“A Ship is Safe in Harbor…”


“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for…”

I used to be hesitant to use this quote at the academy.  I was worried it would be misconstrued by our newest students and parents, that I encourage my students to disregard safety.  So to be clear, I’m not suggesting you go skin diving off of Seal Island in South Africa.  I’m urging you to brave the open waters of your life.  That may sound corny and cliche, but at the mature age of 31 I’m beginning to learn more and more that cliches are often spot on.

The harbor is where we feel safest.  The water is calm.  There is no threat of storms, or pirates, or giant vindictive white whales.  You can spend your days in the harbor and never butt up against a single inconvenience.  But your treasure awaits you on the open sea.  That’s where adventure lies, where opportunity and majesty are waiting to be found.  You get the point.

Everyone’s harbor is different.  It’s the place with the fewest variables, where we feel competent.  And this goes beyond your job.  It refers to your entire life.  When was the last time you were challenged?  Truly challenged.  When was the last time you braved the possibility of failure chasing down a dream?

For some, the metaphorical harbor is their couch.  For others, it’s half-guard.  I can relate this to Jiu Jitsu in a million ways.

Here’s one.

It’s too easy to stick to what you’re good at in Jiu Jitsu.  Once you experience a certain amount of success with a technique, it’s only natural to lean on it.  It becomes your go-to, your Jiu Jitsu identity.  For me, De la Riva guard became my home base, or “mission control” for the 10th Planet enthusiasts out there.  But a recent injury- a torn meniscus- has reminded me that the power of Jiu Jitsu lies in its difficulty, that embracing and overcoming challenges to constantly evolve is what creates lasting personal growth.

I’ve relied on flexibility and craftiness for some time, and now that I’m physically unable to make up for small technical mistakes, I’m forced to focus entirely on new techniques and strategy, and abandon my most effective ones.  I haven’t triangled someone in a month.  I’ve been embracing a whole new approach to training, and it’s been a blast.  I feel like a white belt again (Ok, maybe a purple belt…).

Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re back in the harbor.  This is why our mentors, peers and teammates are so crucial to our growth.

There have been times when I was certain I was pushing the pace in training, and that I was improving alongside my students.  I would boast to my friend Dante Rivera how hard I was training, and truly believe it.  But one training session with Professor Almeida immediately shatters this thought, and opens my eyes to the fact that my Jiu Jitsu is nowhere near where I’d like it to be.  This can be a tough lesson at times- mostly for the ego- but it’s crucial to progress.  And if we aren’t trying to grow, what are we doing?

We humans are an adaptive bunch.  It’s amazing how quickly we become accustomed to a new normal.  This is helpful in some instances, and hurtful in others.  We naturally adapt to new challenges and become comfortable in previously uncomfortable situations.  This is growth.

The goal is to use these new normals, or harbors, as a launching point to venture into the next stretch of open water.  It’s what you were designed to do.

Tags for this post

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.

Peter Liciaga

Great Article Professor! I always appreciate you sharing your insight. Oss!!


Good read, like the way you think.

Leave a reply