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. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 14-Exposure to Experts

I don't know about most people, but in the bulk of my adult life, I don't get exposure to true specialists...people who've devoted decades of their lives to learning their corner of the world. I think that comes from being disconnected from the arts since that's where you most frequently see the results of that kind of intense study. (The perils of a practical education)

I was reminded of this today though, while listening to Stephan Kesting interviewing Roy Dean. Dean has been training in martial arts since he was 16 years old (Kesting has a pretty deep background himself as evidenced by his line of questioning) and I found myself stopping what I was doing, just to absorb exactly how fluidly he spoke of the history of Aikido and Iaido. The ease with which he answered Kesting's questions on relationships between wrestling, Judo, BJJ and other arts only come with an understanding, not only of the art, but of the history of how that art flows through the humans that pass it along one to another.

These kinds of interviews can be easy to dismiss as planned or staged, but after some of the interviews I've done for GiFreak...Pedro Valente, Marcos DaMatta, Ryron Gracie, Draculino, I've come to think that that sort of response is simply the norm.

True expertise is one of the most authentic beauties of human existence...we absorb, we process, and then we birth more than we were given--and there are certain heights of that creation that come only after a life's been given over in dedication across decades of study.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 13-AMAZING People

So I have some unconventional things going on in my life/personality that makes running into people I can talk to for more than five minutes somewhat rare. Most of the people I connect with seem to be outliers of some sort...people that are hard to pin down. This, more than anything, has cemented for me the idea that BJJ attracts some special people.

So lately, seeing stuff like Meg's post on feminism, finding out comedian Jamie Kilstein trained, Julia's post on Internet behavior, visiting Cyborg's gym for an interview, running into an old training partner over the weekend, and having a vehicle with which to maintain contact with a very cool former pastor...I can't imagine what my life would be like without the amazing individuals BJJ has brought into it. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

I...LOVE...BJJ people.

Meg was one of the first blogs I started reading when I began training, and in all these years she's never disappointed. This though? I was giddy reading it, smiling the entire time.

BJJ, Women and Feminisms

It's a post on the problem of seeing Brazilian women as inherently more sexual than Anglo women and, well, it's just brilliant, scholarly, introspective, aware on both micro and macro levels, and obviously rooted in concern for the subject and humans involved. Megs rock. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 12-Awareness of Differences

OK...so Julia's about to lap me. 

It's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you're normal...that the world, while there are differences...is mostly comprised of people like you...and even if you cognitively know it isn't, it's still easy to behave and make decisions as if it were.

My cohort? Artsy, multi-racial, geeks who like travel/art/food/music, don't have children but do have the disposable income that comes with that. And that...is what's awesome about BJJ. I mentioned before that I don't REALLY have kids in my life, so having friends who have to regularly adjust schedules because of a sick daughter or miss a tournament because their husband needed to use the car...it gives me new (and more realistic) perspective on my own life, its struggles and its blessings.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

21 Days of Life Improvements from BJJ: Day 11-A Break from Consumption

My college boyfriend had a huge gripe with me that we just couldn't get past. He loved the Friday night movie-at-home ritual and unfortunately for him, he was dating a woman who has probably never in her life, sat through an entire film without trying to make practical use of the time. I would be either cooking or organizing something or folding laundry.

Friends have stopped recommending media to me because I just don't get around to watching it...Death Note, The Grandmaster, Sherlock...not even Benedict Cumberbatch's enchanting presence has been able to get me to sit still long enough to watch an entire film/series without "multitasking". I don't even watch any shows regularly (I blame heartbreak from Lost and The 4400). I'm just not a very good consumer when it comes to media. I'm not a very good consumer period, which I think, in the modern world, is a bit abnormal. Consumption is what we do here in the West...food, sex, entertainment...if you take a step back, we're always being encouraged to consume and reminded of how great consumption is.

One day, in an effort to more closely analyze what triggers food cravings for me, I started paying attention to how many times I ran across food suggestions in a day. It was horrible. Gas stations, commercials, billboards, store fronts, even my beloved Saveur...food...food and sex...sex and food and entertainment. I started to notice it all...the caucauphony of consumption we swim through every...single...day.

Jiu jitsu is a needed break from that. It's a break from consumption. I think that that's one of the reasons I believe BJJ should be a non-sexual space, just like I believe there shouldn't be buckets of fried chicken on the mats. We need a break. We need space. We need a reset from consumer orientation to producer orientation, and that requires a figuratively quiet, sterile environment.

The other day, I was reading about Janelle Monae's Wondaland Arts Society, a space dedicated to creative reflection and production, and no food is allowed (save cotton candy and wine). I think there's a reason for that. I'm really not sure if people can do both well simultaneously. It strikes me as akin to multitasking...we're only fooling ourselves into thinking we're doing more than one thing at a time. We're really just toggling between doing two things at a diminished capacity. Just a thought.

And now...an awesome video.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

21 Days: Day 10-A Different Self

I've developed this habit  of watching BJJ videos before bed. I was just watching the one below of this year's Rio Open and couldn't help but smirk at my current self. While training a martial art doesn't surprise me, I would have never seen myself in something as challenging as BJJ, and definitely not involved at the depth that I am. So yeah...that is awesome thing #10 BJJ has brought into my life. Flavor--that little surprise dash of emotional swings that keeps life interesting and allows you to be proud of yourself, and someone different than you would have imagined. There's something to be said for not being what you expected.

AAAAND...Julia has started her own 21 day pledge (and she's been way better at making it actually 21 days, as opposed to the 30 I'm pushing now:) Check it out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

21 Days: Day 9-INTJ Bonding

If you're unfamiliar with personality typing, check it out. It has its drawbacks, but it's amazingly accurate in understanding how people related to the world around them. It's based on four dichotomies and classifying people based on where they fall along them:

  • Extroversion/Introversion
  • Sensing/Intuition 
  • Thinking/Feeling
  • Judging/Perception

I'm an INTJ. We're the rarest of the types. The world tends to perceive us as strange and cold, and if you visit any forums dedicated to our type, or talk to one of us long enough, frustration with being misunderstood frequently comes up. Jiu jitsu though, has introduced me to another INTJ, BlackBeltInstructor. We tend to recognize each other quickly, and after a few conversations, I could smell the common ground. A brief summary... 

To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.

It's a bit strange...seeing someone who reacts to stress and boredom and attraction and uncertainty so frequently the same way that you do. It's a useful mirror though; sometimes a bit awkward, because on top of the way you learn to read each other through training together, you can also read each other's moods because they're your own. 

My best friend is an INTJ, and honestly, I don't think I've struck up a friendship with another one of us in years. It was a pretty cool surprise. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

21 Days: Day 8-Womanly Bonding

The idea that women all play the frenemies game is a nasty stereotype that I wish would go away (though I know it's true in many situations). Training BJJ has given me moments of bonding with other women of different backgrounds that, aside from some friends and family I've grown up with, I just wouldn't expect as an adult.

Just tonight, we sat between rounds, discussing how to deal with male moodiness (I swear men have hormonal cycles too), endurance in relationships and crazy family members. We've talked coping with periods while training, careers that haven't worked out, weight gain and ticking biological clocks.

And honestly, this isn't limited to real life. The women bloggers I've connected with have gifted me with some amazing conversations and much needed support in this world of BJJ. We're all incredibly different, but the connection happens regardless of demographic.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

21 Days: Day 7-Rediscovering Language

I love languages. When I was little, I always wanted to be one of those people who could speak multiple languages, but my time in French class seemed wasted, so I assumed they just weren't my thing.

Fast forward about two decades, and I found out I do have an aptitude for language...that is when I have lots of exposure. I can't just sit down with a vocab list and absorb (horrid memory). I have to interact. Making that effort to interact has put me in some strange, and educational situations. It takes people a few seconds of hearing me speak Spanish to realize I'm not native (about until I start tripping over conjugations)...what that means, is that I can just walk up to a Spanish speaker (who also speaks English) here in Florida, and instantly become a part of a different circle in their lives...usually until they realize I'm American. That's the funny thing about language...sharing a language implies a certain level of understanding and intimacy, and in Spanish, in a country where it is common, but still the language of the minority, I'm frequently rejected as an outsider. It's not like Chinese or Japanese, where I'm a novelty regardless of location and a few well pronounced words almost always earns instant fascination and camaraderie.

BJJ though, has created relationships where speaking Spanish is just the next natural step in genuine friendship...something beyond me forcing myself into a culture that's not my own. There is trust, so my efforts to communicate come from a desire to understand.

And then there's Portuguese. After the scars and lessons of completely failing at Japanese (joseigo...really?), I limited my studies to only the three most commonly spoken in the world and I was satisfied. But then came omoplatas and all things boa and I heard the mystery again. A strange one this time though, because, thanks to Portuguese sharing a linguistic parent with Spanish, spoken, I understand very little, though I read my instructor's FB messages to close friends and family with relative ease. Training BJJ has made me consider breaking my language vows...I mean...who knows what awesome tips I could be missing out on.