An interesting thing happened at the academy the other night.
Chris (a teenaged and formerly ultra-shy blue belt) fiercely challenged Mike Gallagher (hammer wielding, double gold winning Tasmanian Devil) to a roll. Those who witnessed Chris’ start in Jiu Jitsu would agree that this in itself is noteworthy.
Gallagher quickly went on the offensive with his characteristic aggression, only to be countered by the deceptively savvy and at times inverted Chris. This was met by ooh’s, ah’s and cheers from the onlookers- myself included- who had all stopped mid-roll to watch. Our resident Terminator Dom even managed a few words of encouragement from beneath my side control, oblivious to the crushing shoulder pressure as always.
A minute in and Chris hits his first submission on Gallagher, a belly-down armbar. The crowd erupts.
From the outside looking in, this scene would undoubtedly be misunderstood. How could an entire room of students cheer so wholeheartedly for one to submit the other? Isn’t this disrespectful? And why are these crazy people smiling after getting choked by each other? Because they all trust each other, and have formed a bond seldom found off the mats. They were beaming with pride, having witnessed the immense effort Chris has put forth, and know the obstacles he’s overcome.
To be clear, I run a tight ship. My students are well aware that I expect a disciplined, respectful training environment. Lounging on the mat and excessive chatting are met by sideways glances that my guys know to mean shape up. But the moment called for something different, and the team collectively understood that. It was powerful.
Chris came to us a quiet, passive and somewhat “inactive” 15 year old. I affectionately nicknamed him Beartrap due to the frequency with which his training partners were mildly injured by his clumsiness. An accidental elbow here, some misplaced body weight there. Keep in mind back then he had to maneuver an extra 40 pounds.
That person is long gone. Countless hours of disciplined effort on the mat, surrounded by peers and mentors who genuinely care for his progress have brought about an amazing transformation.
And his story, though inspiring, is not uncommon in Jiu Jitsu.
Over time, you learn to recognize your classmates for what they truly are: an invaluable resource, oftentimes as invested in your growth as they are their own. Intense training sessions are the crucibles which form an unshakable trust. Classmates become teammates. It cannot be forced or faked. It will happen naturally and without fail.
It’s this trust that allows a group of teammates to train at 100% intensity without fear of injury, or embarrassment. It’s why there are no hard feelings, or animosity. It’s why we can shower Chris with raucous applause without his training partner feeling like the heel.
Gallagher gladly played the role that night. Though he was giving Chris his all, I bet he was hoping to get caught.