If you’ve trained (or know someone who has trained) Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), you have (or have heard) a story about how BJJ has an impact on everyday life. And if I keep writing (and you keep reading) this blog post, it is inevitable that you’ll hear a fair share of those stories from me. However, I thought I’d change the narrative a bit for this initial post and tell a story about how my everyday life has changed my approach to BJJ.
One of my favorite things is when a new student walks into the school. I know a lot of people would look at this new student as “fresh meat” or someone on whom they can hone their sweeping and submission skills. I don’t begrudge that perspective, especially knowing that the “fresh meat” moniker sounds harsher than it really is, and that part of progressing in BJJ is being the “nail” in the “hammer and nail” equation. Personally, I leave that part of the process to students who have been practicing BJJ for a shorter time than me. Instead, I see someone who probably needs a little bit of support to help them navigate the early days of a BJJ journey. Here’s where my everyday life experience comes into play.
In 2010, I was still establishing myself at my job; I certainly hadn’t achieved the “expert” status I currently enjoy after 13 years of practice. Despite being a junior employee, I was tasked with making a work presentation at an international meeting. While that sounds like a vote of confidence from management, the truth is that the presentation was during a holiday weekend (Veteran’s Day), and I was going to spend more time in transit than I was going to spend at the destination. In reality, no one else above me wanted this assignment; still, I saw the opportunity to push myself and grow as a person, so I accepted.
It’s now 1 pm ET in my story. The only problem is that I am 12 time zones away, standing in the airport in Nanjing, China. Alone, on the other side of the world. Surrounded by signs and people whose language I can neither read nor speak. Exhausted from over 30 hours of travel time (due to connecting flights and layovers), and waiting for a ride from someone whom I have never met nor seen before. And boy, did I wait…
For the next 2 hours I split my time between standing in a single spot and wandering between the two main entrances to the airport terminal where I disembarked. I wasn’t afraid for my life or worried that I was going to be apprehended and thrown into prison in a foreign land, but I was filled with trepidation and unease. I thought to myself…had I made a mistake by agreeing to make this presentation? Should I have just stayed home and played video games or gone out for drinks with my friends? Was there really a reward to the risk I had taken? The nerves were getting the better of me.
When my transport finally arrived, I entered the minibus to find mostly non-English speakers chatting away, and occasionally eyeing me with some disdain (I was the last person to arrive, and apparently they were waiting for me for as long as I was waiting for them). I sat down in the first available seat and put my head down, wanting only to get to the hotel to get some rest before my presentation. That was when the gentlemen next to me said (in perfect English) “Are you here on your own?” I replied that I was, that it was my first time in China, and that it had been a long trip so far. “Wow, that takes a lot of courage. Everyone else on the bus is either with a group or they can speak Chinese as a native language. If I can be of any help, let me know. I’m not from China myself, but my parents were and they taught me how to read and speak from a young age, so I can navigate around here pretty easily.”
I thanked him profusely and felt a tremendous relief. We chatted a little bit about his research and the technologies that I managed on the ride to the hotel, and established a decent rapport (we even communicated by e-mail for a short time after this trip). A day later he would help me find the right check-in desk for my flight out of Nanjing, and while that may not sound like a big deal, I would not have been able to do it without him because all of the signs were in Chinese (as far as I could tell). When I finally arrived home over 30 hours later (more connecting flights and layovers), I knew I had a life changing experience that I would remember for the rest of my life.
Fast forward to the present day, with the new student standing on the mats. There’s a good chance he or she doesn’t know anyone, and everyone might be talking about techniques that sound like a foreign language. They might as well be alone on the other side of the world, just like I was that one day in China. So I apply my everyday life to BJJ…I introduce myself and offer to work with the new student for the class, and tell them that if I can be of any help, let me know. And I hope that this is the beginning of a life changing experience for them.
Gael Force Jiu Jitsu
3 Gold Mine Rd. Unit #2