A vein bulged from my forehead, looking like it was going to burst. My face was beet red, and I was getting sleepy. This was all on account of the instructor’s thigh muscle constricting around my left carotid artery while my own shoulder betrayed me along my right carotid artery. Blood stopped flowing to my brain. I was in a textbook triangle choke, and I was about to pass out. This is a weird hobby, I thought.
Six months ago I decided to start my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) journey. What is BJJ? Jiu Jitsu is a grappling sport, like wrestling, where the object is to submit your oponent using either a joint lock, like an arm bar, or a choke, like the triangle choke I found myself in. Modern BJJ was popularized in the USA in the 1990s when Royce Gracie used the martial art to dominate much larger opponents in the newly formed UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Today BJJ is one of the foundational skill sets for Mixed Martial Arts fighting, along with wrestling, boxing, and Muay Thai, among others.
I tapped the instructor’s leg three times and it instantly relaxed allowing the blood to flow back to my brain. I blinked 10 or so times and felt good as new. After six months I’ve learned some basics to help me survive and love BJJ.
- Tap out (concede defeat) early and often. Live to fight again.
- Take your time. Don’t exert 100% of your energy 100% of the time. Pace yourself.
- Work for dominant or favorable body positioning first and then hunt for submissions. AKA “position before submission”
- Try to be clever and create traps, tricks, and situations that have multiple favorable outcomes.
- Muscle memory is only created by drilling the basic movements thousands of times. My best series of techniques revolves around a position called Spider Guard, which I practiced for 40 minutes one night when the instructor got caught up in a side conversation, and forgot he was teaching. AKA “drillers are killers”
Over the last six months I’ve noticed a number of changes in my life that I directly attribute to Jiu Jitsu. Physical, mental, and emotional.
First of all, I’ve lost some serious weight. I estimate I might burn 1,500 calories or more during a particularly grueling two hour session. Not only do I weight less than I have since college, but I also have more muscle than ever, even though I haven’t lifted a weight in six months. These changes have further inspired me to experiment with my diet (see Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb Diet here) to test the upper limit of my personal body composition changes before Father Time slows me down.
Mentally, BJJ is like releasing the pressure value on my steam engine. I can’t think about money or work or kids or anything for that matter when someone is trying to kill me. Not only does my brain get to shut down for two to four hours each week, but there’s something about intense exercise that just makes me generally happier and more relaxed. And exercising with others helps me push myself much harder than I can when I work out alone.
Taking on a new skill is also humbling, in a good way. Tapping out moments before a hundred broken arms or unwanted naps has gotten me out of my comfort zone, in more ways than one. I’ve been reminded of the years of hard work it takes to get proficient at anything, and the lifetime of dedication it takes to become a black belt in anything. There is always a bigger, badder, and more committed person out there who is more than happy to compete with me for the same resources.
Next month I turn 33. This past year was a fast one. Chances are you have experienced some complacency in your life, like I have. Slipping into a stale routine. Gaining a few extra pounds. Maybe you haven’t set new goals in a while or stopped fighting for some stubborn old goals.
I never want to become stagnant in life. Starting something hard, from scratch has reignited some fires that started to die down after my twenties. It feels good to have a little fire in your belly.