like you’re being tapped and swept left and right. Everyone seems like they’ve been rolling a little harder with you lately, especially the higher belts. At the last round, you finally sink a submission. An armbar.
You line up with your teammates after class, shoulder to shoulder. Coach walks in front, hand resting in his lapel. He calls up a few people and awards some stripes. Then, your name is called. You get that little bit of buzzing in your head again as you float up to meet your coach at the front of the class. He pulls out a rich blue belt, takes off your white one, and ties the new one around your waist. You shake hands, bow, and turn to bow to the class. They all seem to be looking at you with smug smiles and winks, and all you can think is… you bastards knew.
I know many of you reading this are at a higher level, but being a Baby Blue, I didn’t feel as though I had the authority to continue this story any more than a first promotion. But I think it is more than beneficial to take the time to look at how far you’ve come.
Lately, I’ve been in the familiar rut where regular life has taken over my goals. School, work, family and other obligations will always be there and there will always be lulls in your training. It is easy to get frustrated with yourself, but I always try to remember that jiu-jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint. It needs to be a part of our lives, not instead of our lives.
Looking back on those first huge chances we took and those milestones we reached can help give us the motivation to look for new challenges in “jits” and in life.
The conversation I had with the assistant coach is one that I had before my first fight with one of my actual coaches, Tyler. I try to remember that whenever I’m afraid to take that next step, there will always be another day. And if you do screw it up? Well, that just makes you human.
Welcome to the club, there’s, like, seven billion of us.