When we say goodbye (An ode to my gym)

The mats were blue. They were long enough to fit at least seven forward rolls during warmups, wide enough to fit five pairs for footsweep drills, though someone always ended up swerving last minute, either to avoid the pair next to them or the soft spots between the mats.

On Saturdays, sometimes six pairs could fit for rolling, with a corner coned off for drilling, and a rope laid down to mark the space for those practicing Muay Thai. “Don’t get too close to Muay Thai land,” was the caution if you didn’t want an errant knee to your head.

The mats were chilly in the winter, slippery in the summer. Enough give for us to dive recklessly, enough resistance to make us think twice, but still try again.

(When we say goodbye, the mat is damp, clean, shining in the sunlight.)

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Fear of forgetting (When we return to BJJ)

‘Will I remember,’ I wondered in the middle of a butterfly sweep, legs lifting an invisible partner, ‘Will I remember what to do when we’re all back on the mat?’

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2020 was supposed to be a big year. I had gotten promoted near the end of 2019 and the tug of competition had grown more insistent at the turn of the decade.

Injury kept me from the first competition of 2020. Part of me regrets not participating in spite of it.

Who knows when the next one will be now.

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The best part of your gym (The Importance of You, Again)

“We want this place to be the best part of your day.” It was the smile on my professor’s face that made me believe he was speaking from his heart.

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Last week, the world lost one of my coworkers: a hard-working, pup-loving young man whose life had been cut short just when we started to know the best of him.

It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at my job.

We were allowed to leave early and I eventually did late in the afternoon, bright-eyed and dazed. At home, the only thing I could do was sit on the couch and stare at the wall.

A notification on my phone broke through the darkness. It was my reminder for BJJ class.

My body moved on autopilot. Somehow, I had made it to the gym. But it wasn’t until I was walking back home that I realized I’d been able to do normal things for a while – and not think about his passing.

I remember pausing in the middle of the sidewalk, overwhelmed with gratitude.

‘How lucky am I,’ I had thought to myself while staring up at the moon with watery eyes, ‘To have a place to go to in a time like this.’

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Promotion

Been a while!  I’m thinking of changing the format for this into shorter “thought posts,” hopefully to be published every week or so.  Feel free to give feedback in the comments!

Promotion is a curious word.  I wonder if it was a conscious choice to use the word in regards to going up in the ranks.

A quick Google search gives two definitions.  The second definition is the raising to a higher position, but it’s the first definition that makes me curious.

Google definitions

Google definitions “promotion”

BJJ is a community, and I’ve always been of the mindset that you can’t roll alone. So if we take this first definition of “promotion,” it’s not just for the sake of the person being promoted – it’s also for the sake of others not getting promoted (giving them encouragement and goals), for the community within the school (to bring people together in recognizing each other’s efforts), and the community outside the school as well (giving others a glimpse into life within the school and even encourage others to join).  

Regardless of whether or not “promotion” was a conscious or unconscious choice of words, I think its continued use speaks volumes about the intricacies of the art…

BJJ-J: Learning Japanese Through BJJ — 胸を借りる

柔術

Learning Japanese Through BJJ

胸を借りる

While preparing for a competition, one of my coworkers said the above phrase to me in Japanese (むねをかりる, mune o kariru).  The literal translation is “to borrow one’s chest” – which had me confused to say the least.

The phrase apparently originates from sumo and is said to a superior for having “the honor of training with them.” Further research revealed that it’s only said by a person of lower ranking to one of higher ranking, (後輩) kouhai to (先輩) sempai, and never the other way around.  It’s also used in baseball (野球, yakyuu) and other sports.

To me, I think this phrase is quite appropriate in BJJ.  After all, every BJJ practitioner knows that you can’t learn BJJ by yourself.  We must always “borrow someone’s chest” in order to train.

Let’s look closer at the words in this phrase.  Usually  (むね, mune) is translated as “chest,” a physical source of power and pressure. But 胸 can also refer to one’s “heart” and “feelings.”

In this way, 胸 refers to both the physical and spiritual aspects of a person — those things that makes a person a person and not some piece of driftwood or any old inflatable training dummy.  Your partner, whether they be kouhai or sempai, are physical beings and emotional beings, capable of great strength but also with the capability of becoming injured; full of passion and feelings just like you.

The most important part of this phrase, however, is the verb 借りる. It is usually translated as “to borrow,” which is a very different way of looking at sparring.

Despite what we may say to others, there’s always a part of us that is comparing ourselves to our partners. Often times, we fall into the trap of using our partners for our own ends, as goal posts for our own journey.

This phrase suggests a drastic alternative from this way of thinking. Instead of trying to pit your will, or your “chest” against your partner, this phrase instead recommends borrowing – using that other person’s “chest” with the intention of returning it.

Think of your gym as a library and each person you roll with a book in that library.  In a good library, books are taken care of when they are checked out for a roll and rotate around to as many people as possible.

Because what’s unique about this BJJ library is that each book changes every time they are checked out and read, or rolled with. Ever reread a favorite book from childhood and discovered even more things to love about it since growing up?  That’s the same thing that happens with each book, each person, as they learn more about BJJ.

This brings us back to how you learn BJJ.  We’re on the mats to beat our chests to try and scare off our partners, nor are we trying to beat and crush our partners’ chests as we train. We are borrowing from each other, learning from each other, expanding the library that is BJJ.