A Note on Peace from a BJJ Black Belt


Tis the season.  The season of giving, of caring, and of shouting obscenities through your windshield when some bastard cuts you off in traffic.

Around Christmas, you can feel a slight shift.  You’ll notice different language being used on Social Media, you’ll see jollier memes.  People seem to be a little friendlier and more forgiving.  That guy in the trucker hat holds the door at Wawa less begrudgingly.  Peace on Earth seems a bit less far-fetched.  For a day or two.

But it’s like this year round in a Jiu Jitsu academy.  In a good one at least.  You’ll find some of the toughest, grittiest, and kindest people on the mat.  There seems to be a direct correlation between severity of cauliflower ear and compassion.

Jiu Jitsu guys are notoriously laid back. My wife often accuses me of “him-hawing,” and driving like an old man.  My stance is: what’s the rush? And why are you talking like a Depression-era farmer?  There’s a time to hurry, and it isn’t on the highway or at Whole Foods. Usually it’s when I’ve just taken the back and Gallagher hasn’t tucked his chin yet.

Once you’ve been on the receiving end of an 8 minute beat down from the likes of a Professor Brian Walter- RABJJ’s soft-spoken and grinning Silverback- an extra 30 seconds in traffic doesn’t seem so bad.  Consistent, tough training makes you more human.  It opens your eyes to the fact that you’re far more fragile than you foolishly thought at 19.  You become more patient, more empathetic, more compassionate.

The funny thing about the toughest guys is that they’re most often the nicest.  Go anywhere with UFC veteran Dante Rivera and you’ll see him shaking hands and kissing babies like he’s the Duke of Swirl from Candyland.  There’s a certain calm and confidence that comes with knowing that you can fight.  More importantly, you’re lacking the ego-driven insecurities that provoke most altercations in the first place.  You’ve got nothing to prove.

(It’s important to note, however, that these same laid back badasses will spike you like a football shall the need arise.)  

The holidays always help us to see other people as more than just supporting cast in the movie of our lives.  And in the fleeting moments of Joy and Peace brought on by the Yuletide, we promise ourselves we’ll hold onto it.  That come January 2nd, we’ll strive to be more empathetic year-round, that we’ll call our grandma every week.

But compassion is like a muscle, it needs to be exercised.  In Jiu Jitsu, your individual success and progress relies almost entirely on your teammates.  They’re the stand to your Christmas tree (yup). And it’s a trickle down cultural economy, so even the 21 year old knucklehead who doesn’t comprehend empathy learns to row the boat in the right direction.  Fake it ’til you make it, monkey-see-monkey-do until it sinks in.  Enlightenment through osmosis.

So this holiday season- and beyond- be like a Jiu Jitsu guy (or girl!).  Be compassionate and empathetic, for everyone you meet is fighting their own battles- like a popped rib or staph.  Forgive people’s shortcomings, not everyone can berimbolo.  Be grateful, for both your teammates and your own abilities.

And treat yourself to that new pair of spats with the unicorn on it.  It’s Christmas after all, and you’ve been killing it in no-gi.

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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