Life, Gratitude, and Jiu Jitsu


I hopped out of bed and headed downstairs this morning with a child-like grin on my face.  It just felt like a beautiful day.  In all honesty, I don’t always feel this way.  I, too, suffer from the occasional case of the Mondays.  But today felt special.

It started when I went to throw on my sweatpants.  As I reached down, the anticipated sharp pain in my lower back didn’t come.  Things got better when my left knee didn’t pop walking down the short flight of stairs.  Not even once.  I sat in the sunlight on the floor of my living room, crosslegged, with no pain in my hips.

What a great day to be alive.

Most mornings, my trek downstairs resembles an American Ninja Warrior: Retirement Home Edition tryout.  A symphony of creaks, cracks and pops erupts so loud I can’t be sure if it’s the floorboards or my ligaments.  Lower back pain coaxes me into an odd forward lean with shoulders flared back, like I’m about to chest bump an imaginary friend.  But this is only for the first twenty minutes or so.  “Hey Toots, have you seen my foam roller?”

To be clear, I am in no way complaining.  I don’t limp downstairs, stare melancholy out the window and curse the Jiu Jitsu Gods for my bumps and bruises.  That’d be absurd.  Instead, I thank them.  Instead of resentment, I am filled with gratitude, for each crack and pop is simply evidence of a great night of hard training.

I’m no Buddha, and I’m certainly no sage.  Clearly.  I wasn’t born with a propensity towards seeing the goodness in everything.  I was never one to be captivated by a flower, or enchanted by the wonder of human potential.  But I’m learning, and as always I’m learning the hard way: slowly and steadily through effort and experience.

In my defense, gratitude is seldom seen in the young.  Your youthful body was capable of so many amazing things, and you knew it.  You felt it.  You didn’t calculate, you just went.  Oftentimes without consequence.  But you couldn’t appreciate the beauty in it back then.  It’s the aches and ouches over time that taught you the meaning of gratitude.

“Without winter, spring wouldn’t seem so pleasant.”

They say the only people who don’t pray for good health are the healthy.  Think about that.  Are you ever as grateful for your health as the day after having the flu?  Only when you’ve been hurt can you can truly appreciate being healthy.  When you’ve been clumsy, you can truly appreciate skill.  When you’ve experienced discomfort and pain and strife, you can learn to appreciate life.

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” ~Socrates

It’s really a miracle that we’re here at all.  You’re just a big bag of meat and chemicals, neurons and electricity.  The fact that you can touch your hand to your nose right now is amazing.  It’s absolutely awe-inspiring.  So make it count.

I’d argue that if you have no regard for your physical health, you cannot possibly claim to have gratitude.  If the most physically demanding part of your day is the walk from your car to your cubicle, you’re missing the point.  There is a vast ocean of life you’re missing.  And I don’t mean exploring the Greek Islands on a Vespa, I mean existentially.

It’s been my journey through Jiu Jitsu that has opened my eyes to the impermanence and frailty of life, which in turn allows me to experience gratitude.  I’m grateful for my sore back, and I don’t mind when my knee pops.  These things remind me of how lucky I am to be able to train hard.  They allow me to truly appreciate my health, my ability, and my freedom.

Here’s a pro tip: abandon resentment.  Resentment is not only foolish, it’s inexcusable; especially when it comes to your mentors.  Don’t stand on the shoulders of giants and complain about the view.  For example:

“Oh, Ricardo Almeida, that devil!  He did this to me!  He shared this incredibly worthwhile and rewarding way of life with me, gave tirelessly of his deep knowledge and wisdom and now look!  My knee hurts.  I’m fit, happy, and fulfilled, and was welcomed into a legendary lineage of skill, but sometimes my knee hurts…”

It’s worth it to express your gratitude.  Let your mentors know how valuable they are to you.  Go above and beyond for your teammates.  Without those above, beside, and below you, you’d be nowhere.

Practice gratitude with the same determination with which you practice the armbar, and I can almost guarantee you a happy life.

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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