“Can you breathe?”
“Then, don’t panic.”
I pushed through the door to my kitchen this evening, holding a sweat-soaked gi. I could barely move my shoulder, and my hand was trembling.
The kids were doing homework, and my wife was sweeping the floor.
“Your head is bleeding,” she said.
I was too fatigued to be surprised or respond, so I looked in the bathroom mirror. I stared at my reflection and smiled.
My eyes were red from sweat, a mat burn streaked across my forehead, and twenty minutes after my session was over, I was still breathing hard.
But behind all of the baggage, something radiated. The puffiness in my face was starting to melt away, and my skin looked hearty. I felt warmth in my muscles.
It was only my fifth class.
For the past few months, I have watched my ten-year-old son learn jiu-jitsu. It’s impressive to watch him develop. He’s the smallest kid in his class, but you wouldn’t know that seeing him on the mat. He attacks fearlessly, never seeming out of control. He’s had his share of losses and emotional breakdowns, but those episodes are becoming fewer. He can always find something he has done well, something to learn, some opponent he wants to beat, next time.
He loves his coaches; he talks about them all the time. I’m so grateful for them. Coach Jay, Coach Matt, and Mr. Magao can push Mike in a way I cannot. It’s invaluable to have mentors such as these.
They teach respect for himself, his opponents, and the study of martial arts.
Because really, what do we hold sacred anymore? What ritual or right of passage exists in our society? What do kids earn these days? The tip of Mike’s belt has three stripes of athletic tape on it now. They call his name, he bows to his coaches, the class claps for him, and he beams at me through the window. He’s earned those stripes.
The ceremony takes seconds. It’s simple and moving, and in the end, a thin piece of athletic tape transcends its purpose.
My son’s first love is basketball, Fortnite and Star Wars are never far from his mind, and he still calls for me when he’s scared at night, but undoubtedly something inside of him has changed. He makes better decisions and speaks with confidence. I believe jiu-jitsu has a great deal to do with his metamorphosis.
Rob, the owner of Bushido Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Manchester and Hebron, CT, stood next to me at one of Mike’s classes. We watched both of our sons on the mat.
“When are we gonna get you out there?” he asked.
A short discussion later, I agreed to try it.
My first day was weird. I stood there in sweatpants and a tee-shirt surrounded by men and women of all ages in gis and belts of various colors.
I had that feeling I get whenever I start something new. I’m too old, too out of shape, and too fat to be here. I’m going to make an ass of myself.
The three-minute warm-up had me gasping for breath. We started to get into the technical stuff, and a large man immediately approached me.
All my fears were about to be realized.
Without hesitation, he took me under his wing. The next ninety minutes flew by. I left there more tired and more full of energy than I had felt in twenty years. I was encouraged and coached with every step.
The people there are always laughing and busting on each other. It made me feel part of something, like a team or a family.
A week later, I had my gi. The jacket doesn’t quite close, and the pants are desperate to untie, but I don’t care.
An initiation has occurred.
It’s tough, it’s painful, at times it’s uncomfortable, but I leave there feeling purified. It’s impossible to think about work or money or stress when someone is trying to make you tap.
So, I wear those burns and bruises as a badge of honor. The pain is a sacrifice I make to my soul. The shoulder will heal; my breath will return; my health will improve; my mind will quiet.
That guy was right.
“Can you breathe?”
“Then, don’t panic.”
How many hours have I wasted living in fear on the brink of panic? Am I in the right career? Am I fulfilling my true purpose in life? Who am I?
Jiu-jitsu has taught me to embrace my fear. Wait, think, slow your mind, and an opening may appear. If you can make it for ninety minutes on the mat, you’ve proven something to yourself.
You can endure.
After Monday’s class, I leaned against the arm of my couch with an ice pack on my shoulder. My son walked over to me.
“So, dad, you think you’re gonna keep going to jiu-jitsu?”
“Yeah, Mike, I think I am.”
“Good, that makes me happy.”
“Oh yeah? How come?”
“‘Cause now, we can do this together.”
Owner Spowerks LLC
“Let your imagination set you free.”