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A Game Like No Other
The Four Objectives of a Good Jiu-Jitsu.
Jiu-Jitsu is not just a grappling match on a mat; it is a dance of life itself, a nuanced philosophy and game of strength, style, grit, and community. It is a ‘loving of the struggle’.
The biggest key to true success is loving the struggle and not categorising necessary stepping stones as failure.
There are four yardsticks by which to measure success: the efficiency with which you ‘conquer’ your goals without breaking either the rules or harming your self in some way; the elegance that makes every move a poetic statement and every mistake a necessary stepping stone; the relationship with endurance that fuels your perseverance but also teaches you when to yield; and finally, the invisible thread of community that weaves it all together.
One: Efficiency and Cost.
The obvious visible yardstick and therefore objective of Jiu Jitsu is down to the 'who you can be tapped by', 'in which way' and 'what it will take'. It is about what that outcome will require across many different, complex and concurrent applications of effort and timing. There is the mental exertion, the psychological cost, the implication to our reputation, the level of discomfort and pain we are prepared to endure, for how long and to what point. There is the level of brutality and dirtiness we are prepared to err on the wrong side of. The questions as to what constitutes 'excess' is a matter of subtle degree and the line of what we feel is appropriate is an elastic tension between our ego and our ability which is not an absolute property, it is relative to our psychological and energy state and the relationship we have with our training partner and as well as the rest of the gym and coaching staff.
Another way of saying this is that it is a question of efficiency and gross return. In a competition a win is a win, a sweep is a sweep. On the mat in the real arena of the shared soul of the moment, the scoring is different and more relative. A win is still a win, but there is a mutual understanding that a pyrrhic victory is worth less than an efficient one and there can be a selective opinion of what constitutes excess and how much was too much.
The other, invisible yardstick and objective is exclusively about refinement and sophistication. Timing yet again is a key factor. A win is still a win, but among all wins there is a ranking, and the highest win is the one done both effectively and efficiently, in a way that starts to explain itself better actually, in the language of dance or yoga. Achievement by this yardstick always looks like elegance from the outside and feels like flow from the inside. Flow is simply expression and articulation unencumbered by resistance and external disruption.
The third yardstick and objective is tied to a different scale of time. It is less about the paradox of tenacity on the mat, which is all about the necessary tension between defiance and yielding, It is about the different kinds of endurance, tenacity and staying power required over a career rather than the piss and vinegar of the moment. People who struggle and still keep showing up, earn their own kind of respect and esteem. We marvel at the prodigy who climbs belts quickly, but we have a whole different class of admiration and deep respect for the one to whom none of it came easy. Not everyone has access to the fortunes of the prodigy, so although it is impressive, it can be falsely valued insofar as we have a shared sense that somehow what we consider to be impressive is not what we consider to be necessarily ‘noble’. We cannot all be impressive, but we can all strive for ‘nobility’.
This long-term tenacity is a very tricky virtue too, because it can easily succumb to its shadow expression which is the kind of endurance that results in a form of self-abuse and self-neglect, a taking of the body and our blessings of wellness for granted. The paradox of endurance is the tension between the virtue of resilience and the channelling of the spirit of defiance on the one hand and the sense of appreciation of the relationship between the costs of the gifts on the other.
When we get this balance wrong, there can be a kind of abuse going on, perpetrated by either neglect or ignorance or both. Real humility is not grinding your body into life-long impairment we sometimes humble-brag about. Real humility is putting the ‘care needs’ of your body and long-term wellness ahead of the part of endurance that claims ‘virtue credits’ for perseverance, which can be a kind of ego-preening. Even if you are prepared to pay that cost, younger players are watching you and normalising self-disregard as a model of character.
The last invisible yardstick is something that isn't usually included, but that I feel should be added to the whole of what we consider meaningful: does someone else enjoy or appreciate training with me? Enjoyment and appreciation are not mutually exclusive
Do I play the game for my own ego, or to honour the spirit of the game and be of genuine service to the game by being of service to other players as much as to myself.
Am I giving back, maybe not as much or to the same kind as I take, but at least in some way? Am I aware enough of what I receive to appreciate it enough to answer the previous question well?
Am I the training partner or teacher I would want to be the best version of me, and am I the training partner or teacher I would want if our circumstances and situations were reversed?
How do you Play the Game?
The game has people who either identify as or embody different roles: spectator, critic, pioneer, competitor, contender, try-hard, student of the game, leader; something we don’t always do consciously. Naturally we can be many things at the same time to different people and at different times of our careers.
Jiu-Jitsu truly is a game like no other, but the actual meaning of the title of this article, is that there is a way we can play the game of Life. In our pursuit of success and actualisation, across any and all kinds of relationships where there is a giving and a receiving going on, there is a way to play that game for higher order of reward, to a minimisation of avoidable regret, and an optimisation of our sense of reward and legacy. This is the game like no other. It requires self-awareness, self-examination, and radical honesty.
Who might we hold the door for in jiu-jitsu or any other chosen fields of noble contention, be that our career or our relationships, or our calling, where we can open a way for others by how we conduct ourselves, by how we show up, by the level of appreciation we can show for the blessings, the skills and talents we have. Leadership is not only about standing out front, it is simply the spirit of service we integrate into our lives as the only sane response to true gratitude and the only mature appreciation of our gifts and blessings.
Jiu-jitsu is the perfect metaphor for this way of choosing discomfort, self-examination and effort in service of growth and actualisation. It is therefore also the perfect word to lend itself to a style of endeavour, where we frame the enterprise as a game, where the aim is to unlearn habits that do not serve us and replace them with ones that do, and what is more, to keep fit and keep refining them forever. This changes our relationship to failure and struggle.
The thing is comparison is not only the thief of joy, it is also a poor gauge of success. Success is the efficiency of the game by simplistic obvious metrics, but it is also the regulation of your nervous system to the rigours of the game which we call self-mastery. It is also the level of sophistication we play the game with and the level of discernment and appreciation we have for different costs, returns and benefits. Equally, true success is also about the prudent application of endurance and tenacity where later avoidable costs don't translate into regrets which can take the shine off the success. Finally success is the prosperity of the player and their community.
Prosperity is not just wealth; Wealth is just a common means to an end. The actual end is wellness, means, connection, and meaning.
The first objective of 'a good Jiu-Jitsu' is about balancing effort, mental strain, and ethical considerations to achieve efficient wins. Winning isn't just about overpowering your opponents and obstacles; it's about doing so in a way that respects both your own and your opponent's physical and psychological well-being.
The second objective is about the artistry and flow in the ‘game’. A win is more admirable if executed with finesse and elegance, almost akin to a form of dance or yoga. The goal is not just effectiveness but also a sense of flow and refinement.
The third objective focuses on long-term tenacity and resilience. Earning respect in the game is not just about quick wins but also about long-term commitment and ethical self-care. It's about balancing the drive to endure with a healthy respect for one's body and well-being.
The final objective considers the broader community. Success isn't just personal; it's about being a good training partner and contributing to the community. Are you someone others enjoy training with? Are you giving back and appreciating the benefits you receive?
Pictured above is my friend Lawrence Dunning, a player of the game at both levels, photo credit to Mike Anderson.