I get beaten up. Choked. Submitted. Kneed in the ribs. My face and jaw gets crushed. It’s uncomfortable. Painful. Complicated. Fascinating. Intoxicating.
I love it.
I’m talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but I could be talking about any martial art.
Every time I train, I get reminded of how far I still have to go. I step onto the mat, warm up, drill, practice and spar. All with people who are better than me.
It’s unlike other arenas. In business, in education, the arts, in any other field, it’s easy to allow expertise to slip into arrogance. Not here.
The arrogant get beaten. The cocky get taken down a level. The aggressive are taught a lesson. Not in a sadistic way. But because arrogance and aggression don’t matter when the people you face are just better than you. They have zero impact on your ability.
In fact, BJJ is like the reverse of the real world. In the real world, braggadocio, arrogance and brashness are all rewarded. Bluffing and blustering can get you farther (at least early on) than quiet, intelligent work.
But, on the mat, if you try to act bigger than you actually are, the more experienced people just don’t hold back so much.
Being in that environment teaches a sort of humility that radiates into the rest of your life. For young men in particular, knowing that every week you’re going to learn from people who can easily control and submit you is one of the most remarkable things you can experience.
Humility can, of course, be faked.
In fact, humility is often worn as a badge of honour, as subtle way of asserting your superiority. The greatest are said to be the most humble, so by assuming an air of humility and modesty, you imply your own greatness. Humility gloats, “I’m good at what I do, but look how humble I am.”
You can’t fake humility in a martial art. You either are or you aren’t. It’s betrayed by your performance. By how you compete with others. By how you interact with your training partners. By the respect you show your instructors. You can’t hide it. Nothing can mask it’s presence or absence.
You might think you get the same benefits from a team sport. Not so. In team sports it’s easy to shift the blame for a win or loss to your teammates. After all, you’re all amateurs, the standard won’t be too high. You can only be as good as your team.
And it’s not just that. For some reason I can’t quite verbalise, other sports just aren’t as healthy for your mindset and ego. I think it has something to do with the fact that you physically experience your inferiority. You come to understand, on a visceral, even primal level, that there are people who are better than you.
Another positive of martial arts is this. How good you are is decided by one factor: your own dedication. That’s it.
The best are the most dedicated. The ones who are known for their absence of arrogance. They are first on the mats and the last to leave. They are the ones who practice the hardest. They are the ones who pay most attention.
The best are the ones who realise they could be so much better.
In the real world you can fake that belief. You can nod your head as you read these sentences. But in martial arts, you feel it physically and you have to demonstrate it in your conduct.
That’s why it’s good to get beaten up every week.