Tuesday, March 4, 2014

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 20

Victory without winning

Emotions without words

Physical intimacy without sex

Feminine energy beyond availability or absence.

Attraction beyond beauty

Achievement without grade and progress without promise 

Male tenderness...

Pain without animosity

Understanding without speech 

Education without books

Connection without class

Growth beyond a plan

exhaustion without futility

Saturday, December 14, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 19-Membership in a Supportive Fitness Community

Training BJJ has brought me into contact with a community that I was pretty sheltered from for a very long time--the fitness community. I won't lie...it hasn't really been a positive exposure. Of course, there's an emphasis on physical health, and that's important, but in all honesty, what I've seen is a culture that focuses on a very narrow aesthetic and encourages a level of personal self interest that reminds me too much of executive/acquisition culture.

I'll admit that I could have been biased as an outsider, or just misunderstood what was being paraded in front of my face, however, considering the frequency with which I see the terms "hater" and accusations of jealousy or unattractiveness tossed about...I'm thinking I wasn't 100% wrong to question the motives of some of the voices I'd heard. I was reminded of this during the recent hullabaloo over the two new mom photos that have been flying 'round the 'net over the past few weeks.  


I honestly only have beef with the situation connected with the photo on the right, and that's only because of the words chosen to go with the image. It was an interesting debate to watch...supporters praising Maria Kang's physique (which is admirable), detractors condemning the wording. Watching the two groups talk past each other day after day, something hit me...motivation is about as varied as body types and people either don't, or don't want to get (and implement) that. What one person sees as a motivational "What's your excuse?" another will see as condemnation. Not too difficult to apply one on one...negligent to ignore when posting in open forums like the internet.

I wrote on how much I dislike this type of "motivation" a while back. I loathe pretty much all inspiration porn...I have yet to run into anything with the wording "what's your excuse?" that didn't make my skin crawl over its crass and lazy over-simplification. The image below and the story of Oscar Pistorius is a great example.


Phillipa Willits said something about the photo that I think is highly applicable to the image of Maria Kang regarding oversimplification of the subject and hamfisting of the audience. I switched out a couple of phrases to see what difference it would make in context.

 It does not matter who the people in these photographs are, as long as their representation is enough to guilt non-disabled (aesthetically unappealing) people into action. Their use of prosthetics (having given birth) is the only thing about them that is of interest in these images, and it automatically turns them into some kind of superhero. Along with the captions, the implication is supposed to be, “Wow, they have a great attitude!”.

Having children isn't a disability, but based on the amount of discussion from new mothers on how they work to reclaim their previous physiques and how much raving has gone on over these two new moms, I'm going to go ahead and accept that we expect a certain level of aesthetic loss to come with motherhood, and that the two moms-in-question, have bucked the stereotype and "risen above" post-pregnancy bodies with their determination and lack of excuses. The difference in this case though, is that the losing party is not represented in the image, but instead embodied in the audiece...Shark Girl pointed this out well:

"Not only does it reduce a person to their disability, it also doesn't address the target audience's reality."

The whole thing makes me deeply thankful for BJJ (and the people in it), which still boasts an over-arching culture that is genuinely for everybody. That's not an easy thing to keep up. BJJ somehow maintains an environment that praises gas over defined abs, technique over body-fat% and personal progress over standardized end results. Of course there are bad apples, but I say this as a person who will likely always feel at least a little unathletic...even when I've felt my most uncoordinated and out of shape, I've always felt an undercurrent of acceptance in my training. Part of that is due to our bulky uniforms (gis are some serious body equalizers), but the most important reason is the willingness of most practitioners to take people where they are, and help them to through their goals. That environment right there, I believe, is the foundation of spreading a meaningful culture of fitness. When I start eating badly, all it takes is a night of training and spending time around other people who are also working to optimize themselves to motivate (not inspire...I'm not a very aspirational person) me to do better.

Some people, I honestly think most people, especially ones who don't have a history of being concerned about their physical health, need a community that will allow them to come as they are, fail when they do and not be condemned for either...not even under the guise of motivation.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 18-A Look Into a Future

The world can be saddening when you look at it. I don't mean death or famine or disease...those things bring about sadness, but their origins are, for the most part, natural. I got a real, but still somewhat detached reminder of this from my best friend who saw a man yesterday, shot and scared, in his last moments of life.

"Gosh. We really live on a clock. And sadly humans are the ones often stopping that clock for other humans" she tweeted.

Everything from war to racism to transphobia to verbal abuse, I genuinely believe, root themselves in stripping individuals, people, groups and cultures of their inherent, and easily apparent humanity. We all have a lot of words and ways to relate it, but the aggressors, at the end of the day lack empathy.

Empathy...true empathy...not just feeling bad when you see a starving child or sharing a post about the wrongs of racism, is a layered thing. It means you not only see the feelings of others...you not only experience the feelings of others...but that you then value those feelings. It terrifies me sometimes to see how long that road is for so many people and often nudges me deeper toward my natural cynicism.

I see jiu jitsu though. I see it force people to feel the humanity in others, even if only briefly, even if only in an effort to avoid tapping out, and it nudges me back. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 17-Helping my Father Age

A stoic and broad shouldered 6'5" (197 cm), you wouldn't expect that my father is more emotionally expressive than your average Southern American Black man. Sensitive though he may be, his feelings are largely filtered through the lens of sports. He, like most of his brothers and some nephews, was an athlete. At most my family boasts a CBA player but athletics are a big deal on that side...so many of the lessons he taught me, were related through the language of sports (even if I wasn't the one playing...because I SO didn't take well to athletics).

My father is also an aging athlete. He's struggled with this since his 40s. Where he was once nimble and powerful, he now finds his body slow and less responsive. He still looks back fondly on his days on the basketball courts in high school and college. While he had never said it, I began to see how he missed the strength and agility of his old, young body.

He expressed that to me outright once I started training BJJ. In my hydration issues, tight hamstrings and exhaustion, he saw his memories. He saw himself. After a few rounds of tips on breathing, mental focus and not going soft on people, he finally told me of the pain high-performing athletes go through as they age--how they wish for glimpses of their days of glory--how he watches his old teammates delude themselves about their current abilities.

Jiu jitsu was incredibly hard for me at first. I am coordinated, but I don't move very well. Ginastica has helped recently, but before I got over the fear that GinasticaInstructor's class inspired in me, I looked to Scott Sonnon for help. In Mr. Sonnon's collection of movement development material, I found a simple DVD aimed toward maintaining mobility as you age. I gave it to my father one Christmas.

Six weeks later, he came to me, eyes welled up with tears, and said "You never...have to get me another gift again." I noticed the hitch in his gait, the one that chiropractors and podiatrists were unable to treat, was greatly reduced. He glowed with energy as he learned that he could recover just a bit of his lost self. He started telling his friends.

To this day he boasts of the woman at his church who no longer uses a cane because of what he showed her, and another woman, who went from a sedentary lifestyle, to jogging every day because of his motivation. In taming some of his fears of aging, my father has become a missionary of movement, and I have jiu jitsu to thank. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 16-A Bittersweet Taste of Reality

If BJJ had a flag, it would be flying at half mast right now.

The Schultz/Maldonado trial is wrapping up. The fact that it happened is bad enough. The results that are coming down are sickening, but what I find most disheartening...and heartening honestly, is the reactions. BJJ has a tendency to lean toward the positive, which is awesome and amazing, but in all the camaraderie and focus on the happy things in life, some realities can be easy to forget.

I was reminded today, watching a man, on Facebook, defend his actions...not lie...not say everyone was mistaken, but declare that those actions, which were at best, complete disregard (and possible active contempt) for a teammate...were innocent because they weren't found to be wrong in court. There are few things that give me chills like people who consider the law to be the ultimate moral authority. As sickening as that was to watch, right now, I'm bracing myself for watching the regular guys...very much the minority, but still guys we all train with...defend the indefensible. I'm bracing myself to watch the evil next door.

Watching the reactions in and of itself and accepting, tiring though both may be, is good. I'm reminded of the time, when I was 15, and the guy I had a massive crush on showed up on the local news. He was always well dressed, well spoken, smart and polite. He was less so after being arrested for raping, murdering and dismembering a woman. That moment changed the way I saw evil as distant or "othered".

I don't believe that all life improvement needs to feel warm and snuggley, or even interesting and enlightening...or even personal. Sometimes an improvement is just the beauty of seeing the truth of some of the ugliness of humanity.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 15-An MBA Outlet

Since I was young, I've had beef with the concept of "business". I always envisioned people in shiny suits, exploiting the customer, worker, and society at large at every chance they got. (To be honest, my real-life experiences haven't completely disproved that perspective.)

Somehow though, being the practical INTJ that I am, I managed to convince myself that an MBA might be a good idea. I enrolled myself in some intro classes that a local university was offering to students who hadn't yet taken the GMAT. All graduate level students in the college of business had to take them and I found myself sitting with accountants, CFOs, former stock brokers, entrepreneurs and kids fresh out of undergrad. On Fridays, I drove to the other end of the county to listen to talks from executives in various industries talk frankly about their lives and experiences in the business world. I fell in love with the whole thing and looked forward to the classes, even after long drives and a full day's work. The focus, as well as the classes, was global and addressed business as very much a function and reflection of humanity. Even through brutal finance classes (NOT my strength), I still felt a burning drive to learn more about what business really was and how it could serve humanity.

As much as I loved the study though, there was still a disconnect in my work life. See...there's BUSINESS, and then there's a career. Sure, playing with pivot tables and Gantt charts carried over, but for the most part, I longed for the discussions of game theory and deeper analysis of Hofstede's cultural dimensions. I wanted to talk more about labor movements in China and tuna fisheries in Myanmar.

BJJ has given me the opportunity to look at a young industry, still finding its footing, still working through all the rough edges and loose ends that are to be expected. It's allowed me to not only see business, but watch and experience, acutely and personally, what business means in the lives of individuals. Writing on business in BJJ has been awesome, and allowed me to explore some of the topics I feared would be lost to me after finishing school.