Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 7 January 2017
SPORT 22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 JANUARY 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Brazilian jiu jitsu and learning through imperfection Pushing 40, I decided to dive into the BJJ shark pool once again GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS When I originally started Brazilian jiu jitsu about 10 years ago, I was a very different person, essentially a ball of nerves, always on the edge of an argument and with many, many personal issues to solve. I thought BJJ was the answer to a lot of my problems, a martial art that would force me to put myself in high-pressure situations again and again, effectively helping me to sweat my uncertainties out and mould me into something better. It didn't work out that way. While I enjoyed my first steps into what is arguably a highly daunting martial arts world, I was soon falling victim to my anger issues once again. I would get angry at myself for constantly losing, my lessons quickly collapsing under crushing waves of submission taps, I would get angry at my opponents for submitting me, I would get angry at my teachers who surely weren't teaching me right (it made sense at the time) and I would get angry at the world, because, well, it was what I knew best. A few months in, I picked up a knee injury and that was all I needed. Brazilian jiu-jitsu hadn't helped me become someone better. It had battered, bruised and broken me. That was that. Years later, after finally realising that the world and everyone in it probably wasn't to blame for everything wrong in my life, and after learning a lot more about my body and its weaknesses and strengths, I found myself on a BJJ mat once again. I was (and obviously still am) pushing 40, slightly nervous, but calmer. Ready to walk before I could run, ready to get hit and get back up again and all that stuff that would sound great coming from Rocky Balboa, but not so much from me. The art hadn't changed a bit. It still represented a daunting task, forcing you to learn through constantly losing and tapping out, through watching, picking out details in technique and diving headfirst into scrambles with combatants who can be − and frequently are − at a far higher level than you. What was instantly apparent was that the public profile of BJJ had shot into the stratosphere since I had last been a student of the art. A highly complex and often brutally scientific martial art, Brazilian jiu jitsu has risen to prominence over the last two decades especially, through its connection with mixed martial arts and of course, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a stage used to great effect by Royce Gracie (one of the most famous members of the Gracie family, who founded and established the art) to show off BJJ's superiority over all other forms of fighting in the early versions and events of the UFC. Since I had last stepped onto a BJJ mat, the art had continued its spectacular growth, with BJJ schools blossoming constantly all over the globe, with wave upon wave of new students eager to learn the building block of MMA, in what is now the fastest-growing sport in the world. Ten years on from my last attempt, I was rather stiffer, constantly mindful of my problematic knees, and struggled to complete even a series of tumbles and rolls. This time round however, losing or tapping wasn't a problem. Sure, there have been the occasional flares of anger, when nothing I've tried works out, but they quickly subside, far less apparent and with little real drive. A few months down the line, I find myself progressing faster than I an- ticipated and my body feels looser and more geared towards the art itself. Every move has a purpose; every hand reaching in to grab a limb is measured, calculated. It's as if something has finally clicked into place. I’ve never really appreciated clichéd get-up-and-get-em-by-golly pieces or speeches and yet here I am kinda writing one, about a martial art that takes a lot before it gives a little back. It can hurt you, both physically and mentally, but only if you allow it to do so. As with a lot of things in life, if you undertake a task in an unbalanced state, chances are that you'll struggle to fulfil it. Take a step back and allow yourself some breathing space however, remove yourself from that spot in your head where you constantly point out all your shortcomings and you'll be amazed by how much focus you can gain. If BJJ has taught me anything, it is that every step forward should be celebrated. Not in some lets-breakout-the-fireworks way, but a small clench of the fist will be fine. Of all the martial arts I have tentatively tried throughout my 40 years, BJJ is by far the hardest to stomach. Its ability to accentuate mistakes is remarkable, as is its tendency to drop you in the deep end faster than any other martial art I have encountered. And while those exact reasons are what eventually force so many people away from it, I find them to be just what anyone would need to keep going. We spend a very large slice of our lives being reminded of our mistakes. Our failures. Our disastrous choices. It seems like it's an aspect of life that bellows above all others, hunching us over and morphing us into something quite depressing, reacting to reminders of said mistakes like a badly-trained dog. Brazilian jiu-jitsu can slowly but steadily teach anyone that mistakes shouldn't be feared, shouldn't be the reason why cracks start appearing in our psyche. Instead, they should be embraced, provide a springboard which we can use to move forward, to evolve both physically and mentally. We're not perfect, nor should we be. In truth, our imperfections define us above all else. We owe it to ourselves to progress through them, not be shackled down by them. For me, that means stepping onto a BJJ mat. You should try it sometime.
24 December 2016
14 January 2017