“We Lucky Few…” | Camaraderie in Jiu Jitsu


Our Academy was on South Broad Street in Trenton, with floor to ceiling windows lining the store front looking out onto the street.  We had MMA practice early Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  It was off-schedule, invite-only training for professional and amateur fighters.  Hard sparring rounds, clinch work off the wall, ground and pound drills… it was serious, intense and competitive training.

Having never really been a morning person, I’d be anxiously racing through backstreet shortcuts to get to the academy on time.  I’d find myself going over the list in my head of which world class fighter would most likely be knocking my head off my shoulders that day.

Pulling up to the academy, without fail, I’d be greeted by the same sight.  My teammate Chris Matakas would be standing in the giant window, face nearly pressed to the glass, grinning widely and joyously waving at me.  He undoubtedly got there a half hour early to stretch (after a morning hike, hour-long meditation, and journal entry that will most likely cure the collective existential crisis of our generation.)  He was so enthusiastically happy to see me pull in, even though about 8 minutes later I’d be punching, kicking and choking him.

The interesting thing is this: I had never known Chris in any other setting.  We didn’t go to high school together, we didn’t go to bars and socialize, we didn’t watch football together on Sundays.  Our friendship at that point was based solely on our interactions at the academy, yet he was already one of my dearest friends.  In fact, most of my closest friends these days are the guys I came up with in Jiu Jitsu.

These guys have intentionally caused me more discomfort and physical pain than anyone else on Earth, yet I consider them all to be my brothers.  I can guarantee you’d have a far deeper and richer friendship with a Jiu Jitsu buddy who tries feverishly to choke you than with the guy in your fantasy football league who brings the beer on draft day.

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~Heraclitus

We all wrestled with our friends and siblings when we were little kids, it’s one of the most natural and purest forms of play.  When and why does that stop?  Does it one day become simply unacceptable socially to tackle our friends in public and roll around in the grass?  With Jiu Jitsu, you get all the joy and developmental benefits of playing like a little kid while maintaining your super serious adult face.

I’ve noticed over the years that Jiu Jitsu buddies aren’t afraid or embarrassed to be more physical with each other.  It’s quite common for a couple of guys to hug after a tough training session, or even just to hug hello for that matter.  When I hang out with my teammates it’s almost a guarantee that one of us is getting double legged in public, without fear of sideways glances of disapproval from passers-by.

I’d argue that we were meant to have these types of relationships with each other.   There’s something satisfying- even rewarding– on a primal level about engaging in friendly, physical competition.   We weren’t designed to sit next to our friends playing video games.  We’re physical beings in a physical realm, so be physical.

For he today that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother.”

I’m getting married very soon, which means I recently had the pleasure of helping my lovely fiance (a very tough 3 stripe white belt) put together the seating chart.  What struck me is that my guests are nearly split equally between friends I’ve known my whole life, and my training partners.

It makes sense.  Our oldest friends are dear to us because of all the crazy and challenging experiences we’ve shared over the years.  We’ve grown together and supported each other.  Your oldest friends have your back.

And so do your training partners.  In your adult life, you’d be hard pressed to find a group of people who are more genuinely and openly concerned with your personal growth and achievement than your training partners.

What I realized is that I’ve experienced the same amount of “friendship” (joy, pain, support, respect, laughter, concern and growth) with my Jiu Jitsu friends as I did with my lifelong friends, but in half the time.  That is a direct result of the time we’ve shared on the mats.

We condense a lifetime of friendship into just a few years with our training partners.  The grind of daily training, the excitement and anxiety of competition, the highs of victory and the lows of defeat, the pursuit of mastery… it’s all shared with these people.  Our band of brothers.

author: Peter McHugh

Professor Pete McHugh is the owner and Lead Instructor of McHugh BJJ in Mt. laurel NJ. He is a black belt under BJJ & MMA legend Ricardo Almeida.


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