Reading this very good post by Rob Pendergrass got me thinking about why I got started training — and why I continue to train BJJ. Rob is a black belt under Gustavo Machado. He and his twin brother Guy run Pendergrass Academy in Wake Forest, and his take on things is well worth reading.
Personally, I’ve always thought that the self-defense vs. sport jiu-jitsu division was a largely false and artificial one. To me, jiu-jitsu is a complete system, and if you want to really learn it, you have to train both.
People start training for different reasons. Once we start training, we also develop different emphases given the lives we lead: some people love competing at tournaments; some people have jobs that put a premium on self-defense; some people are just looking for a good workout.
All these people keep training, despite the fact that they’re looking for different things. Why is this?
I have two answers. The first is that jiu-jitsu can deliver all of those things, and deliver them at the same time. Many of us wish we had unlimited time to train, because if we did, we could improve at all of the different aspects of the art simultaneously. The reality is we don’t. But no matter what your main focus is, training the right way lays a powerful foundation for future growth. Getting the basics down just highlights how much more there is to learn, too, so it stays interesting.
The second answer is a little broader, but it might even be more important. When you train, you’re a part of something.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a relatively young art. In many ways, this is a gift. You can see the direct progression from the founders and innovators, down to your instructor, and from there on down to you.
I got to thinking about lineage, and as a quick gift for my instructor, I made a visual representation of his. I liked how it looked, so I made one for me and for a couple of teammates:
Looking at these images, it hit me: what keeps me coming back is that I’m a part of something. Looking back at the mighty shoulders on which I stand really drove that home, that jiu-jitsu isn’t just an art, but a privilege. When you train jiu-jitsu, you’re not just getting a series of benefits, you’re taking on the responsibility of representing those that came before you, and representing them well.
I like competing at tournaments, and being successful, but that’s not enough for me. I like learning self-defense, but that isn’t enough for me either. I want to be a part of something.
And I am, and so are you.