I don’t know you, but if you are here reading this letter, you are probably at least somewhat curious about BJJ and maybe considering training.
This letter is for you, and I hope that you will read it. Technically, this letter is actually to me, to the “me” of just over two years ago, but I want you to consider that this letter could just as easily have been written by you, about two years from now. I hope you will continue reading.
You don’t know it yet, because right now you are just staring at that business card you picked up in your favorite Mexican restaurant, but that card in your hand is very important. It says Gracie Jiu-Jitsu on it. You have been staring at it for about an hour. Your food is getting cold.
Since the divorce, this has been your routine: Take a long lunch alone to escape the office, eat way too much and wonder how in the hell you ended up in such a strange place. Fat and unhappy. Sleep apnea. Cigarettes. If you have 3-4 beers really fast before bed, you won’t remember your dreams, and that is a really good thing these days. Melatonin doesn’t work anymore. Your dreams are never good these days.
No, you are staring at that card because the logo on it reminds you of a time in your life long past. It reminds you of Before. Before you stopped doing martial arts so you could finish up school, before the stress of a bad relationship that turned into a bad marriage that turned into a gut wrenching divorce.
Before you were self-medicating with food and alcohol.
You remember watching the first UFC. Those crazy guys beating the hell out of each other. You remember that one small guy in a karate gi (you will learn differently later) climb and strangle and eventually topple all of those super scary guys who look like they came out of the womb with brass knuckles on. You got picked on a lot as a kid, and seeing that tiny guy defeat those giants, that is something you never ever forgot.
You remember David in a gi, killing all of those goliaths.
Tonight you are going to call the number on that card. And later this week you are going to come in for your first BJJ class. It is going to eventually be the best thing you ever did for yourself, in your entire life.
But you will have to get past the beginning first.
I’d love to tell you that you are going to become super close with this instructor, that he will be your Mr. Miyagi and help you through all this crazy shit. I’d love to tell you that, but it’s not true. He will have his own demons left over from the war. You will discover this before too long.
You will go train at that little Gracie start up school, and it’s going to be run by a blue belt. He won’t know that much, but that is ok, because you won’t know enough to tell the difference between a blue belt and a black belt. He was in the military and he is tougher than you, and that is all you need right now, someone to kick your ass. You won’t become friends, but it’s ok. He will eventually move on and close that school and you will have a bit of a falling out, but it’s ok too.
It’s ok because by that time, you will have spent four months training 5 days a week. That class you take on a whim is going to become the ballast that keeps you upright, that keeps your head above water every day. It’s going to start as “that fun thing to do after work”, but soon it will be all you can think about during the day.
You are going to get your arm popped at that first school, no big deal you will heal up fine. You will also get your floating rib popped, sprain your wrist, and eventually you will realize that your freezer now holds mostly ice packs when it used to hold frozen pizzas. You will quit those cigarettes for good, but for a while it won’t seem like it helps, and every day you train will be a fresh hell of hyperventilation and misery. Hypoxia for an hour at a time. Leave practice to go puke, the bathroom door is thin and everyone can hear you. Brush your teeth, catch your breath. Now go finish class. No one will laugh at you here. Everyone is struggling.
When your school closes, the best chapter of your new life will begin. You will find out that there is an accomplished black belt right here in your town: a multi time world champion who drives hours to personally train people in your town because there is no real BJJ school here.
And it’s this person that will truly shine a light on you.
It’s going to suck at first. When you change schools, you won’t be ready for the level of skill. This is a competition school where even many of the beginners compete. A UFC fighter will drop by a few times just to say hello to your professor and you will be somewhat stunned to realize the level of the guys on your mat. There will be hungry, athletic white belts who are much more talented than your last blue belt instructor. Your new professor will, out of respect for the Gracie school you were at before, honor your stripes, but you will take them off after the first open mat. You will gladly start from scratch with an empty cup. These kids are 20 and never run out of gas and they will give you no quarter for being a decade older and fat. It’s ok though, because this is exactly what you need. You need a whole team of people to hammer all of that self pity out of you so that you can rebuild yourself.
These people will help remake you, just as iron sharpens iron.
These kids will end up, after many months of suffering, becoming your friends and best training partners…but for now they are going to grind you into the mat until that buzzer goes off. Then the next guy will grind you into the mat. And the next guy. And the guy after that.
Your instructor? That black belt who is teaching you now? He is going to become your friend, and his school is going to become like a second family to you. You will compete alongside your team and form a bond that you can’t put into words, even though it’s strong enough sometimes to actually feel in the air. You will watch your teammates fight on the mat and in the ring, and you will feel like it’s you in there with them. Their victory is your victory, and their defeat is yours now too.
And a few years from now, you will look at yourself in the mirror and you won’t be able to even remember what you looked like fat and unhappy. The guy who stares back at you will have a smile on his face because he is proud of how hard he has worked.
He will smile because he knows, truly knows what he is made of.
He will smile because he has confronted all of the weakest parts of his personality on the mat and found out that he is made of stuff that you cannot see right now.
And about two years from now, your friend, your professor will put a blue belt around your waist, and it will be the proudest moment in your 34 years on this planet. Your whole team will clap and smile. It will mean more than your diploma. More than the black belt you got as a teenager. You will not allow your team to see this, but it will be one of the best days of your whole life.
But between that moment and this one, it’s going to be a grueling march up a very steep hill.
Between that moment and this one, you will have one thousand chances to quit, to half ass it, to give up, to take the easy way out.
So, it’s up to you, because it’s time to go do the work.
There is absolutely no one on this earth that can do this for you, but you.
I’ll see you in two years.
The Person You Will Become
photo credit: BJJPIX